Why is it Important to Produce Scannable Website Content?
Most web users don’t read every word on a website.
They want to get as much information as possible from their sites in the minimum possible time. This has led to most people scanning websites for important information, and has marked a change in how the most effective websites are designed. Producing scannable content helps people consume a website in chunks that are easy to understand. Designing a website in this way emphasizes the most important parts of a website while still giving users the option to read sections more in-depth if they choose. When producing scannable content, it’s important to balance the needs of the website with the needs of the user, giving the user the overview they want while also making sure that the website contains the information it needs.
Scannable content should be well laid out visually.
This is an easy thing to forget when producing scannable content, but it is also one of the most effective ways to keep users engaged in a website. Format headlines in high contrast, so they’re impossible to miss. Use subheadings whenever possible, and make sure that they are visually distinct from the main headings. Most websites can also benefit from condensing long paragraphs into lists. Don’t use too many images or glaring colors; instead, use them sparingly so they draw the user’s eye when they are important. Users don’t need quick changes in format or color all the time to keep them interested in a page. A minimalist approach to layout when producing scannable content is often the best one because it keeps users focused on the content, rather than the website’s formatting.
The information in a scannable page is, of course, the most important part.
The structure of a website’s information is critical when producing scannable content. Keep the overall length of pages low whenever possible. Estimates vary on what the best page length is, but keeping a single page below 1000 words is usually a smart choice. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Try not to use long words or vocabulary that people won’t understand. When this isn’t possible, make sure the unusual words are emphasized and clearly defined so they don’t slow down the reader. A good general rule for producing scannable content is to keep sentences below 20 words and word length below 4 syllables. Some sites limit their paragraph lengths to 3 sentences for easy scanning, but it’s better to arrange a page logically then to break up paragraphs in unusual ways. This can actually reduce how well users scan the page.
An often overlooked element of producing scannable content is the impact of that content on people with disabilities, particularly those who use screen readers.
For web users with low vision, properly producing scannable content is critical. They cannot rely on visual cues to understand where breaks in the text and page sections are. Their only way of getting context is through screen reader capabilities or the text itself. Since website builders can’t assume that disabled users will be using certain screen readers, it’s best to write pages so they make their context clear without visual cues. Make sure the page is valid HTML markup, and add instructions to the page where possible to help screen readers clarify what is happening. Explicitly describe sections, where possible, and make it easy for users to navigate a page using only a keyboard or mouse. The more easily someone can go through a page, the better its scannable content.
Although scannable content may seem like an unwelcome change in how people consume digital media, it’s actually a significant step forward.
Web designers and content creators should focus on producing scannable content whenever possible. Scannable content, when created properly, is easy to understand, easy to navigate, accessible for people with disabilities, and easy to remember. All of these advantages can increase traffic to a website while also promoting a freer exchange of information.