Is your website set up for skimmers as well as readers?
People come to a website looking for something in particular. Rather than read every word on the site, they’ll skim through the pages until they find what interests them – and then they’ll read. So the trick to an effective website is to make it easy to skim, without cutting out all the important parts that will actually answer people’s questions.
Here’s how you do that…
1. Clear Page Goals
Every page on your website should have a purpose – and hopefully one purpose only. That keeps things nice and simple. When you clearly identify a page’s goals, you make it easier for a reader to determine if that page will contain what he’s looking for.
2. Eye-Catching Headers
When someone comes to a webpage, their eyes might first scan over the top banner. That’s where you’ve probably got your logo, company name, tagline, etc. But the first bit of copy they will read is the header.
Don’t waste that space; use that header to tell the reader what the page is about (see #1). Use copywriting best practices, too, to make the header as strong as possible. Convey a compelling benefit with active, descriptive words.
3. Short Paragraphs
Pick up any newspaper, look at any article, and try to find a paragraph more than four sentences long. You’ll have a hard time; most paragraphs will have just one or two sentences. That’s because short paragraphs are easier to read. And you want your website to be easy to read, right?
Stick to one point per paragraph. If it takes you more than four sentences to make your point, you’re probably making more than one point.
4. Strong Subheads
Every couple of short paragraphs, include a subheading that briefly sums up the next one or two paragraphs. Ideally, someone who comes to your page could read only the header and subheads and still get the gist of what the page is about. Subheads also signal the skimmer which sections he might want to zero in on and read more closely.
5. Well-Chosen Images
A picture says a thousand words. The right images – photographs, charts, graphs, etc. – can convey an idea far faster than a paragraph of words. Just make sure you clearly label the image, so that readers know what they’re looking at.
6. Clearly Identified Links
The standard notation for hyperlinks on a page has become underlined, blue font. When you see a word on a webpage that is underlined and in blue font, you automatically recognize that as a link.
Try to avoid underlining words or using blue font on a webpage for things that are not links; it just confuses skimmers. And keep it consistent; if you use magenta to signify a link, do so consistently throughout your site.
More importantly, don’t make a word or an image a link without making it absolutely, crystal clear that it is a link.
Now, it’s true that if someone hovers their mouse over the image they’ll see that it’s a link. But here’s the thing: people scan with their eyes, not their mouse. Chances are good that a skimmer won’t ever notice that your image is in fact a link to precisely the page he is looking for.
In the end, time is money – especially when it comes to websites. Make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for on your site, and they’ll reward you with their business.