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How do we read from the screen? We disprove 5 myths

There were many myths around the screen reading. Will even well-optimized text be scanned? And one our stumbling is enough for the reader to escape from the website? How do we really read on the internet?

Eye tracking tests are very effective. Actually, every time you talk about them in a lecture or training, they make a good impression and arouse interest.

Both thermal maps and fixation paths are transparent, colorful, easily reach the imagination. In addition, they give us the feeling that we can be a step ahead of the recipient. We know what to look at, and what you can barely sweep with the pattern.

Well, do we know that? Do eye tracking tests give us that confidence?

Yes, but only in relation to the researched parties and participants participating in the experiment. Meanwhile, they share the fate of many other spectacular studies. Those who quote them, usually too hastily, draw practical conclusions from them.

The first observations come to mind: more attention is drawn to the picture than the word. And if the reader reads the text, it is only big and clear.

Was this the actual conclusion of this study? Solution to the riddle later in the article.

However, the more dangerous than practical conclusions are the universal ones. They transform into myths with which I intend to deal with this article. Here are some of them:

– We have an impact on what the recipient will notice on the site.
– All readers pay attention to similar places,
– Attention focused on one element means the reader’s interest,
– Readers always read inattentively and in the shape of the letter F,
– Just a glance to stay on or leave the site.

Pay attention to the words “everyone” or “always”. It is they who decide that these expressions are myths. In each of them lies the grain of truth, but none is a universal guide.

We have an impact on what the reader will notice on the site

Eye tracking research suggests that some content should be in the right places to help the reader follow the page. And although everything should be done to make it happen, it is worth realizing that the appearance and content are not the main reasons why the reader will pay attention to the website.

Yes, we have an influence on the appearance and content. However, for the main reason why the reader sees something on the page, we do not have influence.

This reason is commitment.

And I do not mean engagement that can be triggered by a funny video or an intriguing tweet. It’s about the motivation that appears even before the user opens our site.

Research on the credibility of websites suggests that if the recipient really wants to find an answer to a question, he will notice more details and read the text more carefully.

Have you ever used to read internet texts that did not encourage friendliness, but they were more penetrating about the topic? It happened to me. Would I prefer these sites to be more functional? Of course. But did their appearance scared me away? No.

We have no influence on many factors that determine what the recipient will notice on the website. Apart from involvement, this is time pressure, current knowledge, and language competence.

But it is not everything. Credibility is the resultant of what we perceive on the site and how we interpret it. And the culture and social norms determine the interpretation. What’s more, even the same person in a different situation can interpret the same element on the page differently.

The reader who has to quickly book a hotel for a business trip will be more annoyed by a pop-up advertisement than someone who is looking far ahead for a holiday apartment.

Okay, but why wonder what we can not influence? In order to better understand what role the recipient has to play in the Internet. And this is related to the next myth.

All readers pay attention to similar places on the site

When we look at heat maps or fixation paths, it is easy to impose a conclusion: all participants of the study paid more attention to certain places, so probably other recipients would behave in the same way.

This conclusion would be right if eye tracking participants had to browse the pages “just watch.” But this is not happening. Neither in life nor during research. Their participants usually receive a task. And it depends on him where their eyes will go.

The importance of the task in this type of research was demonstrated in the 1960s by the Russian scientist Alfred L. Yarbus. He analyzed the way people view oil paintings. As an example, he used the painting Return of the exiled Ilja Repina. Now look at the reproduction below, and then estimate the age of the heroes of this scene. Already? Now, evaluate the material status of this family.

You will probably find it difficult to reproduce the running of your eyeball. But I expect that to do the first task, you have paid attention to the faces. And in the second case, probably your attention was caught by clothes and furniture.

We asked you two of the seven questions that the subjects in the Yarbus experiment had to face.

“Depending on the task in which the person is involved and the type of information they want to receive, the fixation sites change, because the necessary elements are located in different parts of the image” – summed up the scholar.

Therefore, before we try to use the results of eye tracking, let’s load into the methodology. And it’s not just about how many participants took part in the survey, what pages they were looking at, but above all what they were supposed to do.

The reader will see the same page differently if the task changes. He will try to achieve the effect with the least possible effort.

In one study, the participants reviewed the page with tour offers. Initially, they had to look at the “yes” page. Although the authors of the study emphasized that such an approach is unrealistic, they wanted to see how the results will have a situation in which the participants will be given a task.

The user focused on the top of the screen. At first he looked at the largest text element (price), then looked at the neighboring picture, then looked for the logo and then scanned the names of the town.

A completely different scenario took the wander of the eye, when the participant received the task: “To what places can you go?” He began to scan only the headers with the names of the locality. He ignored the content not related to the goal.

“Which place do you think is the prettiest?” This is another task and at the same time a solution to the puzzle from the beginning of the article. When the recipient tried to answer this question, his gaze went into the path that I will cite once again.

It was because of the task the viewer focused on the pictures, and when he liked the picture, his gaze wandered to the name of the town.

Not all readers pay attention to the same places on the page. Their interest depends on the task they face.

