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Wednesday, Jul. 9, 2008 at 5:28 am

Optimize Your Copy for Skimming and Scanning

By Daniel McGuigan
July 9th, 2008

Bad Landing Pages from Sean DSouzaCopy is one of the most crucial elements of any E-commerce site. And while most discussions of Web copy focus on creating great copy, it’s also important to ensure your copy is formatted for the online world.

Great copy that comes in dense blocks of text often never gets the chance to convert visitors because it never gets read.

Most Web pages – as well as the copy on those pages – are skimmed and scanned before they’re read. Web visitors want to make sure they are in the right place and reading the right section or content before digging in. So making a few easy formatting changes can yield some huge conversion improvements by allowing visitors to easily orient themselves to your content.

We pointed out how Amazon did this earlier this year, and now, we will give you a few other strategies and steps to optimize your pages for skimming and scanning.

  • Bullets- Listing out items in bulleted lists makes it much easier for a visitor to get useful information. Bulleted lists work great for emphasizing multiple benefits, as each benefit gets sufficient space to stand out and all of the benefits can be quickly scanned by visitors wondering if a given product or service will satisfy their needs.
  • Bolding- Within paragraphs of copy, it’s a good idea to bold the more critical text. Visitors’ eyes will be able to quickly latch onto those important, bolded points amidst the rest of the text. That said, use bolding sparingly as too much will simply overwhelm visitors and actually hurt your visitors’ ability to skim and scan your text.
  • Hyperlinks- Hyperlinks’ contrasting blue color and underlining also grab the eye and cause hyperlinked words to pop out at visitors. But since links are clickable, those hyperlinked words and phrases can also be used to qualify visitors and move them to pages and messaging crafted to speak to and answer more specific needs and questions – stuff that may not interest everyone but that will be important to specific segments of your audience.
  • Sub-headlines- Break your content up into sections and label those sections with Sub-headlines (also called subheads). Once you’ve done that, try reading just the subheads and see if you come away with the gist of page’s content. Not only will this help visitors quickly scan the page for content, but it will also allow them to skip down to the section that’s most important to them. And as an added bonus, Sub-headlines help create needed whitespace for your page layout.
  • White Space- White space makes it easier for visitors to find information and focus on what they are really looking for. Ensure you leave white space by breaking up long paragraphs (consider more than 5 stacked lines to be too long), using sub-headlines and bullets, and by maintaining decent margins and line spacing. Web copy should never look intimidating or too densely packed.
  • Jargon- Using highly technical words or industry jargon inhibits skimming and scanning for anyone who isn’t 100% familiar with the terminology. As a general rule, copy on a broad-audience website should be at or below a fifth grade reading level. If specific technical terms are necessary, say if they are a key search term, link them to a glossary or FAQ, or explain the terms within the text itself.

These are a just a few simple changes that can dramatically improve your Web visitors’ ability to skim and scan your text, and find the information important to them. Not only does this make visitors happier, it makes them more confident in purchasing from you. As a reminder, you should test almost any changes you make on your site, but this is a great area to get started on and can bring back some really good results.

Editor’s Note: In fact, one of Dan’s clients increased his conversion by 24% by reformatting their page for skimming and scanning.

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Comments (16)

  1. Optimize Your Copy for Skimming and Scanning…

    Copy is one of the most crucial elements of any E-commerce site. And while most discussions of Web copy focus on creating great copy, it’s also important to ensure your copy is formatted for the online world….

  2. I’d also say having contrasting colors on some of the headlines or bullet points is a good thing

  3. I can totally agree with all the points you mentioned. But sorrowly here in germany, clients are mostly discussing with agencies about flashy pictures. Not about website copy and formatting. Not about the role copy plays in transforming a website visitor into a buyer. But as time goes by things will hopefully become better :)

  4. I would also add that it’s important that your highlighted/bolded items tell a story all on their own.

    Scan through your bold items, if reading them alone does not “flow” and tell a brief synopse of your product, then your losing customers.

    In fact, I’m going to heed my own advice and visit some of my own sites to confirm this. =)

  5. [...] but also what they can do with the information. Make sure this copy is crisp, simple to read and formatted for online readers. You may want to offer key takeaways, a table of contents, or even an example chart to show them [...]

  6. [...] for more text-heavy sites and pages, wouldn’t skim- and scan-friendly formatting that makes use of bullets, bolding, and embedded links similarly affect or change the F-pattern described by Nielsen? We know the direction of your [...]

  7. [...] online copy must be formatted to make it easy to digest online. You want to maximize skimming and scanning just the way Amazon reformatted their [...]

  8. Great post, kind of goes along with my beliefs too. Complimentary graphics also break up text and help to convey the gist of an article – particularly good for people with brains that process images better than text.

  9. [...] your copy optimized for skimming and scanning? Some great tips from [...]

  10. Here come another one !!!!
    ha ha . Great article.

  11. It’s a Nice article! I like very so much.

  12. It’s very useful article for managing in my site about SEO.

  13. Great post!

  14. seo is a difficult and easy, how to find a good position is very important.

  15. [...] you must include a significant chunk of text, here are some tips to optimize your copy for skimming and scanning. l like this article because it practices what it preaches. It uses bullet points, bold font, [...]

  16. [...] you must include a significant chunk of text, here are some tips to optimize your copy for skimming and scanning. l like this article because it practices what it preaches. It uses bullet points, bold font, [...]

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