Actually, they don’t…

People only read word-by-word on the web when they are really interested in the content. They usually skim the pages looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable list. Since they’re in a hurry to find the very piece of information they’re looking for, they’ll skip what’s irrelevant for them.

In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 60% of an article page. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

According to an eye-tracking study by Eyequant, when users land on your site, their eye path starts from the upper-left corner, where will get the most attention, and moves down and right from there. The bottom-right terminal area is where you should place your call to action.

Perhaps one of the most cited is the F-shaped reading pattern for web content, which we identified in 2006. Over the years, many have referred to this research, sometimes correctly, and in many other instances misinterpreting it.

Heatmaps from user eyetracking studies of three websites. The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations.

So don’t expect people to read content that seems neither easily scannable nor relevant for them, therefore long text blocks, unnecessary instructions, promotional writing and “small-talk” should be avoided on the web.

How little do users read?
  • In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page. What’s more interesting, it seems to be no correlation between sharing and scrolling: people readily share your articles even without reading them – You Won’t Finish This Article
  • The scanning and skimming behavior we develop going through a lot of online materials has an effect even on how we read, comprehend novels and other long-format, printed text – Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say
  • Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study from 2008 indicated that on average, users will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading. More realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page.
  • In a usability study Gerry McGovern discovered that only 1 out of 15 users could locate a specific piece of information that was not scannably placed on the page.
  • Steve Krug claims in Don’t Make Me Think that one of the most important facts about web users is that they don’t read, they scan.
When people read word-by-word
  • If people find the very piece of information they are interested in, they are likely to read the related content word-by-word.
  • Research shows that if people read a piece of content for pleasure, they read more thoroughly and find reading effortless even on a computer screen.
  • Studies show that there are methodical web readers who usually don’t scan but read from top to bottom.
  • Well structured pages that are designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read.

Let’s bust some more myths around.