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Thursday, Mar. 29, 2007 at 7:25 am

The Web’s Old Wives Tale: People Don’t Read Online

By Bryan Eisenberg
March 29th, 2007

People Do Read OnlineWeb developers like to say it. Designers love to say it. Web execs feel good saying it to justify investing as little as possible–and in the lowest quality content they can get away with.

People Don’t Read Online? Bull-crap!

If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d make Bill Gates look like a pauper. Think about it. What’s the first thing most people do when they get online… read their email. What’s better yet, new research from the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack study released at the American Society of Newspaper Editors (courtesy Editor and Publisher) shows that:

When readers chose to read an online story, they usually read an average of 77% of the story, compared to 62% in broadsheets and 57% in tabloids…

In addition, nearly two-thirds of online readers read all of the text of a particular story once they began to read it, the survey revealed. In print, 68% of tabloid readers continued reading a specific story through the jump to another page, while 59% did so in broadsheet reading.

The research also found that 75% of print readers are methodical in their reading, which means they start reading a page at a particular story and work their way through each story. Just 25% of print readers are scanners, who scan the entire page first, then choose a story to read.

Online, however, about half of readers are methodical, while the other half scan, the report found. The survey also revealed that large headlines and fewer, large photos attracted more eyes than smaller images in print. But online, readers were drawn more to navigation bars and teasers.

We knew it all along. We’ve been saying it for years since our clients’ web analytics proved it to us. Now you have the proof we can share. Give your readers something relevant to read and they will. Or are you still buying into that old wives tale that people don’t read online?

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Comments (29)

  1. What a relief to see some stats, although we knew it, too. And, I was just talkinga bout this in a forum I run.

    But, the point the article raises about methodical versus scanning makes the design element even more important- how to provide the content in a way that the reader can go in-depth when they want to, but can easily scan without getting annoyed or overwhelmed.

    With your permission, I’d like to reproduce your post in my member’s-only forum The Business Oasis.

  2. [...] Bryan Eisenberg wrote this post on the Grok.com blog: The Web’s Old Wives Tale: People Don’t Read Online [...]

  3. [...] You may have heard that people don’t read online. I just read a post today over at GrokDotCom that indicates otherwise. [...]

  4. The optimal word in this article is STORIES. Yeah, its true people will read stories – but they will not read marketing wee wee. Telling good stories is critical to converting – and most important to the complex B2B sales cycles that often rely on long term memory.

  5. Nothing new. For a long time creative departments have been saying that people do not read body copy. Nonsense. Well written and relevent body copy will be read. Same for internet copy.
    Could not find Poynter Int methodology though. Difficult to evaluate the study without understanding that.

  6. Darron…

    I posted earlier on Darren Rowse at ProBlogger Meetup in NYC – March 29th, 2007 - well, it's the 29th, I went and I had a lot of fun – but did not take any pictures.Who was there that I spoke……

  7. People don’t read online – yeah right!…

                    You hear it so often you can almost start to believe it. "People aren’t interested in reading online". Rubbish! In fact that’s what they are there for! Provide them with the …

  8. [...] Guess what? Turns out people do read in depth online, and with more focus than they do offline. So much for most blogging “wisdom”… the real value in blogging is with unique, original content, not pithy regurgitation of something someone else wrote in the interest of brevity. [...]

  9. [...] In their post ‘The Web’s Old Wives Tale: People Don’t Read Online‘, Bryan Eisenberg (backed by a Poynter report study say: Crapola! People do read online. Well I disagree. And agree. [...]

  10. Yeah, right. People don’t read online…that’s why InfoWorld just canned their print edition.

  11. Wait a minute. There is truth in that ‘people don’t read online’ statement. They DON’T read boring, useless and uninteresting content. Because most webmasters believe that people don’t read online they don’t bother to provide good content. So in return their statements turn out to be true. But people come online searching for information first and foremost and they’re HUNGRY to find usefull stuff to read.

  12. I still think that the point is being missed. There is stuff that people read online. And stuff that people don’t read online. We’re all online readers and therefore biased in the first place.

    There aren’t any non-online readers here, if you know what I mean. And when it comes to conversion, offline in many cases, can be many times more persuasive than online. This report doesn’t say WHAT is being read online.

