How do internet users read your content? It is easy to assume that they simply READ IT, but as in all aspects of marketing, making assumptions about user behaviour rarely pays dividends! Instead, it’s helpful to keep an eye on your audience’s behavioural patterns, and optimise your content for the best possible engagement.
The problem facing content in the digital age
Text content is, and continues to be, an extremely effective form of communication. Even though it may seem as though videos and images are stealing the show, text is still relied upon as a familiar and reliable source of material.
Blogs, reviews, eBooks, case studies and professional whitepapers are all recognised as highly valuable forms of content. The value of text content has not changed because of the digital age, however, HOW people consume this content has. This is because of the immense volume of content people are exposed to every day.
Google currently archives 47 billion website pages, and did you know that for every 1 second that passes by, 24 new posts are published on WordPress websites across the globe? Of course, many people habitually rotate through their same few favourite websites and apps, but even still the quantity of content they are exposed to is vast.
The University of Southern California has managed to calculate that the average person is flooded with the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day! But we can’t expect people to consume that amount of information, so how do they determine what content is worth their time?
User behaviour online
To assume that off-screen content is consumed in the same way as digital content would be a mistake. Human beings are fantastic adapters to changing environments and have developed methods, often practiced subconsciously, to determine what content is worth their time and what content is not. One such method has been dubbed the F-Shaped Pattern for a very good reason.
As content creators, we construct sentences hoping people will read through to the end. However, the average internet user is actually only reading parts of your sentences. The NNGroup conducted a study which examined user eye movement across webpages. The dominant reading pattern that emerged followed an ‘F’ shape.
Tracking the eye movement of 232 people, it became apparent that at first users start from the left and read across to the right, as you would expect. But then they quickly begin to scan the text, only reading halfway across the screen.
As they move their eyes down the page the begin to only pick out a few words from the very start of sentences. What these readers are doing is economically fixating on only parts of the text so to gauge whether it is of any value to them. They are seeking out keywords that will hold their attention without having to read the entire text.
Optimizing your content
Based on this reading pattern, the best way to optimize content is to:
- Use headings and subheadings
- Separate text into chunks
- Use bullet points
Specifically, headings and subheadings are of great importance. Differentiating them by size and colour has a significant impact on user engagement. Headings and subheadings tell the reader whether the text, or even only a section of the text, will be of interest to them. Therefore, the choice of wording for headings should be carefully considered and targeted towards your ideal reader.
Now that we know that readers give the most attention to the text appearing at the very top of the page, reading across the full width of text at this point, it makes sense to make every effort to trigger engagement in your above the fold content.
There are different theories as to what is the best way to start your text, and one method we find very effective is the inverted pyramid structure. In this structuring style, you should start your piece of text with your conclusion – begin with the most substantial information and expand on the finer details in latter sections of the text.
Going beyond textual content
Of course, user behaviour should not only be tracked for text, but rather for all formats of content. For example, you may have noticed that many videos online now include subtitles. This is not necessarily a localisation issue, where the marketer is trying to appeal to multiple target audiences speaking in different languages.
In fact, it has been established that people often watch online videos without sound. Statistics show that 85% of Facebook videos are watched in silence. Why? Facebook was originally designed to not play video sound by default, so this habit is rooted in the platform’s functionality.
However, with 55% of people consuming videos in full, it can be concluded that people are choosing not to turn up the volume, even when they come across a video they like! A habit has been formed and savvy marketers have been quick to adapt.
The digital interface has changed how people interact with content and it is important to be aware of this when planning your content strategy. After all, if your website doesn’t intuitively respond to people’s expectations, there is always another piece of content on another website to satisfy their requirements.
The solution is to consistently adapt, and the only way you can do this is to keep up-to-date with your users’ behavioural patterns.