2017 Conference Highlight: People don’t read (or understand) your website
Presentation by Tim Peterson, Texas Parks and Wildlife firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes by Kathy Herz, Connecticut DEEP Wildlife Division
Agency websites are a main source of information for constituents and usually filled with a wealth of material. But, do web visitors really take the time to read the content or even understand what they read? The majority of web users usually scan pages, and very few read content word-by-word. About 44 percent of Americans do not read well, making it difficult for readers to understand some of the technical content often on agency websites. This session provided three strategies that Texas Parks & Wildlife uses to improve readability of web content:
Discover How Users Read on the Web
You can use mouse tracking, heat tracking, scroll maps and Google Analytics (for session duration) to see how users are reading content on websites. About 50 percent of users only scan the top of the page.
Create Scannable Content
To create content that is easily scanned:
- Use meaningful titles and sub-headings.
- Write short lists and use bullets.
- Type sizes should help users understand what is a header, subhead, body copy and so on.
- Use real photos of real people. Images should only enhance understanding of content, not fill space.
- Write descriptive links, making sure you do not use the same link titles multiple times on a page.
- Use plenty of white space and ragged-right justification.
Write in Plain Language
Write to ensure your audience understands quickly, easily and completely. This helps people who do not read English well or have cognitive disabilities. Using plain language can increase the usability of content by up to 120 percent. It also speaks to the audience in their words, eliminating confusion and supporting the user’s experience. Writing in plain language does not “dumb down” your content, nor does it hurt storytelling. Information can be technically accurate and well-written, even without big words.
Most people read at a 4th- to 5th-grade reading level. You can use the Flesch-Kinkaid Readability Formula (available in Microsoft Word) or other indices to assess the reading level of the text. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand (aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70).
Plain Language Tips
Find out how your content rates by conducting user testing (volunteers), analytics or site monitoring. Various tools are available to help assess readability, plain language and usability (some charge fees). They include Siteimprove.com, readable.io, Hemingway Editor, plainlanguage.gov, proliteracy.org, usability.gov, Hotjar, Google Analytics and more. Make sure you constantly test the readability and usability of your web content.
- Use active and neutral language (active voice).
- Avoid jargon, obscurity and condescension.
- Use “you” and other pronouns.
- Keep it short (avoid four-syllable words; shorten sentences; write short paragraphs with one idea; remove unnecessary words; and use 50 percent fewer words than print).
- Make sense; simplify; and get to the point.