How good are you at writing for web page skimmers and scanners?

To put it another way, how well do you write web pages for people who simply glance at, skim or pass their eyes across the page, barely reading a thing?

If I am writing a heading for someone who actually reads, I might write:

“I am an online copywriter specializing in conversion rate optimization.”

If I am writing a heading for a skimmer or scanner, I might write:

“I write online copy.”

Or…

For a reader:

“Sign up for Café Express today and save money on every order!”

And for a skimmer:

“Save on coffee.”

Is it necessary to write for skimmers and scanners?

Yes, it is. Heatmap studies show again and again that readers online give their full attention only to the first few words of a line of copy. They might read a page width of a page headline, if it’s a good one. But as they move down the page, they give less and less attention to subheads and body text beyond the first few words.

You have probably noticed this yourself as you look at the words on a website you are visiting for the first time. You rarely read every word. You scan the page. And you scan it in search of the answer to a simple question in your mind, “Is this page relevant and interesting?”

With that in mind, as a writer of web pages, you should be asking yourself another question:

“If visitors read just the first few words of each copy element on the page, will they find the page relevant and interesting?”

The answer is often no, simply because too many writers include a bit of fluff within the first few words of their copy and take too long to get to the meat.

For instance:

“Discover a powerful tool to help you get organized. XYZ Software helps you get more done ”

A skimmer will miss the point, because there is too much fluff at the beginning.

For a skimmer I would rewrite this:

“Get more done with XYZ Software.”

For skimmers and scanners, you have to get to the point faster.

But what if you can’t say all that needs to be said in five or six words?

Not a problem. You simply communicate your message in smaller pieces.

Let’s look at the coffee example again:

“Sign up for Café Express today and save money on every order!”

Instead of trying to say it all in one sentence, we’ll break it up. And we’ll mention saving money first, because that’s more interesting than “signing up”. Saving money is the benefit, signing up is simply the process.

For our heading we’ll use what I wrote before:

“Save on coffee.”

Then we can add a caption under an image.

“Home delivery with Café Express.”

Then we’ll add some link text:

“Sign up and save…”

I have said the same. Actually, I have said more. I added the part about home delivery.

But I have communicated what needs to be said in three short pieces. Each piece is short enough to be “seen” and understood at a glance. In other words, you don’t really have to read the text from left to write, you can absorb both the words and their meaning at a glance.

Concluding thoughts…

Go through some of your existing online writing and see how well you wrote it for all those scanners and skimmers.

If your most important text is too long to scan, think about how you might break it up into smaller pieces.

Then test and measure.

A good webpage is written both for scanners and for readers.