The key to creating any successful digital content is understanding your audience — what they’re interested in, what their pain points are and what they want to know. But it’s equally important to know how your readers consume your content so that you can structure your content in the most effective way.
People read digital content in a different way to how they read print. So, knowing how to write for the screen will do wonders for your content’s engagement.
How does your audience consume your online content?
Frustratingly, people won’t read every word you’ve poured over all afternoon (rude!). Instead, if you’re lucky, they’ll scan, skip and skedaddle through your content to find the juicy bits. But why do people reading online content do this?
Your audience is impatient. They want the information they need now and are searching online to save themselves time.
Your audience will scan until they find what they’re looking for. Your reader is looking for something specific, and they won’t waste time reading irrelevant information in the process. But once they’ve found what they’re after, they demand detailed information to help them with their issue.
Your readers are flexible. They’ve had years of practice of skimming and scanning. And they’re good at it. They’re speed readers on a mission and are usually just looking for a specific piece of information or main idea.
So, if your reader’s eyes are scurrying around the screen, how can you make sure they find what they’re looking for before they leave?
By considering online reading patterns as you write.
Luckily, clever people have done studies into how folks flit their way through digital content and one of the most common online reading patterns is the F pattern.
The F Pattern
As the name suggests, the F pattern tells us that people often read online content in the shape of an F. Starting by reading vertically along the top line of your content, your reader’s eyes will then quickly fall down the screen until they spot something of interest.
We’re trained to read from left to right, so it makes sense that your reader’s eyes will spend most of their time on the left side of the screen scanning for information of value. This gives us the vertical part of the F.
Designing your digital content with the F-shaped pattern in mind
Your first two paragraphs are paramount. The F pattern tells us that the first couple of paragraphs of your content are the most important, so make sure you communicate what your page is about at the offset.
Start new paragraphs with engaging words. People spend most of their time scanning the left side of the screen, so find ways and words to hook them into sticking around for your whole sentence or paragraph.
Use bold text to draw attention. Your reader will automatically be drawn to content that stands out to them, so make sure you use this by highlighting key points and drawing their eye.
Use subheadings and bullet points. Break your online content up into manageable chunks of information. This will make your content easier to digest and act as signage for your audience, helping to guide your scanners to where they need to go.
Make your paragraphs short. No-one likes fighting their way through great chunks of text, so make it easy for your reader by creating short paragraphs. Start a new paragraph for every new point you make.
Keep key information to the left. Make sure the content you want to be found sits on the left side of the screen.
Your headline is crucial to the success of your digital content. Your headline is your top line, so it has a lot of work to do to draw your reader in and make them want to linger on your page to find out more. Make sure your headline is strong, compelling and clearly explains what your content is about.
Understanding how to design your content for the screen will help your audience to stick around longer, find more of the information they’re looking for and be more satisfied with the content you’ve written.
So, next time you’re writing for the web, why not try using the F pattern?
I hope you’ve found this blog useful and it helps you to boost engagement.