People Don't Read on the Web

Photo of a computer screen that appears to be transparent.

Photo by Ben Seese via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

As the Web Content Strategist for the U-M Library, a lot of my job revolves around thinking about web content — not just what it should say and how it should be organized, but even how much we content our website should have.

Currently, our web site has about 3,000 pages of content. Plus, we have some 5,000 additional pages in our research guides, which are managed separately. There's no easy way to put one's finger on an ideal number — but there's a lot of evidence that says less is often more. Key pathways become clearer to users, outdated material is jettisoned, and search results contain fewer extraneous results to sift through.

The University of Virgina Library recently trimmed its content from 14,000 pages to 60 — a drastic change no one here is advocating. But I recently came across the site UX Myths, whose No. 1 myth presents evidence that people read a lot less on the web than most websites assume.

How little do users read?

  • Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study from 2008 indicated that less than 20% of the text content is actually read on an average web page.
  • In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page. What’s more interesting, it seems to be no correlation between sharing and scrolling: people readily share your articles even without reading them — You Won’t Finish This Article

To me, the evidence UX Myths presents emphasizes the importance of streamlining content to make it more scannable, skimmable and action-oriented — helping users find what they need with as few hurdles as possible.  It also means we should all be thinking and talking about about how much content to create and maintain in the first place.