Not so long ago, I read where the average American attention span was 8 seconds, or one second less than that of a goldfish. Now clearly those of us who write would like for people to hang on just a little bit longer. Below I attached some research I complied on the way people read materials on the web.
And when they reach their bailing point.
If you don’t find statistics interesting, you better stop here, but you might be just a little curious being a blogger how some may make it, or not make it, through your blog posts.
I’ve been trying to learn to write better to capture the reader’s attention, but the following is a bit academic and dry, if I do say so myself.
If you boiled it all down, you’d get the impression that our posts shouldn’t exceed about 170 words. But I have faith that us bloggers do hang on and read, especially if we find the material of interest to us.
And that was 168 words – time to bail 🙂
In 2008, Professor Harald Weinreich, Ph.D. of the University of Hamburg published a study analyzing the way people read web articles and interact with web browsers. The study concluded that the average attention span for humans viewing web pages was 8 seconds – that is 8 seconds before jumping to the next page.
Internet browsing statistics demonstrated that: (1) 17% of readers would view a web page for less than 4 seconds; (2) viewers would only read 49% of web pages containing 111 words or less; (3) readers would only read, at maximum, 28% of the 593 words on an average web page, i.e. 166 words; and, (4) only 4% would view a page for more than 10 minutes.
The ten minute category is believed to be from those who left the browser open while doing something else.
While these statistics certainly grab one’s attention about the lack of human attention span, detailed studies reveal more specifics on how people view and read materials – especially web-based materials.
The Nielsen Norman Group has conducted extensive evidence-based research on human reading and human-computer interaction. Their findings expand upon the data collected in the Weinreich study and further reveal:
- For each 100 words added to the initial 111, a highly literate (proficient) reader (reading 250 words per minute) adds only 4.4 seconds of viewing time, or only reads 18%, or 18 words of each 100 words, of the added verbiage.
- Articles with less than 200 words are viewed for 30 seconds or less.
- Articles with 1200 words are viewed for 80 seconds on average (a proficient reader (only 13% of the U.S. population based upon literacy studies) would read only 254 words).
- On average, web page users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit – if they devote all of their page-viewing time to reading; 20% is more likely.
- Studied readers only would read 10% of what they agreed to read.
- Web readers spend 80% of their time looking at information “above the fold” – no scrolling to read the bottom of the page, and it is rare for users to read an entire page.
- Readers attention – 78% focus on text initially, while 22% focus on graphics.
- Generally, readers are drawn to headlines, article summaries and captions.
- Readers will alternate reading between multiple web sites using interlaced browsing.
- Users read fewer words on other sites than they do on newspaper sites.
- Those readers who do read a “full” article only read 75% of the text.
- Readers will spend 69% of their viewing time on the left half of the screen and 30% on the right.
- Only 1% of a reader’s attention will be spent scrolling to view information not visible on the right-hand side of the screen.
- Attention diminishes with each successive paragraph. Readers scan pages in an “F” pattern – following navigation bars and picking paragraphs to read. Thus, 81% of readers will scan the first paragraph, 71% the second, 63% the third and only 32% the fourth. Twelve percent of users will scan the bottom of the page.
The point at which a reader quits reading is often referred to as the “bailer’s point” or the “kick-off point.”
 Wienreich, et al., “Not quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use,” ACM Transactions on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1 (February 2008). A 2013 Associated Press article citing to this research, and to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, reported that the attention span of a goldfish was 9 seconds. http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics.
 Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “How Little do Users Read?” May 6, 2008.
 The Nielsen Norman Group is a business training, consulting and research group that tests computer interfaces, and researches user interaction with those interfaces. It focuses include internet design, interface design, application design, E-commerce design, information architecture, human-computer interaction, web writing and content strategy and intranet usability.
 Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Eyetracking Study of Web Readers,” May 14, 2000; Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “How Little do Users Read?” May 6, 2008; Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Scrolling and Attention,” March 22, 2010; Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group, “Horizontal Attention Means Left,” April 6, 2010.
 Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, the Nielsen Norman Group: “Website Reading: It Sometimes Does Happen,” June 24, 2013 and “How People Read on the Web: The Eyetracking Evidence,” http://www.nngroup.com/ reports/how-people-read-web-eyetracking-evidence/; How People Read on the Web, National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities – citing to the Nielsen Norman Group, http://nichcy.org/dissemination/tools/webwriting/reading.
 Research various and attempts have been made to determine how interest level affects reading behavior. In 2008, the Poynter Institute (journalism school) reported its eyetracking research that indicated that people will spend a maximum of 98 seconds per article they select to read, and read, on average 62% of the story. http://www.poynter.org/extra/Eyetrack/keys_01.html. A 2010 study, however, demonstrated that 57% of news users now go to digital sources to obtain news, but only 44% of Google News readers will read any text beyond the headline for the story. Source: Outsell Research and Advisory Group, http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/19/outsell-google-news.
Photo: You might be wondering why I chose my picture of the Roadrunner. Well, besides being beautiful and reminding me of tiny dinosaurs running around, they are very curious bids and they will hold their attention on you. I think I had a little more time than 8 seconds to take this pic, so it’s attention span also exceeded the Average American 🙂
Note: In a former life, I prepared a rather extensive research study on a similar topic for a not-so-grateful employer. Seemed a shame to waste it all so I tracked back to related data to use here 🙂
Link Rot: I can’t guarantee that any of the links to internet sites will actually take you to those original sites as time progresses.