The pre-conversion conversion

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June 24, 2013 by bradcharlesbeals

conversion-updateIn 1997, Jakob Nielsen made the shocking claim that people don’t read websites. They scan them.

In 2006, he refined it further and showed through eye-tracking studies that people scanned websites in an F-shaped pattern, emphasizing the top and left side.

Recent research makes this picture even clearer by showing that given the amount of time the typical user spends on a page, about 28% of the copy actually gets read.

This might seem disheartening for the copy writer, but there’s actually opportunity here. While these behaviors have been true since the internet’s dominance (the youngers are faster at it, but they still SCAN), they are still behaviors with a particular objective to them–we scan in order to latch onto something worth reading. In other words, this data doesn’t spell doom for the copy writer, it puts an even higher premium on good writing.

There’s demand for it because SCANNERS WANT TO BECOME READERS.

So how do we help them do that?

The Nielsen research provides guidance there too. When users commit to a block of copy, whether it’s a full paragraph or something article-length like a white paper, THREE elements will be present:

1. Good information architecture with intuitive navigation and clear signposting that gets users quickly to the relevant page. Go to just about any government (Fed or state-level) page to see how not to do this.

2. Good page layout that guides the eye to short, clear subheads.

3. High-quality writing that is clear and in the active voice.

As users become better and faster, the value of the copy writer will still be in conversions–not sales or other direct action yet, but conversion from mere scanner to actual reader.

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