    (See post No.9)

  13. Sean, Your comment is valid. I’m sure you know we both agree and disagree in the same way that you do since we’ve discussed it. What Bryan wanted to communicate was that all those people who are “sure” that people don’t read online need to get over it. Thanks for pointing out again that persuasion is a process and you can’t simply rely on one entity to do the entire job.

  14. People Do Read Online — Who Knew?…

    For some reason, it seems that their’s a belief that people don’t actually read online content. Well, thanks to research by the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack study, we now know that’s untrue. Who knew? Big head’s up to all those whose web sites are…

  15. I just finished numerous hours in user testing of content, messaging and persuasion for some folks who came from the Direct Marketing arena. As we have discussed, I think that content needs to be persona tailored and if it is and if it is well done, it gets read. To a large part it also depends upon what is anticipated/expected based upon the page title or headline, meet expectations and get readers. Use Marketese, unsubstantiated claims and vapid content and say good by.
    I also believe that understanding user learning styles impacts messaging effectiveness. Wave large bodies of content on strongly visual learners and you will not communicate effectively. We have discussed how developers are anything but visual learners so PowerPoint slides that do not understand their intuitive learning style put them to sleep.
    Bottom line is though that i agree that people do read, it just makes a world of difference to understand who is doing the reading.

  16. Todd, You know that you are preaching to the converted here. Amen brother!

  17. Communities and fresh content; dispelling the myth that people dont view content online…

    Courtsey of grokdotcom. Poynter Institute released a report on eye tracking and people reading content online. “When readers chose to read an online story, they usually read an average of 77% of the story, compared to 62% in broadsheets and 57% in t…

  18. Http stands for “hyperTEXT transfer protocol”, and that’s what internet is all about: transfer of information in the form of TEXT. Text always comes first *by definition*.
    Graphics, sound, video, and smoke signals come second. I have yet to see a browser option “turn off text”.

    It’s not that designers or developers say “people don’t read”. Usually they just don’t pay enough attention to online text usability and don’t make text readable enough.
    Example: the text in italics in this article becomes more or less readable only after resizing it to about 160%.

  19. Paul,

    Thanks for the feedback. Just to make sure we can correct this properly could you please tell me what operating system and browser you are using. The other thing that is a pet peeve of mine is many sites that don’t even let you resize the text. We all have different abilities to see; it is why we have always paid attention to allow text to be resized and printed if desired.

  20. Poynter is now reassessing their original claim that online readers read more. The problem is that online stories are shorter than print stories on average. See http://neilsanderson.com/?p=276

  21. I strongly agree with the article. From my experience – when I need the info and if it seems that I’ve found the piece of info I was looking for I’m tryin gto read the whole article.

  22. [...] it turns out that’s not true. In fact, a recent study by the Poynter Institute reveals that people read a larger percentage of stories online (77%) than [...]

  23. Jack…

    Usefull post. I learned so much. Thank you….

  24. This agrees with my own server logs. Simple consideration of ‘time on site’ indicates that they are doing SOMETHING after they arrive. I like to think that they actually read at least one article and maybe stayed on to read more. My ‘uniques’ and my page views don’t line up … about 2/3 of them are returning for a second helping.

    My goal is to write good content. Sometimes a couple hundred words will suffice, sometimes I start with the free end of the yarn and end up with the whole skein.

    There is such a thing as a ‘reader / writer contract’ and those writers who keep their end of the deal will find a lot more readers willing to uphold their end.

    Briefly, the idea is that the writer agrees to write something worth reading and the reader agrees to expend a reasonable amount of effort to understand it.

    That’s all I ask … that and the occasional click on a text adv on the way out. ;-)

  25. [...] You might be interested in reading the article and comments from Bryan Eisenberg’s post at The Web’s Old Wives Tale: People Don’t Read Online [...]

  26. [...] last year’s post by Bryan Eisenberg on Grokdotcom.com, he argues that people actually read more thoroughly online than they do in print. Eisenberg claims [...]

  27. People do read online but the number of methodological readers is less and number of scanners are quite more.

  28. I think that,There is such a thing as a ‘reader / writer contract’ and those writers who keep their end of the deal will find a lot more readers willing to uphold their end.

  29. While this subject can be very touchy for most people, my opinion is that there has to be a middle or common ground that we all can find. I do appreciate that you’ve added relevant and intelligent commentary here though.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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