TR: What behaviors or characteristics do you see as being prevalent among Web users?
NIELSEN: People using the Web are impatient and very goal-driven; they always complain about anything that they perceive is slow. Also, they don’t have a lot of tolerance for what you might call marketing speak or for companies that try to oversell to them.
TR: How about reading on the Web? Do people read differently on the Web than they do the printed page?
NIELSEN: This is one way the impatience shows itself. People don’t read long blocks of text carefully or thoroughly on the Web. Screen resolution is too low, too coarse, so the letters don’t feel smooth to the eye. That slows down the eye when it tries to read the text. So Web users tend to just scan sites, picking out the little snippets that are of interest to them.
TR: How should the writing and design of a site change to accommodate people who don’t read?
NIELSEN: First, think how you would cover a topic in print–then cut the word count in half. People are not going to read every single word. Acknowledge that. Restructure the site to take advantage of hypertext.
TR: What are some specific principles to follow?
NIELSEN: It’s important to specify what the page is about at the very beginning. People allocate very few seconds to deciding whether a site is of interest. If the good stuff is at the bottom of the page, the user may move on without ever seeing it. For the same reason, it’s good to make heavy use of highlighted keywords–you want something that pops out as people scan down the page, something the eye can rest on. Also, you don’t want to present a topic as one long, scrolling page.
TR: Some online publications break up articles into sequential chunks. At the bottom of each page it says, “Click here for the next page.”
NIELSEN: I call that “page turning,” and it’s a truly bad solution to the problem of scrolling. It completely ignores what makes hypertext so powerful. You still have to go through these four pages in sequence. You can’t jump to the one thing that you care about.
TR: What’s a better way to handle long text, then?
NIELSEN: Make a brief introductory page that tells people very, very clearly what it is about. That page can be linked to a lot of sidebars and background information and other detail. If the links clearly tell which sidebars have what information, people can skip two-thirds of them and choose only the ones that are important to them. And linking to material from outside your own site allows you to take advantage of what others on the Web have produced. If you can select the correct links, you can enhance your service thousands of times beyond what you have the capacity to deliver yourself.