Given that users spend almost no time visiting the average web page, how do you get people to actually read your website pages?
Emphasize facts. There's so much blah-blah on the web that straight talk stands out.
Two of our studies offer telling examples of how users search for facts: one study tested journalists, and the other tested people using investor relation (IR) pages on corporate websites.
Journalists: The Ultimate Fact Seekers
When journalists used corporate websites in our tests, they were very interested in finding facts. Sometimes these facts were offbeat, eliciting an “I didn’t know that” response. Sometimes facts were as simple as a CEO’s age.
Journalists typically scanned past lines of text that seemed too marketing-oriented. They were always wary (and sometimes cynical) about marketing information:
“We need to characterize the companies, not just say what they say. I look for facts.... You can smell it if they are trying to cover a bad fact.”
On the Fidelity site, a journalist liked the simple facts about the funds because they provided context for his readers:
“I like this part: ‘We have 290 funds.’ That’s a fact.... I would print this out. I do like facts.”
A journalist was also impressed with how the Wal-Mart site explained financial information in the annual report:
“This is good because they explain the numbers, and it’s the important numbers that people really want to know. Good that they are up front about it. Here, I can see their sales are over $137 billion, and they’re up from last year. Good to point out they have improved their sales, and almost 20%.”
A journalist visiting the BMW website was impressed by the thoroughness of the safety information:
“Safety record — I would consider that a good piece of info. One of the reasons I think people buy expensive cars is that they will protect them more in an accident or help them prevent an accident. ... This is actually more precise information. This is not a sales pitch. This term, ‘crumple zone,’ I would find use for in my article... about the lights, these are all high-tech things that I think readers would find interesting. Those are the kinds of specifics I would be looking for.”
At a speed of 100 km/h (62 mph), a car drives 28 meters (92 feet) during the time it takes to take your eyes off the road and read the speedometer. This fact is not just a selling point for BMW's heads-up display; it's also the kind of compelling content that attracted journalists in our PR study. It will attract consumers as well.
IR Pages: In Search of Company Facts
When testing investor relations (IR) pages, we found that investors and financial analysts expect to find pertinent organization information right away. On an IR page, bombarding people with numerous links without offering content is jarring and makes them work too hard to get what they need. It’s fine to have links that lead to more specific information, but provide an overview first.
That overview should include answers to key questions, such as the organization’s:
Years of operation
Size (including number of employees and locations)
This information helps users understand your organization’s background, stability, and credibility. Further, answering these questions succinctly helps you hold users’ interest and establish a proper relationship with them. If this information is hidden or unavailable, your company will appear evasive or unhelpful.
An investor engaged with this company profile when testing it in an eyetracking study. The bold headings and concise paragraphs kept his attention, as the gaze plot shows (blue dots indicate fixations).
"Just the Facts, Ma'am"
Eyetracking research shows that users' eyes are attracted by numbers in web content. Why? Because numbers usually represent facts.
Facts are clearly important, but if you include facts or information that is off-topic, you’re likely to frustrate your users. Irrelevant news, articles, and references create diversions that sidetrack users from the points you want to make.
In one of our usability studies, a user clicked a link labeled Environment on a company's website and was offended by irrelevant information. She commented:
“This has nothing to do with the environment. I want to know how they are protecting trees or saving seals. This is the usual junk: ‘comply with laws’ — well they should; ‘respect human rights’ — doesn’t tell me how; ‘child labor’ — has nothing to do with the environment... I am pretty sure this site will not give me any more information. I’ll have to call. Annoying. I am in the Environment category, everything they give me should be about the environment.”
Give people what they want. What a novel way to drive your content strategy. But it works.
Full eyetracking report on how users read on the web is available for download.