3 Tips for Improved Readability: Are People Actually Reading Your Content?

Let’s start off by saying—probably not. Not in the traditional sense, at any rate.

It’s a common Internet myth: the notion that people actually read on the web. They don’t, at least not very often. Usually, they skim pages, looking for words that might pique their interest. If they’re interested enough, they’ll take the time to read the content, but usually they’ll just look for tidbits, skip what they consider irrelevant and move on.

Whine all you want about it (I’ve certainly done my fair share), but that’s just the way it is.

So what can we do about it?

Here are three tips for improved readability on your site.

1. Omit needless words.

Strunk & White’s Rule #17 (circa 1920): omit needless words. It’s composition 101 stuff, but it works. Readers expect us to just get to the point. That irks our prosey, creative selves a bit but it’s not about us, remember?

Here’s an example of a wordy phrase:

After careful consideration of all the foregoing evidence, it is apparent to us that, among many of the tips available to the writer seeking to improve the readability of his content, the old rules should be chosen, if ever there is any doubt.

Translated: When in doubt, fall back on the old ways to improve readability.

2. Use a scannable formatting.

Purposefully draft your content in a format that encourages scanning. This means you should use:

  • Concise, relevant titles (for both the main title and any heading)
  • Headings to differentiate each section (see above)
  • Bullets to break up long lists  (like this one)
  • Graphs to convey data (people love data visualization)
  • Bold or italics, where appropriate, to add emphasis on key ideas
  • Images (we all like pretty pictures)

3. Keep contrast high.

The simple rule: high contrast is good; low contrast is bad. (There is an incredibly detailed and in-depth article from W3C that describes this in more detail, but that’s the gist).

Want proof? Here’s a picture:

contrast

 

There are more ways to improve readability, but if you get started with these three you should see a noticeable uptick in key performance metrics (like time on page, lower bounce rate, etc).