Keep important content at the top and left of your website.
Web users prefer websites that follow a conventional layout.
80% of time is spent above the fold
The first 800 pixels (vertical) of a web page are classed as ‘above the fold’ (a term originating from when broadsheet newspapers would be folded in half for newstand display). This is your golden section to contain the most important messages from your site and to grab attention. On early sites users would not scroll at all; users are still basically lazy and need encouragement even though long pages are now standard.
80.3% of time is spent above the fold, 19.7% below (Jakob Nielsen, March 2010)
1% of user time is given to horizontal scroll
Horizontal scroll should be avoided at all costs. Standard screen width (1024 pixels) must contain all your information and avoid placing any information beyond the horizontal fold (apart from dynamic colour or uncluttered graphic backgrounds). Only 1% of viewing time is given to anything past the 1024 mark. Basically web users will not scroll horizontally. Ever.
69% of time is spent on the left
Conventional web layouts have a navigation top or left (or both), content centre left and secondary information to the right. Eye tracking studies still show that 69% of time is spent to the left of the screen, with most attention on the 300 to 500 horizontal pixel marks. This is the optimum position for your content; keep vital information/keywords in the first 2 words of sub headings and in the first sentence of paragraphs.
Attention span is limited
Users will only allocate a proportion of time to a website; as they scroll down focus becomes diluted; until only a cursory glance of sub headings and a skim of text is the best you can expect. Keep attention and ecourage scrolling by breaking up blocks of text with graphics, images and punchy sub headings. Also use bullet points, highlight key facts and keeping paragraphs short and to the point. For blogs summarise your postings on the home page so users do not have to wade through acres of text to scan your articles.
Users adapt their scanning for different sites
Conventional layouts will help a user find the information or products they require as quickly as possible; this can make the difference between a sale or a click off. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel – traditional layouts work because a user knows the layout. Navigation at top and left, content centre left and secondary information to the right. If a user is a regular visitor to a site they do have the capacity to adjust to any particular traits. They quickly become adept at finding what they need; ie on amazon users know to scroll to the bottom of a product page for reviews or on google the PPC ads are top left and on the right. But don’t presume your viewers will be loyal enough to take the time to understand; help your user, don’t put obstacles in their way. Like Steve Krug said – Don’t make me think.
Save a little something for last
The serial position effect (Hermann Ebbinghaus) is a cognitive study of being able to recall items from a list. Readers will initally recall items last on the list, known as the recency effect. The items first in a list are also recalled with more accuracy/frequency – known as the primacy effect. Essentially your most important information should go at the front and finish with a memorable thought. Anything in the middle can become hazy. This is why trial lawyers call key witnesses as the end of a trial.
When writing web content your first paragraph above the fold is the most important but also your last paragraph should be given consideration. Even repeating key point from the body of copy will ensure better user recollection. The last paragraph is the ideal position for a strong call to action.
Summary > Sub headings > Something Sticky
When writing a page of content try to remember the 3 S’s – summary, sub headings and something sticky. A brief summary at the beginning will help a user scan and asses if they wish to go in deeper and appealing sub headings will encourage them to keep scrolling down. Ending with a concise, sticky piece of information will keep fresh in the users mind..
All statistics from this article are taken from useit.com – Jakob Nielsen’s website. The number 1 authority on web usability and testing.