How do users read on the web? They don’t … they scan

how people read on the web

One of the main keys to creating an effective blog is to understand how people read on the web.

And how do users read on the web? The answer is, they don’t ... they scan.

Nielsen Norman Group ‘s research found that 79 percent of their test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

For your agency’s blog to be effective, your content must be scannable.

Jakob Nielsen offers this advice:

  • Highlight keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • Create meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists
  •  Only one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • Use the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • Content should be approximately half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Web users generally prefer writing that is concise, easy to scan, and objective (rather than promotional) in style. Nielsen’s research also found that users detested “marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful claims.

I’ve often said that …

“the moment you start to sell on your agency’s blog is when you will lose your audience.”

Understanding how people read  online will help you writing to be much more effective.  My most influential resource for writing content for the web has been Jakob Nielsen.


Nielsen has been called:

I highly recommend Nielsen Norman Group’s website as a resource. What it lacks in design, it makes up for in rich information. There are also additional, interesting findings about users’ reading behavior in Nielsen’s eyetracking studies.

Note also, this is very dated material, 1997, but the material continues to be relevant. You will find that the top blogs follow Nielsen’s style guidelines remarkably well.


photo credit: Rob Unreall via photopin cc

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. Have you heard the expression bite/snack/eat for how people consume information.
    bite = click on a link
    snack = scan to see if it’s valuable/relevant
    eat = read words by words if relevant

    That’s what makes text so powerful compared to other medium of communication – it’s scanable. Video’s aren’t.

  2. My personal favorite is usually Justin Bieber, he’s so lovely!

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