Are you reading this right? How people consume online content

Amy Orton

Jul 11


min read

Are you reading this right? Or left to right? Or not at all?

Studies suggest you’ll be scanning this article (depending on how interested you are) for key words and likely being distracted.

  • By things like this

“And also by things like this.”

Research for the How People Read Online report used eye tracking studies to follow readers’ gaze, work out how and what they read, and in what order. 

And a lot of the results are consistent - suggesting it is human behaviour, rather than any other factor, that lies behind the way we read a website.

How do people read online?

The report explains that there are certain web page elements, layouts, and design features that attract our attention. 

Pages are littered with distractions (or attractions, depending how you view it). 

Consider attention-grabbers such as images, pop-ups, sign-up prompts - there are several on this page right now.

But reading online isn’t really reading anyway, according to the report.

So if no one reads online, why write for online? 

More importantly, how do we do it right?

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No, that’s not a typo - it’s one of the answers. Headings. 

Eye tracking studies prove that they do exactly what they are designed to and draw the reader’s eye. 

With this in mind, we need to make them count. 

For example, using relevant keywords that we know have driven readers to the page will help keep them here.

Pull quotes are another eyeball-grabber. The study finds: 

“While both pull quotes and inline messages received fixations in our study, we also noticed that they tended to disrupt reading. Several participants in our study began reading articles nearly linearly and completely until they hit a pull quote or inline ad. After reaching one of those elements, the participants abandoned their reading and fell into light scanning.”

Did we lose you? 

Pullquotes work as a way of drawing a reader’s attention - yet there’s also a suggestion that pull quotes can lead to readers switching off.

Skill or science?

All of the above demonstrates that writing for an online audience is both skill and science.

Content is key, and always will be, but presentation counts too. 

There’s no point writing the most engaging blog ever if no one reads past the first two sentences. 

At 1284, we use a combination of skill and tools to ensure what we write gets read. 

Understanding our audience’s audience is our starting point. We then we work backwards.

  • What needs to be communicated?
  • Who needs to know?
  • How do we most effectively share that message? 

Once we can confidently answer these questions, we begin writing. Then design a page around it.

And the sooner we begin writing, and design the page around it, the sooner you can begin reading/scanning.

Thanks to all those of you have made it to the end.

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