People scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern

Web marketing experts have done some fascinating research into how people read web pages.

Using eye tracking studies, they’ve found people tend to scan pages in an F-shaped pattern. It’s worth bearing this in mind when you are writing the content for your website. Unless your content is very compelling, most of it won’t get read. It’s sad … but true.

One study, by useit.com, recorded how 232 users looked at thousands of web pages. It confirmed the dominant reading pattern looks somewhat like an F and has the following three components:

1. People first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This forms the top bar of the F.

2. Next, they 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.

3. Finally, people scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan. Other times, people move faster.

Website eye-tracking studiesThe ‘heat map’ above shows how readers’ eyes scan web pages in a F-shaped pattern. The red areas of the page get the most attention.

So, what does the F Pattern mean?

Firstly, it means the way people scan web pages is different to the way they read printed pages. So you shouldn’t simply duplicate your print materials on your website.

People will not read your text thoroughly, word-by-word. They will very rarely read everything on a web page, especially when they are doing their initial research into which product or service to buy.

This means, the first two paragraphs on your web page must state the most important information. Then there’s some hope that your visitors will actually read this material. They will probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.

So put a compelling headline on your page, which spells out the main benefits of your product or service.

You should also use sub-headings and bullet points, so people will notice them as they scan down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F. 

website eye tracking studiesThe ‘heat map’ of this e-commerce site also shows people scan the page in an F-shape pattern.


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