I’m not exactly sure how I came upon the study done by Jakob Nielsen about how people read web content. The study claims eyetracking visualizations show that users often read Web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. This could be helpful information in enhancing SEO rankings for your website or blog.
This dominant reading pattern looks somewhat like an F and has the following three components, according to Nielsen:
- Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
- Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
- Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.
Implications of the F Pattern
Quoting from Nielsen’s Alert Box, the F pattern’s implications for web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:
- Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
- The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
- Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.
You can learn more about the F Pattern theory and see actual heatmaps from user eyetracking studies at http://bit.ly/18Zl1I and decide for yourself if you want to follow Nielsen’s advice.