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So, how do visitors read websites?
Short Answer: They skim through pages, hunting for answers by looking at relevant keywords and phrases.
I'll go into a little bit of detail about why this theory holds true, while providing graphs, charts, and other statsy stuff in this article. Straight and to the point. Let's start by blasting a few common myths with scientific research to prove them wrong.
Common Myths :
1. Users will scroll all the way to the bottom: Chartbeat teamed up with Slate Magazine and uncovered the fact that most users did not reach their article beyond 60% of their articles. "Reach", not "Read". The stats for entertainment websites (stumbledupon, distractify, buzzfeed) are higher due to their lighter content, catchy titles, and engaging images. For the rest of us, 60% seems like a horrible number.
Neilsen Norman conducted eye-tracking research in '08 and figured out that users only "read" about 20-30% of the article. Here's what they had to say, "On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely. We've known since our first studies of how users read on the Web that they typically don't read very much.Scanning text is an extremely common behavior for higher-literacy users; our recent eyetracking studies further validate this finding."
Is this a new phenomenon? Nope. In 1997, the NN group found that 80% of users scanned new websites, and only 16% of the users read it word-by-word.
2. Users only share your article if they've read it completely: WRONG! I'll point to Slate again and show you their shares vs article depth graph. An excerpt from their article explains this further.
"There’s a very weak relationship between scroll depth and sharing. Both at Slate and across the Web, articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren't necessarily generating a lot of tweets."
3. You need to "build-up" the article to keep users interested: This type of logic stems from how people view movies or read books. Most of the time, people associate themselves with the main-lead of the movie or book and hence enjoy the journey of the story till the end. That's not the case for blog-posts or articles. Something like an inverted pyramid or some other empty buzz-word.
When users search for a query and click a link on the SERP, they are usually hunting for a specific answer to their question. They will brutally scan through the article (sub-consciously looking at your design and architecture) and focus only on the relevant paragraphs that satisfy their needs.