6 ways scannability affects your conversion rates

Welcome to a part two series on web page scannability. The first part is going to dive into the ‘why.’ Whereas the second part will address the ‘how’ next Sunday.

TL;DR – Scanability improves comprehension and usability, which improves the website’s performance metrics, including task completion. It positively impacts SEO rankings too. AKA, it leads to more traffic and more conversions.

Scanability refers to the ease of being able to scan a page’s content. The whole point is to get a gist of the content before a visitor can narrow in on information most relevant to them. Scannability as a direct effect on whether or not people end up reading what you have to say – aka your content.

The whole point is to get a gist of the content before a visitor can narrow in on information most relevant to them. Scannability as a direct effect on whether or not people end up reading what you have to say – aka your content.

So, let’s dive into the 6 specific reasons to improve your website’s scalability, shall we?

1. People don’t read online

Plain and simple, people don’t read “word by word” on the internet. They scan. The nature of the internet makes it exceptionally hard for anyone to read leisurely. We can’t really consume information the same way we would a magazine, a newspaper or even a textbook. So, we don’t. Unless something piques our interest right away, it’s unlikely we’ll stick around the page long enough. In turn, this makes the timeframe of grabbing a visitor’s attention extremely slim.

Back in 1997, the Nielsen Norman Group studied how people read on the web. They found out that 79% per participants scanned new pages and only 16% read them word-by-word. I bet those numbers wouldn’t look any better in 2020 if we were to replicate this study. By the way, back in 2010, the Nielsen Norman Group conducted one more study where they found that “users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.” Just FYI.

It’s mentally easier to scan a page by reading only the headlines. It’s easier in searching for information. And, it’s easier to figure out if you’re interested in what the page has to say or if you’re in the right place. Web pages that are well-written and well-designed help with scannability. It’s not only the amount of content you’re showing, but it’s also how you’re showing it. Ideally, your visitors can get the gist of your message as quickly as possible after landing on your web pages.

2. Scannability affects communication and comprehension

Speaking of getting the gist quickly is a significant component of quality communication, no matter the format. For example, say you’re having a conversation with a friend who absolutely cannot get to the point of their story. They keep adding irrelevant details or going off tangent. That’s also going to be a less than stellar experience. But, unlike speaking with a friend, a visitor can leave a website instantly and never come back. (Not to mention that most people enjoy their friends a lot more then they do website.) Improved communication speaks to your credibility, professionalism, and expertise as well.

When people don’t read, how can you get your message across to them? By allowing your website’s content to be scannable. I’ll get into the big details of how to do this next week, but you can use the inverted pyramid method, for example.

A close up picture of a ladybug on a flower jar.

You don’t have to use words to get your message across, either. Visuals communicate quicker than words. We digest them faster than words, and it takes less effort. Yes, the complexity of the image plays a role. But, I can communicate the idea of a ladybug instantly by showing you a picture that requires absolutely no effort on your part compared to the written word “ladybug.” There is more than one way to communicate online.

3. Scannability affects usability

Additionally, when a page is scannable, its usability improves. Usability has a powerful correlation with visitors making mistakes, their frustration levels, and their time wasted.

A red label that says 'mistake.'

Usability is the ease of use of your website. When your page isn’t scannable, a visitor cannot scan the page to figure out how to use it. Nor can they scan to see why or how the web site is useful to them. Instead, it confuses, infuriates, or frustrates the user, which causes them to leave.

When a visitor can swiftly get to the information they need, they waste less time. Unscannable pages get in the way by forcing the visitor to work harder to understand where anything is, which is time-consuming. And, not to mention it’s frustrating too.

Lastly, a visitor will make fewer mistakes if the page, again, is scannable. That’s because knowing what information is where allows the visitor to do precisely what they intend to. This is something I want you to really think about. For example, a user wants to buy something you’re promoting, but can’t because the website is unusable. Instead of going to checkout, the user got turned around and ended up on your blog or Twitter account instead. What do you think will happen to that sale?

When everything is bolder and bigger, nothing stands out. A great example of this is Cruises.com. There is a lot going on their homepage. But their headlines, for example, aren’t easily distinguishable. Neither are their calls to action.

Screen shot of www.cruises.com for an example of poor usability and scannability.

Besides the logo and the pop up in the bottom right, the biggest text items are their phone number and “all-in Caribbean” which don’t make much sense as standalone pieces of information. Everything else has, more or less, the same weight. Their usability, and scannability, could use some love.

4. Scannability influences KPIs and conversion rates

Everything I’ve mentioned so far also has a prominent effect on metrics and KPIs. For instance, scannability and usability affect bounce rates. When people realize they’re in the right place, they stick around longer. Bounce rates are heavily influenced by visitors not realizing they are where they ought to be too. And, what do you think happens to conversion rates when you have high bounce rates?

When a webpage is scannable, a visitor can easily and clearly distinguish what’s your offer. This includes what you’re trying to sell, its value promotions, benefits, terms of the offer, and so on. And, it clearly distinguishes the call to action as well. Therefore, a visitor who isn’t confused can get right into evaluating your offer. Not to mention, the easier the offer is to understand, the better your conversions will look too.

5. Scannability influences task completion

One other thing to note about scannability is that it makes it easier for people to do what you want them to do. Whether we’re talking about a web app product, a blog post, a landing page, or a home page – a scannable website performs better. Basically, unscannable content gets in the way of the sale. It distracts and disorients. The beauty of scannability is that everything I’ve mentioned so far is compounded. Scannability effects comprehension, which affects usability, which affects performance, which affects task completion. When it comes to marketing websites, the most important task a visitor can do is convert. Don’t get in the way of your own goal by not considering scanability.

Take a look at the example below from Jami Lin’s homepage. Besides the dated design, it’s hard to tell what’s what. The page is cluttered AF and scannability is extremely poor. It’s hard to expect anyone to follow through on any single one of the asks within this homepage.

Another example of poor scannability is a screenshot of www.jamilin.com

Basically, people don’t put effort to figure out where they should go online; they leave.

6. Scannability improves SEO

I’d like to think I saved the best for last. Who wouldn’t love to benefit from improved SEO rankings? When you ensure your web pages are scannable for people such as using bullets, it also helps search engine spiders in indexing keywords found on the page. Again, I’ll get into the different techniques in part two.

“Search engines love these scannability tactics as well (thus further increasing your chances of getting your information ‘read’)”

Adam Hayes, Scannability – How People Read on the Web

User experience (UX) plays a role in SEO results as well. As I mentioned earlier, many of these elements are compounded. So, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that improving scanability improves user experience which further positively affects SEO results too.

Scannable content is a win-win for search engines, companies, visitors, and bottom lines.

The takeaway

Incorporating scanability within your website’s design is very good for your business. It can have positively beautiful results on your business results, especially your bottom line. Conscious design decisions that improve the user experience of your website have an impact. And, they do pay off.

PS. Check out part two on the different techniques to improve scanability.