For much of my career, I worked as a technical writer. I learned a lot about presenting the written word online. Much of it is applicable to blogging, and I find I use many of same tricks on my blog that I used doing online Help. I also obtained a certificate in User-Centered Design and spent a considerable amount of time doing usability work. I’ve learned some valuable information and techniques that can help you make your blog more usable.
If you’re wondering whether you really need to put effort into the usability of your blog, consider these facts:
- Studies have shown that over 50% of all visits to pages last 10 seconds or less.
- Users only read about 20% of the words on a page.
- Users make a decision in seconds as to whether to continue reading the page or leave.
People don’t read, they scan
I twice had the opportunity to use Microsoft labs to test how users read online content. The first time was in the late 90’s. In that test, subjects failed in their tasks even when using the Help. The reason quickly became clear. They didn’t actually read the Help, they just skimmed it. And skimming didn’t work, given our Help design.
The second usability test, about five years later, was with eye-tracking software, where heat maps revealed exactly where users’ eyes went in the online content. Where did their eyes go? To the bold text.
Many studies have shown that users scan web pages, rather than read them. So the first, and most important thing to know is, your audience isn’t reading your posts. They’re scanning.
As part of my coursework to get my UCD certificate, I took a terrific class in how the visual system works. Here are some of the key learnings that are relevant to blog layout.
Our eyes gravitate to pictures
Visuals, especially isolated ones in a sea of text, draw our eyes. The human face, especially, draws us. In fact, people’s eyes, from babyhood, are instinctively drawn to picture of human faces.
We respond to movement
If you are looking at a still scene or page, your eye will be drawn to any movement. We react instinctively to movement. Think of our ancestors, looking out over the tall grassland. The slightest movement drew the eye, because those blades of grass that just shifted might be a stalking tiger.
Items that are different are assumed to have greater importance
On a page that’s a sea of text or in a paragraph where all the letters and words look pretty much the same, anything that STANDS OUT both draws our attention and is automatically assumed to be more important.
Again, if you’re an ancient human looking at a sea of green and white grass, and there’s one orange spot, your eye is immediately drawn to that orange spot. You give it more attention and deem it more important. If you didn’t react that way instinctively, you’d probably be tiger-chow.
Close proximity indicates a relationship
- When one item
- is next to another item
- the two are considered to be related in some way
An element that is apart from them is considered to be specifically unrelated to them.
Items that are visually similar are considered related to one another
Even when items are scattered over a page, if they are visually similar, our brain creates a relationship between them. That’s why headings work. Sentences that appear in the same font face, style, and size, even if dispersed over a page, will be considered as somehow having a relationship. Thus, on this page, all the left-justified, bold sentences standing alone are considered headings of the same level.
By now, you’ve probably picked up on a few of the tricks I use. But in my next post in this series, I’ll spell out some key techniques you can take advantage of to improve the usability of your posts–even if your theme or template is fairly limited.