Forget Reading! Web Content Is Meant To Be Skimmed

There are a lot of different schools of thought on how to develop website content that is “just right” for search engines and customers alike. Everyone has his or her own idea of what the perfect amount of content is. Unfortunately, we still hear people saying that any content is too much!

The argument goes something like this: “People don’t read, they just look at the pretty pretty pictures.” This is both true and false. Many people don’t read content, but they are just a fraction of your audience. Another fraction skims the content, and still another fraction will read every word on the page.

So, which audience are you going to disenfranchise with (or without) your content?

Reading online

Reading online isn't like reading a book. We have to write differently for the online audience.

Fortunately, you don’t have to disenfranchise any. You can create content that is meant to be read, ignored or even half read/half ignored (a.k.a., skimmed).

When you create content designed to be skimmed, you’ll find that you are, essentially, providing content for each type of audience. It can be read, ignored or quickly reviewed by the reader looking for the nuggets of information that are most important to them.

Let’s look at these three types of readers and how skimmable content is good for them each.

Content? I Won’t Read Your Stinking Content!

Non-readers don’t have much use for lengthy text. Small bits of content are fine (such as short product descriptions, photo captions or twitterbites), but they really don’t need or want the whole multi-paragraph-learn-all-about-how-great-our-stuff-is sales spiel.

Non-readers generally navigate by looking at pictures and links until they find what they are looking for. Essentially, these are cover-art shoppers. Your pictures speak more for them than your words. In fact, for non-readers, words tend to get in the way.

But that doesn’t mean you should eliminate all content from your website. As long as the content is non-obtrusive and doesn’t hinder the non-reader’s search and navigation experience, they can blow right past it and get right to what they came for.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Reader

Then there are the readers who are likely to read almost every word on the page. These types are information gluttons. They want to know about the product, need to be sold on its virtues and must be convinced they are making the right decision about their purchase. And, your content is the way all that gets done.

To a reader, all information is generally good information. The more they know about the product, your company and anything else that increases your credibility will help them feel secure in doing business with you instead of a competitor.

Text is an important part of the reader’s decision-making process. From the homepage to categories and sub-categories to the actual product page, the reader is intensely interested in what you have to say, as it will be the determining factor in whether you get a conversion or not.

Skimming Is What I Do, Darlin’

Skimmers don’t really read the content on each page, but they do scan through it in order to find quick visual cues that will help them get the information they want. When they see something that appeals to them, they’ll stop and read more thoroughly or click a link to get to the content that does interest them.

Content written for skimmers helps all visitors get a sense of what you’re saying without requiring them to read every word. In fact, skimmable content is better for both the reader and non-reader because skimmed content is easier to read and/or ignore. Essentially, it enhances the page for readers and doesn’t get in the way of non-readers.

Since skimmable content is easier on the eyes and makes important nuggets of information eye-catching, the non-reader will find it nearly irresistible. This allows them to “inadvertently” take in important information that gives them a better impression of your product.

For the reader, skimmable content is even easier to read, making important points obvious and ensuring that the reader factors their importance into the decision-making process.

For all readers, skimmable content helps visitors see what’s important and even highlights key navigational elements that otherwise might have been missed or overlooked if not implemented in a skimmer-friendly way.

All Content Should Be Skimmable Content

It’s not too difficult to take good content and make it more skimmable (aka better). Here are some important points for making content skimmable:

  • Place your content where it will be noticed but is not obtrusive. You might have to break it up a bit. The longer the content is, the more careful you have to be about where and how you place the content on the page. This is especially true when dealing with product category pages.
  • Start each paragraph with your most important and compelling verbiage. Many skimmers look only at the first line of each paragraph. Make it count.
  • Use paragraph/section headings that draw interest but are also quick to read at a glance. If it’s too long, it gets lost in the word-salad.
  • Use bulleted lists when possible, as this breaks up the monotony of the content and creates easy-to-digest chunks.
  • Bold or italicize key concepts throughout. Don’t go overboard, but use this to draw they eye to anything you think really needs to stand out.
  • Add images to your content. Even though images don’t get read, the do draw the eye and make the content more likely to be seen, skimmed and read.

Writing for skimmers is really about good writing practices and formatting your content in a visually appealing way. Just as good content is a valuable part of the SEO process, skimmable content is a valuable part of the sales process.

