Strive for web pages with high scanability

Few people read text on a web page like they do a book. While most approach a book by reading it word-for-word, most Internet readers scan. That is, they peruse, looking for the key points to get the gist of the text or to find specific information they are willing to read word-for-word. Because of this, you want to ensure any text you write for the web has high scanability.

This is true even for author’s websites. Although you’d think that avid readers and writers would prefer to look at every piece of writing in a word-by-word approach – especially when looking at an author’s website – the fact is that most don’t. There’s something about the medium of the Internet that makes scanning the natural way to read it; perhaps it’s the size, shape, brightness, or subtle underlying pixelation of the screen.

How to create a scannable page
Fortunately, scanability is easy to achieve through a number of techniques:
• Use clear navigation for the page – Include a headline and subheads, which often appear in a larger font size and are boldface, to help readers quickly identify the page’s main points. Headlines tell in a few words exactly what the web page is about. Subheads act as signposts that help visitors located particular points supporting or elaborating on the main idea given in the headline.
• Place main idea in first paragraph – The most important information – what the web page’s text is about – needs to appear in the first paragraph. This may seem redundant given that’s what your headline does, but the opening paragraph also shows why knowing this information is important and sets the page’s tone.
• Chunk your content – Limit each paragraph to one topic, specifically a point that supports or elaborates on the main idea given in the opening paragraph. You can include examples. A paragraph shouldn’t be more than 2-3 sentences long. Paragraphs can be grouped together by using a subhead.
• Use lists – Bulleted points are the ultimate way to quickly deliver information. They are very useful when you have a long paragraph of multiple points. Simply separate each point into a bulleted point and give it a two- to six-word leader.
• Utilize font style changes – Placing headlines, subheads and bulleted points in boldface help readers quickly locate the main points. Italics also can be used, especially for examples or for emphasis, to ensure they stand out. Just don’t overdo it, or the font style changes lose their effectiveness, as they can’t be easily picked out.

Need an example of each of these listed techniques? This article is written with each one used.

Standalone pages
You can help readers a lot by ensuring that each web page is independent of all others at your website. If this page had required visitors to first have read my web pages about readability and tone, then the text here probably won’t make much sense to them. Visitors can come to any page on your website through a variety of means – a search engine, a tweet, a Pinterest post, another website’s link – and that means they often bypass your home page and don’t read your web pages in sequence.

If you have web pages with related content, create a link on your page so that visitors can go to it. Including the related information in text rather than via a link only dilutes your web page’s hyperfocus on a single topic.