Does your website’s readability deserve an F?

If you’re like most website readers, you focus your attention (what little you have) on the opening paragraph of text. So said Jakob Nielson more than five years ago.

You can just skip this paragraph and move on to the next one. If Nielson is right, you probably will anyway.

And then, according to Nielson, your eyes will track back to this paragraph. The eye tends to skim website text in an F pattern. “F for fast,” Nielson says. “That’s how users read your precious content.”

Heat maps show eye-tracking F patterns from Jakob Nielsens 2006 study. (Click image for link to Nielsons original article.)
Heat maps show eye-tracking 'F' patterns from Jakob Nielsen's 2006 study. (Click image for link to Nielson's original article.)

So why am I blogging today, in 2011, about usability research that is more than half a decade old? Because, thanks to this article in The Next Web, I was reminded of this research a couple of days ago. It never hurts for a verbose blogger to be reminded that readers don’t always hang on our every word.

More important, that TNW article made wonder if Nielsen’s findings still hold true in the content-streamed, microblogging world of Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

By now you’re probably done with this article. But hang on for just a minute and think about these questions:

Do our eyes still track that F shape in our new social media-saturated world? What about on mobile devices? What about tablets? Has technology changed the way our eyes traverse a screen?

Back in 2006, maybe your website did deserve an “F” (pattern). Does that still hold true today? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

One thought on “Does your website’s readability deserve an F?”

  1. I’m surprised no one has commented yet! I believe the F-pattern is still a correct assessment of how users take in content, particularly since the pattern has been reinforced so successfully by Google’s embrace of its own “golden triangle,” the upper left portion of the F in Nielsen’s heatmaps. Would love to hear the thoughts of others…

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