Good website marketing isn’t about building a site for any one type of visitor, it’s about building a site that speaks to as many different visitor types as possible without alienating any. You must have the right pieces in the right places in the right way. Skimmable content allows you to target all types of readers and give them even more than they want. That way, everyone has a positive experience.

Image credit: frenta / 123RF Stock Photo.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Keywords & Content


About The Author: is president of Pole Position Marketing, a leading online marketing strategy company established in 1998 and currently based in Canton, Ohio.

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  • Megan Marrs

    I skimmed this post and got the info I needed…or at least the gist of it ;)

  • JonDiPietro

    You beat me to it.

  • Stoney deGeyter

    Megan, that comment was awesome! At least I think it was… I didn’t really read it.

  • Rob Cairns

    For me reading web content is no different then reading a magazine or a news paper. I tend to skim the content until I find something really compelling to read.

    That said this post was really well done and well out.

  • BondMarissa

    my friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her paycheck was $19177 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more her

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  • George Michie

    Great article.  At the core well-written and easy to skim are one and the same.

  • Matt Muncy

    TLDR…just kidding

  • Roshan

    One thing that this story misses is a good image or cartoon on skimming rather than the one used. Most users would stop by for a good smile in between.

  • Martin Soler

    In sequence: 
    1. Good titles. 
    2. Great captions. 
    3. Informative subtitles. 

    People don’t read what they aren’t interested in. On the other hand they avidly read what they are interested in. By covering the above you’ll get those who are interested. 

    PS: And ask your customers what information they wanted…

  • Cory Grassell

    Web writing is indeed different than other types. Form follows function. In other words, the format should be based on the primary purpose of the Web reader. Write for the audience and medium, and perhaps save the in-depth content for white papers, case studies, etc.

  • Chris Cornwell

    I always write web content with the skimmers in mind.  It definitely can be hard to balance writing something that you feel needs to have some meat on it but still has to appeal to someone not willing to read every word. 

  • Kimberly S. Patterson

    have some meat on it but still has to appeal to someone not willing to read every word.

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    my best friend’s sister-in-law got paid $14696 the prior month. she is making money on the inte<!–truth is almight–>rnet and bought a $372500 home. All she did was get blessed and work up the steps uncovered on this link 

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  • lijep

    Thank you, great article. Web sites are helpful tool for customer to easy and quickly find what they are looking for. An article need to be informative and easy to read at the same time. Benefit of the blog post is learning something new that customer can implement in real life. I would say highlighting the key words would help skimmers.

  • Harris Family Law

    I agree.  We just skim to an article to find out if it’s interesting.  Content should also be easier to understand and don’t use too much jargon or flowery words so as it won’t be boring.

  • BooneOfelia99

    my roomate’s ex-wife brought home $19224 the previous month. she is making income on the internet and moved in a $491500 condo. All she did was get lucky and try the instructions laid out on this web page

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  • Agus Alisyahrendra

    yes i agree like this…

  • Maurine W. Sigmund

    meat on it but still has to appeal to someone not willing to read every word.

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    my roomate‘s sister makes $82/hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for six months but last month her check was $19771 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site

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    my friend’s aunt made $17398 the previous week. she is making income on the internet and bought a $578000 house. All she did was get lucky and try the steps written on this website

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  • Valentina Azzi

    I agree with the article. It is important also to use the tags h1, h2, h3… in the right way to help skimmers.

  • RatliffSandy

    Have you ever wanted to earn cash online? That’s why I would like to tell you a website where the owner shares all ways of making money online. Did you know that you can make money trying products or clicking ads? Then you should visit ====>>> ⇛⇛⇛⇛► (Click At My Name For Link)

  • GameZone

    Awesome! One thing that this story misses is a good image or cartoon on skimming rather than the one used. Thank you.

  • Alex Bramwell

    Don’t people skim content to see if it is actually reading. Relationships are the be-all-and-end-all of content marketing. You don’t develop them with superficial tripe.

  • Stoney deGeyter

    Alex, Depends on the purpose of the content. I know I don’t read every word of a product description, specifications or even articles, if I’m looking for something specific. I skim to get the information I need and decide if I’m good or want to read more.


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