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Control Your Message By Keeping Web Copy Brief

On average, users read fewer than 28% of the words on a web page, according to Jakob Nielsen. How do you make those 28% of words count?

In his May 6, 2008 Alertbox, How Little Do Users Read, Nielsen writes about calculations he did based on research on how people behave online. He calculated that the portion of words that users read declines as there are more words. Users read only half the words on pages with 111 words or few; 28% of the text on pages with 593 words. He points out that these are maximums, and that users may, in fact, read fewer words.

A key task when writing for the web, then, is to try to control what words you users read. To do that, use best practices for writing for the web.

  • Keep it short
  • Break your content into small, logical chunks
  • Label your sections well
  • Put the most important information at the beginning of paragraphs and near the top of the page
  • Use bullet lists to make scanning easier
  • Carefully choose what text you will highlight with hyperlinks. Don’t waste hyperlinks on ineffective calls to action like “Click here to read more”

Throwing more words at the user is counterproductive. You want to tell your users every good thing about you and your products to try to persuade them. A more effective strategy may be to figure out the most important things to tell them, to draw them in, and then give them more information once they show an interest. This progressive disclosure will help you control the message you’re delivering to your users.

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One Response to "Control Your Message By Keeping Web Copy Brief"

  • Brian Bundesen
    May 6, 2008 - 11:48 am Reply

    Nice information. The conclusion is what I expected, and pretty consistent with my own habits.
    It is good to know as I move forward on my new Blog. These tips are great.

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