“Understanding how people read on the web and search for information can directly influence how we design our webpages and websites. One of the most influential researchers into web reading behavior has been Jakob Nielsen, who sums up his findings like this:
How Users Read on the Web
They don’t. (1)
The truth is, people are going to skim and scan all the lovely content you’ve written, looking for something (a keyword, a header perhaps?) that catches their attention or matches the reason they’re visiting your website in the first place.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the research.
Eye-Tracking Studies of Reading
We’ve learned a lot about how people read on the web by tracking people’s eye movements and fixation points while they look at web content. Interestingly, eye-tracking studies have been conducted since the 1800′s as part of learning more about how we read. From those early studies, researchers learned that:
Reading is not a smooth process of moving our gaze from left to right as we follow the words across the page.
We sweep our eyes over the text and often stop briefly (called fixations), then move forward to new text or go back over the text we’ve already scanned. (2)
The chances that a reader will fixate on an individual word depends on how long the word is (we tend to skip over short words) and whether the word is a content word (85%) or a function word (35%). (3)”