Eric May – Media Consultant




How do people actually “read” on the web?

We know a lot about this, thanks to the work of Jakob Nielsen, an American researcher and writer. In 2006, Nielsen published a fascinating study called “Eye Tracking.” 

The Eye Tracking study found that most people, no matter what the site, or what they are trying to do, always read websites in the same pattern. 

Here’s what it looks like: “F”

Nielsen concluded that just about everyone reads a website following the “F” pattern:

• First they read in a horizontal movement across the top of the content area
• Then they move down and read again horizontally, but across a shorter area
• Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement

Nielsen’s experiments mean: put the elements you want people to see… where the eyes naturally scan.

The Eye Tracking study also found that much of the attention of online users is diverted elsewhere in the online “frame.” 

Online users spend a lot of time looking around, outside the primary text or video image itself, focusing on things like alternative headlines or links, even the video control buttons and unusual objects in the background of the video. 

This seems to suggest that for the online user, a static image such as a talking head is boring, even for just a few seconds.

And one final point: 

• Nielsen’s research also found that people filter out ad content on the web very effectively.

• Anything that looks like an advertisement or “branding” is almost always ignored and avoided by the online user. 

Nielsen’s results mean something very important: online news producers have to put the important elements where people will see them.