Nielsen and initial text

11 April 2009 at 21:52 Leave a comment

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox reviews a test of how well users understand the first 11 characters of a website’s links and headlines.

“Why test text that’s so severely truncated? Because online reading is often dominated by the F-pattern. That is, people read the first few listed items somewhat thoroughly — thus the cross-bars of the “F” — but read less and less as they continue down the list, eventually passing their eyes down the text’s left side in a fairly straight line. At this point, users see only the very beginning of the items in a list.”

Participants were shown truncated (11 character) links, one at a time, and were asked to predict what they’d find if they clicked on the link – they had  the site’s name and a brief site description for additional context. Then particpants were given a task and asked to pick the relevant link from a list of 10 truncated links, 9 of which were distracters.

He cites a Directgov example of a page title/link, Working while you study: paying tax, as performing badly.

So, some thoughts:

  1. I’d definitely agree with front loading links and titles to get the keywords up front, and advise colleagues to do this. But surely users scan, looking for relevancy and context, so how useful is this test?
  2. In the Directgov example there are three concepts:
    • working
    • studying
    • tax

OK, it is a bit complicated, but the usefulness of the article is about the context of all three – do you have to pay tax when your working but studying too. I don’t think there’s a quick fix, but clearly the most important context is studying. So here’s my suggestion:

Student tax – do you need to pay if you work?

Any better suggestions?


Entry filed under: usability. Tags: , , , .

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