In my previous post I discussed the importance of frequently testing the ease with which your prospective customers can use your website.  I’d like to continue this theme today by considering some of the key take-outs which frequently emerge – most of which can be implemented relatively easily in order to improve the functionality of your site.

Scan reading

Eye-tracking studies have shown that readers generally scan-read web pages – in order to quickly locate the specific content which is relevant to their particular needs. The following tips can therefore help to improve the ease with which visitors can scan your page and find the specific content they are looking for:

  • The top of each page (ie the headline and first paragraph) is particularly important. Headlines should concisely capture the text that follows, incorporating keywords to flag the relevance of the upcoming content.
  • Consider emboldening the introductory paragraph of the body copy – which should be a concise summary of what is on the page.
  • Use relevant and interesting paragraph headings after every few paragraphs in order to aid navigation and to break up long sections of copy.

The importance of the left-hand edge

Eye-tracking exercises have revealed that time-pressured readers often scan-read down the left-hand edge (ie the first two or three words of each page), only delving further into the body copy when they have located information relevant to their requirements. It’s therefore worth bearing the following points in mind in order to make this process as easy as possible for your reader:

  • Use discreet sections of bullet points down the left-hand edge in order to aid scan-reading – emphasising and drawing the reader’s eye to your key points.
  • Consider emboldening, indenting or colouring the first few words of each bullet point or paragraph – ensuring that each line of emboldened wording makes sense when read in sequence, capturing the essence of each point.
  • An alternative to standard bullets is to use relevant icons or a series of small images running down the left hand side to accompany each paragraph. This can increase impact by introducing a visual summary of the information contained within each paragraph.

Additional aspects worth bearing in mind:

  • Use sufficient space around the text to avoid it looking cramped and to give it more ‘stand-out’ from the page. This has the effect of making your content more accessible and inviting to read.
  • Use short paragraphs of around three to four sentences in your body copy and stick to one idea per paragraph.
  • Similarly, short sentences work better online, with an average sentence length of 10-12 words working well for consumer communications, a little longer for business communications.
  • Readers find it more difficult to read text across wide columns (since the eye has to move further between each line), so columns up to around 10 words wide are recommended.
  • Use clear hyperlinks to provide secondary supporting information – in order to avoid weighing down your page with too much text.
  • In terms of the visual layout of the page – simple and consistent styles are often the most effective, avoiding unnecessary graphics or animation. Plain, light backgrounds work well, enabling your text and imagery to stand out, as well as being easier to read.

These are some of the key themes which frequently emerge from usability testing, but as you can imagine there are many more. What about you – have you undertaken any usability testing recently, and if so what were the key take-outs for you?

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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