Writing for the web - catch the reader in 3-5 seconds

How to write for the web – Part 1

Adjust to scan reading

Do I really have to write in a special way for the web?

The simple answer is  -YES!  The way people read the web is quite different from reading other media. The users are looking for information and will only give your site 3-4 seconds to find it before you lose them.  And the reader decides what is interesting, no one else.

Scanning the text

3-4 secondsMost people that finds your website will impatiently start to scan the text for the facts they are looking for. Studies show that the eyes quickly jump around the page twice – from left to right and then a little slower over the left margin ,  the eye movement looks like a F. During this jumping journey it’s important that they find what they are interested in, or else they leave the page.

When finding the relevant information the scanning will switch to actually reading the content. To keep the reader’s attention you should provide rich useful content that your reader can relate to.

Therefore, it’s high time to adapt the text to scan reading and help the readers find what they are looking for.


Some useful writing tips

What is your reader looking for?

So – first consider what your readers  are interested in and what information they want. Find out what keywords or phrases they use when they search for the information. Then use the keywords in headings, bullet lists , links, link descriptions , fact boxes etc. This way you help your reader find what they are looking for.  You should of course use the same keyword when you optimize for search engines.


Place your keywords early in the heading – the first two words are the most important. If they won’t catch the readers interest the eyes will move on.

Be clear – the reader should understand what information can be expected underneath the heading. Use correct relevant words instead of clever witty words.

Use sub headings when relevant.

Customize the text to scan reading

The most important information should be found in the first two paragraphs. A preamble that contains the key information from the rest of the text can be useful. However, a preamble does not work if the content contains less than 5 sentences.

Use a blank line and new paragraphs

When you have a new thought and/or start a new paragraph it’s important to insert blank lines. Only a few words at the beginning of each paragraph are red during scan reading. So choose those words carefully.

You shouldn’t  have new paragraph for each sentence – but apart from that, the risk of using too many blank lines is minimal.

More tips

  •  Bullet points
    • good way to make the text lucid
    • not too many points – ideally no more than 5-7
  • Indent – by quotation or sentence with important message
  • Fact box
    • suitable for basic facts and figures. Move from the main text.
  • Bold
    • not too much, just a few words at a time and not too many places
    • highlight the right things

Hope you enjoyed these tips. In Part 2 I will give you some tips about how to engage, keep it short and avoid pitfalls.

What’s your tip?

50 replies
  1. Eva Synnergren
    Eva Synnergren says:

    Thank you Roslyn. It is not always easy to follow these tips, I know. And I have difficulties myself sometimes, but I try. I think the most important part is to catch the attention of the reader right in the beginning. When that is done the reader will continue as long as the content is of interest.

  2. Roslyn Tanner Evans (@EarthMoonDesign)
    Roslyn Tanner Evans (@EarthMoonDesign) says:

    Fantastic. I learned to speed read which was a bit different- skim down center & dont worry bout end words & i still do it as I read so much info on the web. Love when someone uses sub heading, bullets, summaries. I don’t always do this myself as my blogs are very visual but as Im adding more content, I will keep your tips in mind.

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