Creating an effective website layout – Part 2: Your copy

by Zoe K
Website copy

Part 2 in the effective website layout series is all about your copy. If you didn’t get a chance to read part 1 (all about sign posting and navigation) then click here to have a read.

So, once your visitors have found what they’re looking for, do they know it? Have they bounced from page to page looking for information that was right in front of them the whole time?

This is where well written, well laid out copy comes into play. Large pages of copy with 20 insightful paragraphs may be useful for people you’ve already hooked in, or essays and professional papers, but not often for sales based business orientated website copy.

There have been a handful of fascinating studies conducted that look at the way users read websites – some using eye tracking technology to see how they skim read too. The results give us an incredible insight in to how users consume text on a website page.

The classic “F” pattern

Some of you may know about the classic “F” pattern – well it’s is still true today. Originally discovered nearly a decade ago, users do generally scan a webpage in an F or E shaped pattern, paying more attention to the left. This research (and research dating back to 1997) is backed today by new studies into how we read web pages. It’s evolved slightly, but much of what they found back then is still true in some form today.

One of the most recent studies gives us an insight into the amount of content visitors actually have time to read, and how they choose what to read and why. This is incredibly important, as it shows how content needs to be structured so that users can efficiently access your content.

When do people actually read, take in and process your content?

Gaze plot from eyetracking: each dot indicates one fixation (when the user looked at something).

Gaze plot from eyetracking:
each dot indicates one fixation (when the user looked at something).

This eye tracking image shows the webpage of a Zoo. It shows the visitor scanning the menu, and the first few lines and paragraphs, then fully engaging with a paragraph half way down the page.

This was a well-structured page in terms of the copy, with clear section headings (apparently relating to ducks and their habitat, characteristics, behaviour etc.). In this case, the user was clearly interested in the ducks behaviour and, with minimal scanning, spotted the information they were most interested in and consumed it in full!

People will read your content

This proves that if your content is broken down and labelled correctly people will read it. They won’t necessarily read it all, but they can find what they want and give it a good read!

Although this was the 4th paragraph, generally studies show that users do pay the most attention to what is at the top.

This table shows the percentage of users that look at each paragraph – not necessarily read. What is interesting about this is the percentage of users that even entertain scanning the 4th paragraph is significantly lower.

A finding that is often also replicated when looking at search engine results!

How much content can your users physically consume?

An academic paper detailing the results of a study done a few years ago identified some very interesting stats on how long users spend on pages.

When NN Group (an evidence based user experience research company) analysed those pages with between 30 to 1250 words, they found that pages with more content tended to command more of the visitors’ time, although it was only and extra 4.4 seconds per additional 100 words.

There’s only time to read about 20% of what’s on a page

Based on the average read time of a person (200-250 words per minute) they calculated the results of their findings and concluded that, generally, visitors will on average have time to read just 28% of what’s on the page. Then we have to account for the fact that they won’t spend all of that time reading, but much of it scanning the page, its layout, navigation and images too. Meaning that realistically it’s probably **only around 20%.

All of this simply reinforces the importance of correctly labelling and breaking down your content, to ensure that in the limited time and attention span of your visitors, they can find what they need.

The same goes for blog posts; we recently passed a post around the office on the best blogging practices which preaches the same thing, giving a variety of ways to split up your writing including:

  1. Headline: the 6 words that count most
  2. Storytelling hook
  3. Fewer characters per line at first
  4. Featured image
  5. Subheads for scanning
  6. Content and the 1,500-word sweet spot
  7. Soundbites for sharing

Click here to give it a read:

So give your key pages a quick review – is the content succinct and written in way that will speak to your customers? Is it clearly labelled with headers and sub headers and broken down with images (ones that are actually relevant and aid the scanning process)?


Check back next week for Part 3: The myth of “the fold”!

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