Usable insights from how people browse websites

When thinking about the design of your website, you should have a good understanding of how people actually browse websites to help inform your choices. This will make your website more appealing and engaging for customers, ultimately leading to more sales.

Insight 1: First Impressions happen fast

Users make a snap judgement about your website and about your brand within 0.05 seconds of arriving at the site.

This opinion plays a big part in whether they will stay or go find something else, because chances are they have a lot of other options to pick from!

clear branding and strong first impression vs confusing, dated visuals

How to fix it? Better design that conveys your brand AND is competitive in your market. This involves doing research on your target market to see what will appeal to them, and also knowing what other competitors are offering and seeing how you measure up to the standard they set.

Insight 2: It’s not enough to be good-looking, it also has to be easy

As soon as a user hits an issue with navigation or design getting in the way of what they want to do, there’s a 38% chance they’ll leave to look somewhere else. 39% of users will leave if your images don’t load correctly or take too long, seeing it as a bad sign.

This means your site structure has to be clear and make sense from the user’s point of view, and that good design includes good functionality and usability. There are heaps of free tools out there to check and fix small issues, such as Google’s tool that finds ways to make your website load faster. This isn’t an insignificant problem - some estimates say that slow-loading websites cost retailers $2.6 billion in 2015.

Insight 3: Homepage images count - but only the first one

Users spend an average of 5.94 seconds looking at the main image on your homepage - LONGER than they spend reading the text!

You should choose impactful imagery that communicates your brand or your message strongly, because it counts. Sliders are useful for displaying a lot of content, but make the first slide the most important - it’s often the only one a user will pay attention to.

Insight 4: People don’t read your content like they read a book - they only scan it

Visitors to your site will only read about 20% of your content - they scan for key points rather than read.

When browsing the web users want to get to important information fast, with minimal effort. So to maximise efficiency people will scan your written content quickly to look for keywords and phrases relating directly to what they are looking for.

focus on key messages and easy to scan vs. text heavy and difficult to scan

This means you should structure your content so that key information stands out easily, for example by being in bold, or coloured separately from the rest. Complex or detailed information should definitely be shown in an image, which people are capable of understanding much faster than written content.

If you have a lot of content with minimal visual cues as to what’s important, people will tend to scan it in an “F” shape, scanning the first few sentences in the top paragraphs, and paying less attention the further down the content goes.

The same principle holds for mobile browsing as well. This means they’ll often mean important pieces of information, because they simply haven’t seen it!

So if you have a lot of content, to counter the “F” scanning problem Nielsen Norman Group recommends you:

  • Include the most important points in the first two paragraphs on the page.

  • Use headings and subheadings. Ensure they look more important, and are more visible, than normal text so users may distinguish them quickly.

  • Start headings and subheadings with the words carrying most information: if users see only the first 2 words, they should still get the gist of the following section.

  • Visually group small amounts of related content — for instance, by surrounding them with a border or using a different background.

  • Bold important words and phrases.

  • Use bullets and numbers to call out items in a list or process.

  • Cut unnecessary content.

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Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C. & Brown, J. (2006) Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!, Behaviour & Information Technology, 25:2,115-126

Adobe (2015) The State of Content, Expectation on the Rise, October,

Toth, J. (2015) 13 Impressive Statistics on User Experience, Inside Design,

SWEOR (2018) 17 Eye-Opening Website First Impression Statistics: Is Your Website Costing You Clients?

Weinreich, H., Obendorf, H., Herder, E. & Mayer, M. (2008) Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use, ACM Transactions on the Web, 2:1

Pernice, K. (2017) F-Shaped Pattern of Reading on the Web: Misunderstood, But Still Relevant (Even on Mobile), Nielsen Norman Group, November 12,