The web has rewired our brains.
As a result, we have shorter attention spans and are more likely to skim content than read long-form. A visit to a website lasts 21 seconds on average, just enough time to skim a few sentences, glance at photos, or take some kind of action.
"On the Web, there is no such thing as leisurely browsing," writes Nicholas Carr in The Shallows. "We want to gather as much information as quickly as our eyes and fingers can move."
In The Shallows, Carr discusses a study performed by web consultant Jakob Nielsen, who by tracking the eye movements of 232 participants, discovered that users skimmed web pages instead of reading line-by-line as when reading the pages of books.
According to Carr, Nielsen relayed the results of the study to his clients by defining it as "F" for fast. "That's how users read your precious content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website's words in a pattern that's very different from what you learned in school," Nielsen stated.
What can we take a way from this?
In a nutshell, no one reads your website. At least not in the way you expect. Visitors skim, and within a few seconds, make a quick decision whether to take an action or to move on.
If you're like most people, you want to capture that action. To do so, you'll want to make sure your website is skimmable, so visitors can quickly gather enough information without having to read in-depth.
Moreover, don't make website visitors think. Make it clear what action they should take and make it simple to take that action by eliminating barriers. This means clear and easy to understand calls to action.
With this in mind, we can capture the outcome we're seeking even when visitors move fast.