3 online reading behaviors you need to know about

Writing digital content isn’t the same as writing for print.

Why? Because people digest digital content differently than print media. Your readers are demanding that you write differently. Will you respond?

I’ve listed 3 specific online reading behaviors below. Once you understand them you’ll be equipped to tell your organization’s story better than ever.

1) People read slower on the web

It’s harder to read a computer screen than a piece of paper. People read up to 25% slower on computers. New devices like tablets are much improved, but they still aren’t like the page of a book.

The net result is that you have to work harder to get your readers’ attention because they have less patience when reading online.

The quicker you can get to the point, the better. Be up front about the who, what, where, when and why of your content. Your donors and supporters will reward you by responding.

2) Most people scan, some people read


That’s how many people scan digital content. Some will go on to read the content. Others won’t. But the bottom line is that almost everyone starts with scanning.

Online audiences aren’t captive. You have less than 8 seconds to catch someone’s attention. Otherwise they’ll click one of the many links on the page or they’ll use the dreaded back button.

But don’t despair. Catch a scanner’s attention by telling a compelling story with:

  • headlines
  • subheads
  • links
  • and the first sentence in each block of text

3) You’ll lose most of your readers after the 3rd paragraph

70% of readers will jump ship after they finish paragraph 3 of a webpage or email.

You’re in trouble if you spent the first 3 paragraphs telling a story and neglected to tell the reader why it’s important to them.

Jakob Nielsen’s rule of twos is helpful here. This leading usability expert would say to prioritize:

  • the 1st two words in each sentence.
  • the 1st two sentences in each paragraph.
  • the 1st two paragraphs on each page.

Your constituents are treating the web differently than print media. Now, you can too.

Josh Dougherty, Digital Marketing Writer

The statistics referenced in this post were presented by Janelle Estes at the Nielsen Norman Group’s Usability Week in December 2010.