How do people read online?

People have brief attention spans when it comes to absorbing websites, pages and read online content. It follows then that your web copy should fit into the average user’s reading behavior. If you abide by this simple rule, then you’ll eventually get more site visitors, greater conversions and more engaged users.

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Skimming a website prior to focusing on a specific section

Visitors spend, on average, 2.6 seconds skimming a website before focusing on a specific section. Here are a few suggestions to direct your reader’s gaze online:

How the F-Pattern works

The term ‘F-Pattern’ illustrates the most common user eye-scanning patterns when it comes to chunks of online content. ‘F’ stands for ‘fast’ as that’s how users read your content. In a number of seconds, their eyes move at incredible speeds across your website page.

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F has the following three elements:

  1. Users initially read in a horizontal movement, typically across the upper section of the content This initial element constitutes the F’s top bar.
  2. Next, they scan a line down the left-hand side of the screen, searching for aspects of interest in the paragraph’s first sentences. When they find something which is of interest to them they read across in a second horizontal movement which typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This added element forms the F’s lower bar.
  3. Lastly, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement.

So, when writing out your content for the web try to apply these principles as it will assist you with creating a design:

  • With good visual hierarchy, and
  • That individuals can scan easily.

An F-shaped layout feels comfortable for the most Western readers as they have been reading top to bottom and then left to right for their entire lives.

How to use the F-shaped pattern

Prioritise your content

Before arranging the elements on your website page, prioritise the most and least important ones. When you know what you would like your users to see, you can simply put them in the pattern’s ‘hot spots’ for the correct interactions.

Set initial expectations

The initial two paragraphs are the most critical. This means that you need to put the most important content near to the top of the web page as possible to communicate the website’s (or page) the objective quickly.

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Design for scanning and not reading

When implementing the pattern, think ‘scanners’ and put content – which these scanners would most likely be interested in – along the F:

  • Begin new paragraphs with inviting keywords: People will first look at the most dominant component (the element or area with the largest visual weight) on the web page. Thus, give more visual weight to things which matter:
  • Use typography to show the importance of text (e.g. try out highlighting keywords within text), and particular colours in order to highlight buttons.
  • Cover only one idea per paragraph and make use of bullets as much as possible: Put the most essential content (such as CTAs) at the left and right sides as this is where the user starts and ends their horizontal This brief pause as they drop down gives them a little extra time to consider what they’ve read.

Utilise The Sidebar

Feature anything which you want your user to see but which does not fit in organically with the main content. This could be:

  • An ad,
  • A listing of “related articles”, or
  • A social media widget, etc.

Make use of it as a technique for users to find detailed content. The clear example is a category listing, a tag cloud, a “popular posts” widget, etc.

Avoid boring layouts

The main disadvantage of this F-shapen layout is its tendency towards monotony. It’s easy to bore your users with repetitive and similar content in rows. You definitely don’t benefit from a bored user as they begin to blank everything out. This means that you should add one “awkward” element within the scanning area in order to make sure that the user is kept engaged.

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