How people read the web and the rise of blockquote

04 September, 2017 5 minutes read

Summary * According to Nielsen Norman Group, 84% of the people skim through web conent. * I believe that longform writing is still valid, but we should keep the user in mind. * Ensuring readbility and accesability will benefit both onlone writers and readers.

People are not really reading cotent. Suprised?

In a recent report named “How People Read on the Web: The Eye tracking Evidence” the Nielsen Norman Group reviewed recent findings on how people approach reading text online. In the age of short, clickbait-y snackable content it should be no surprise that in broad strokes, the eye tracking research found that 84% of the people skimmed through the text to find key attributes and words that were associated with their original intent.

The research goes into detail on the patterns in which people scanned the content (notably the “F pattern”) and different experiments done with text and formatting used to create higher conversion rates. If you are into digital content or thinking about how to optimize your commercial content there is a lot of value in that report. Also shoutout to Nielsen for NNG for putting a $20 price tag on their reports, pretty affordable in comparison to other research companies.

In my own, small, personal world of blogging, I’m a great believer in hitting the publish button regardless of the fact if someone would read or not. That said I found some really good user stories in the research and there is some things I can probably do to make text more accessible and adjusted for today’s reading patterns.

Don’t get me wrong, long form writing is still awesome

Here’s a personal user story that needs to to be hashed out right off the bat: Long form writing is still a personal favorite of mine and no matter how what any eye tracking research say or how many text optimizations and conversion rate tricks a website has, a big part of the blogging gist for me are good, well written long form posts (the crappier and stripped down the UI the better).

But I totally get the other side as well: We’re at an age where there are tons of smart people making tons of smart posts and I don’t need a 1,500 word post to get the point, capture the best quote and share it on Twitter so everyone will think “hey this guy reads that guy on Medium and got the exact quote the sums up the whole thing, he’s gotta be legit”.

So one thing I was looking for in the research is the middle ground, the spot where I would still feel great with writing 1,000 words on whatever while still making it - * Sharing friendly: If someone do find value at a portion of the text, I'd like to make it easy on them to capture and share it. At the current iteration of the blog the only option is to share the entire post, but maybe there is value to bring the highlights forward a little bit more.

  • Digestible: On the other side of the sharing loop, if someone shared a post of a portion of it, I’d like the reading experience to welcome those 84%, not on the expense of my own writing style and length.

We’re at an age where there are tons of smart people making tons of smart posts and I don’t need a 1,500 word post to get the point.

The rise of blockquote

One element that links the ability to highlight portions of the text and robust enough to fill different functions from a user experience perspective is good ol’ mr blockquote.

Blockquote is used to bring in text from other places (quotes is a very popular example) and break the overall chronological text flow. I’m going to try using several types of blockquote and see how I feel about them going forward:

Summary: At the top of this post you can see I worked out a new type of blockquote called summary. In posts that are mainly informational or somewhat long I feel that it would be beneficial for people to know what they are about to read and give them the opportunity to skim through if they choose to do so.

I’m also considering the option of having some sort of a share intent on the summary blockquote but right now I’m leaning against it since there are plenty of sharing intents throughout the post (including the one constantly overhead). So maybe pass on that.

Shareable Quote: Putting shareable content front and center can help break the writing flow in favor of introducing ideas that are yet to come or remind ideas that were introduced previously in the text. If you look couple of paragraphs above you'll be able to see an initial implementation of a full screen shareable quote.

For this post specifically it feels a little bit forced, but long run I bet they’ll be a better place for those. The next step I’d like to take with those big, bold, quotes is to have an nice easy way to share them, probably another quick JavaScript project coming up.

Closing thoughts

Circling back to the Nielsen research, one of the main points that hangs up there in the air is that online reading habits has been changing throughout the last couple of years and the transition to online content skimming isn’t over yet.

I’ll keep writing and hitting that publish like no one’s watching 😅