What’s going on in the top left corner of your website? Take a look. It’s where your users are looking, too.
According to eye tracking studies conducted by usability expert Jakob Nielsen, our dominant web- reading pattern creates an F-shaped configuration in the top left side of the page. Two horizontal stripes, followed by a vertical slide.
Nielsen had 232 test users scan thousands of web pages, and found that the pattern was consistent across a diverse variety of websites. Though Nielsen’s research dates back to 2006, a more recent study conducted by eye tracking firm Eyetools yielded similar results. They call their discovered reading pattern the “Google Golden Triangle.” Clearly, not everything online is constantly evolving.
And now our habitual browsing has influenced the price of real estate on Google and Bing search results. Paid advertisements and sponsored sites dictate that first horizontal stripe.
So while pricey paid advertisements might not be in the books for your small business, this F-shaped reading pattern is worth considering for better usability on your current site. If we can depend on 78% of web users scanning our web pages (Nielsen), we can certainly optimize our sites with scanning habits in mind.
Nielsen suggests we make the first two paragraphs state the most important information for the page. Don’t make the user scroll to find what they need to make the next move.
Expose your vitals in this space. Contact information, company logo and summary, main web navigation buttons. Although the Eyetools research focused on search engine tracking, the findings apply to web page scanning: 10% of web users make it to the bottom of search result page. Undesirable real estate.
He also recommends we start paragraphs, subheads, and bullet points with a bang. Use information-heavy words “that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content.” This isn’t a suggestion to get all jargon-y and technical on the user. Instead, try starting with active verbs: “Start shopping now”, “Make a purchase”, or “Learn how to weave.” Prepare for where those user eyeballs hit the page, and keep the workflow moving forward!
It usually takes between 10-20 seconds for web users to assess whether they want to stay on your site or click back for better results. Draw them to your content with an F-shaped organization of information, and watch your conversion rates. You can anticipate lower bounce rates, and longer browsing times, once your content has been prioritized on the page to suit user needs and habits.
Your website isn’t a maze to be wandered. It’s a marked path. Guide your users on a memorable journey through your content. Start with where they tend to look, F-shaped style!
“Google Search’s Golden Triangle.” Eyetools.com: http://eyetools.com/research_google_eyetracking_heatmap.html
Nielsen, Jakob. “F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content.” 17 April 2006. Useit.com: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html
- -“How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?” 12 September 2011 Useit.com: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/page-abandonment-time.html
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