Users Won’t Read Your Words Just Because They’re There

9th May 2019 / 9 minute read

Content Marketer Tom & Designer Woody

Having content on your website doesn’t mean people are going to take any notice of it. You’ve got to entice users to read your copy. Here’s how…

man reading book

“Tone of voice and great content are crucial for communicating on the Internet. Nevertheless, the best copywriting is for nothing if users don’t read the text.” Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group.

It’s true, if you have messaging on your website and it’s not being read by your users, then it’s surplus to requirements.

So how do you ensure that users will take notice and read your content?

There are several considerations to ensure your content is appealing to explore through writing the words, structuring the copy and designing its surroundings.

But a lot of it can actually be achieved just by the way in which you write the content in the first place.

Before I jump in with advice on how to write your content for the typical user, there are a few things you need to understand about users online generally. It may not be what you’re expecting to hear.

Here goes…

People don’t take the time to read online copy and they can’t retain much information.

We don’t read website copy like we would read a book. The psychology behind user content consumption is complicated, but it actually does make a lot of sense.

People can’t retain much information quickly. This is why when someone comes to a website they may not take it all in. They’ll jump across the site, read bits of it, look at some images and click around.

Why are they so sporadic in their viewing habit? Because they’re looking for a quick answer.

Think of content as prey that is ready to be consumed by the predator, your users!

Concise and essential copy is the way forward.

survey monkey concise content

Imagine you’re speaking to someone who is about to dash for their train. You’re both standing on platform 3, their train is arriving on platform 6. You have just a few seconds to talk to them about your business, product or services. GO!

You will be using short and simple words and sentences, whilst speaking really, really fast.

Minus the point about the speed of your speech, this is how your website content needs to be. Don’t over complicate it and try to be too clever in what you’re saying. Easy to consume content is the way to win people over online. Through your website’s messaging anyway. Blog copy is a different kettle of fish.

But why?

In all honesty, humans have limited brainpower. We may be extremely complex beings, but our short term memory is nothing to shout about.

According to Jakob Nielsen, short-term memory holds only about 7 chunks of information, these chunks fade from your brain in about 20 seconds.

‘Content chunking’ supports your users to read more.

You may not be familiar with the term, but understanding content chunking will really change the way in which you write and structure your content.

Chunking text content essentially stops your website content from being an intimidating wall of text to your users. It relies on breaking up content to create short paragraphs with white space between them, short lines of text, clear visual hierarchy and distinct groupings of letters or numbers.

From a paragraph about your services to the telephone numbers you write on your website, everything can be chunked to provide easy reading.

Other requirements that aren’t content related

man on laptop

Response time/load speed – your website needs to be fast so that users aren’t left to their own devices. It may sound unlikely this, but it does happen – you don’t want users to forget what they’re doing, all because your site was slow to respond.

Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but answer this, how many times do you look in the fridge and forget what you’re looking for?

Legibility – this is focussed on content usability. You need to ensure that everyone can see, distinguish and recognise the characters and words in your paragraphs. Use large enough fonts across your site (we recommend 16-18px for paragraphs), create a contrast between characters and backgrounds, and use clean, clear and standard fonts.

Comprehension – ok, so this is to do with content, but it’s more focussed on the meaning behind your words.

Make it as easy as possible for your user.

The most successful technological solutions make a user’s problem disappear with a simple solution, therefore, making their life easier.

It’s no different for your content.

The role of your content is to communicate with a user. Fact. But what is the desired result of your content? Not every piece of content is about giving an answer to their problems. It can be just to inform, educate or entertain a user.

But mostly in all searches, people are looking for a solution. It’s up to you to be that solution.

Online search is like losing your phone at home.


You search EVERYWHERE, except where you left it of course, to find your phone. You pay no respects to your surroundings; cushions catapulted across the room, the coffee table knocked over, your home left in disarray until you find your phone. Once it’s found, you can relax. The same applies to online searchers.

They’re hungry for an answer and they will not stop until they get what they need. If they can’t find the solution they need, then they won’t hesitate to go elsewhere to find it.

This is why it’s so important for your website messaging to be just right for your users. You need to catch their attention, and once you’ve got it, you need to funnel them to the solution.

This is possible, all in the skill of your website’s wording, structure and look.

Not all website content is the same though.

I mentioned this earlier in my blog, but website content/messaging and blog copy should be treated differently… but not too differently.

The user is still looking for a solution, but at what level can that solution be provided?

Take this blog of mine for example. There is no way this could be on a single page on a website, but I can get away with this word count on a blog.

This topic requires a lot of information as there are so many elements to it, which is why I decided to write a blog instead of a web page.

On a website page if I wanted to speak about this I wouldn’t be able to go into as much depth as I have in this blog. I would have to change the way in which I deliver the answer. Possibly through a structured page of content of headings and succinct paragraphs. Maybe an infographic. Maybe even a video.

What remains the same though is your writing style. All too often I see over complicated and huge bulks of intimidating content on both site content and blogs. Treat them equally. Write simply so that anyone can read your words.

Users won’t read your words just because they’re there. You must write to suit your website users’ reading preference.

The key to ensuring people take notice of your words is to communicate what is essential. Your content must be easy to read, and more than anything, appealing to look at.

Humans hate huge bulks of content. Content hierarchy and an easy vocabulary is the way forward to succeed with your website’s messaging online.

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