Writing for the web: usability top tips


Last week I attended Usability Week 2008 in London. For those who don’t know Usability Week marked the London-leg of a ‘world tour’ by the Nielsen Norman Group – the usability experts. The tour also takes in San Francisco, New York, and Melbourne, so I felt quite privileged.

I went to an all-day session on writing for the web, here’s a round up of some of the points covered*:

  • Web users are goal-driven; they aren’t reading for pleasure. So don’t waste their time.
  • Users read 25% slower from computer screens than from paper.
  • 79% scan rather than read word-for-word.
  • Users rarely read whole passages. Their eyes track across pages in an F-pattern.
  • It’s important to create an effective visual hierarchy with descriptive headlines, using headings and links to create road signs.
  • For emails; users scan text, mostly skipping the intro, and spend an average time per newsletter of 51 seconds.
  • Write for the most frequent visitor type – but ensure that new users are accommodated.
  • Writing for a lower comprehension level helps everyone – but there’s no need to ‘talk down’, just simplify.
  • The optimum reading level or age to aim for is 13-14 years old (12 years for a homepage and overviews).
  • Write for fast comprehension, using simple language and chunk content into concepts.
  • Non-descriptive links are useless, such as ‘click here’. Links that are blue and underlined are the most recognised.
  • Links and URLs should be descriptive and identify the content they link to.
  • Write to be printed; ensure printouts contain all relevant info, company name, contact details, URL etc.
  • If you’re repurposing offline content – cut it by 50%.

*Source: Nielsen Norman Group.

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