A focused focus at one point always means interest

On thermal maps, more interest is marked by a more intense color, and on the fixation tracks – a larger dot. Is it good that the element drew many glances? Sometimes yes. But stubborn staring at one place can also mean that the reader was … confused.

Can you detect the difference? Yes, but it requires a deeper analysis.

The recipient is confused, looks first, then looks somewhere else, and then returns to the starting point. The feeling that accompanies it can be described as “I do not believe that this is not here.” He is so convinced that this content should be found in this place, that he returns to it several times. He thinks he made a mistake or missed something.

In that case, why is it still on this page? Why does not he click “Back”? Well, that’s another myth I’ll deal with in detail in the fifth point. When the recipient thinks that a given page is best suited for the task, i.e. when it is involved (see first myth), it gives it a greater loan of trust.

In other cases, watching means interest. However, it also has its own gradation.

Let’s say you are going on a trip to Golden Sands. You find an entry on the travel blog, the author of which presents many photos. First, you scroll through the whole, and then you come back to the photos that intrigued you and look at them more closely.

The situation is completely different when you write a report on tourism in Bulgaria. Looking for articles on this topic, then scanning the content to locate important information for you. You read several sentences or paragraphs several times because they cement understanding and help you get the meaning out.

A few extra glances can mean a lot. They talk not only about what the reader was interested in, but also why he paid attention to it, or where he got lost.

On the internet, we always read inattentively and in the shape of the letter F

Previous applications confirm that careful reading on the internet is possible. And what about the letter F?

In particular, the central thermal map has had a great impact on the imagination and has been quoted in an infinite number of studies. Unfortunately, in the company of an interpretation incompatible with the intention of researchers.

The authors intended to show how in the shape of the letter F, not every text is read from the screen, but the one that resembles a wall. The one in which there are no subheadings, bolds, short paragraphs – in a word that will make reading easier. Therefore, to write an eye-friendly Internet text, the effect of the letter F should be reduced and not encouraged.

The reader reads in the shape of the letter F when he wants to do the job as quickly as possible, and is not interested enough to devote a lot of time to the text. It can be bored, tired or evaluate content as of little value.

When the author does not put in any effort to direct the reader’s attention to what, in his opinion, the most important, the recipient will somehow manage and usually focus in the place where he started reading, ie in the upper left part of the screen. And in cultures where you read from right to left? The result is mirrored and the letter F is reversed.

In this respect, the 2006 study remains currently. Users still spend more time on the left than the right side of the screen. And it’s 80/20. However, the left side does not mean the closest left edge of the screen. What lies between 0 and 192 pixels on the 1920 × 1080 monitor gets just 6% fixation.

This is probably related to the responsive look of the site, which rewards the empty space on the page, making the content more central. Proportions are arranged differently on the Google results page. As much as 94% of the attention falls on the left side, of which as much as 60% refers to what is close to the left edge of the screen.

Although readers have become accustomed to the fact that in articles the most essential content is found in the upper parts of the text, no one seems to feel that it can form a letter F. And it is impossible to write a text in which the most important content would be composed into any letter.

F-shaped reading is just one of the ways to read from the screen. These include other reading styles:
– point: the eye is positioned in one place and the mouse or finger cursor is moving across the screen,
– layered: the reader reads only the title and the subtitles, and the text that lies between skips,
– detailed: the reader reads the whole carefully.

This list does not exhaust all possibilities. However, since the reading, identified 12 years ago, is still valid, it shows that human habits do not change as fast as technology.

A glance is enough to stay on or leave the site

Readers quickly run away from sites that are slow to load. According to estimates, smartphone users give the site 6-10 seconds to load, and this time will certainly be shortened. However, with this small loan of trust, the recipients have sites that they have not seen yet (because they have not loaded).

And what about the rest? To assess the credibility of the page, it is necessary to notice an element on it and then interpret it. Usually, people repeat this process until they reach a reasonable conclusion or when they are stopped by lack of time or interest.

In many situations, the reader wants to give himself time and the opportunity to the party.

Let’s assume you’re going to buy new jeans. How do your shopping go? Enter the query in the search engine, then open the first page, click “Back”, return to the search engine, choose another link and so on …

Or is it different? Click next links in the results list and open pages in new windows quickly, one by one, to review and compare them later?

This is a typical scenario, according to which we not only compare products on the internet, but also read news or make a query.

Opening more windows helps not only save time, but also give slower parties the chance to load. Above all, however, it allows you to divide each task into two phases:

1. Hunting: the user scans the available options and decides which may be worth considering later. At this stage, he does not want to be distracted by details.

2. Loot rating: the user browses the pages, reads, compares and eliminates them. He opens new windows, reads again, compares, considers and so on. Switches from one card to another and synthesizes.

Insightful and detailed reading on the internet is possible, but it requires commitment and usually concerns the text that is important for the reader, not the whole.

At the end, it’s time to reformulate the myths:
– The most important reason for the reader to give attention to the page is his involvement.
– The reader draws attention to those places on the site that help him to complete the task.- A focus focused on one element does not necessarily mean interest.
– Reading the screen can be attentive (although it happens rarely), and the shape of the letter F is just one of the ways of reading.
– The reader can give the page a chance before it closes.

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