A Look at the Time Spent by Web Users when Reading Online Content

By March 3, 2012 Blog No Comments

Duration per Word Count

It’s long been a known observation that today’s generation of Web users aren’t very big on reading. Most high-literacy users prefer to just scan through text and identify certain keywords and phrases; however, a recent study goes deeper into exactly how much, or how little, users ready on the Web, shedding much needed light into this aspect on Internet user behaviour.

The study sampled the browsing habits of 25 users, whose browsers had been instrumented for the tests. The ‘rigged’ browsers recorded data on what users did when performing ordinary day-to-day activities on the Web. This allowed the users to stay in their most natural behaviour while browsing.

User Behaviour Changes

Researchers found that use of the ‘Back’ button fell to 3rd place as the most commonly used feature on the Internet. While clicking hyperlinked text is still the most common behaviour, clicking webpage buttons has overtaken the back button as the 2nd most used web feature. The researchers pin this change on the fact that Web pages are now laden with features and applications that require the use of page buttons for access.

Reading Behaviour

The study used a dataset of around 59,500 page views, 24 percent of which was eliminated since web users did not read nor interact with the pages. The remaining 45,000 page views, which involved content with word counts ranging from 30 to 1,250 words showed a clearer picture at how little time web users spent reading content.

As expected, users spent more time reading pages with more content. However, the time difference between word counts isn’t all that great—yet another sign that users simply scanned content. The study found that for each additional set of 100 words, users spent only 4 seconds more to read it.

How Much Actual Text is Read?

Using a rough formula, researchers determined that users spent a fixed time of 25 seconds for the first 200 to 400 words of content they read, plus 4 seconds for another 100 words. However, this also includes the amount of time users spend getting used to a page layout, taking away from the time spent to read.

Enform believes that for content developers, it is best to target content at a small, niche readership, with the content as usable as possible for your audience. For those with a broader audience, content must be highly relevant but brief enough to inform the audience without boring them.

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