user-FshapeIt may surprise you, but most people read websites and web content in a very specific pattern. Understanding this pattern may help you easily improve the usability and popularity of your website.

Do Most People Really Read Websites The Same Way?

Yes! It may be hard to believe, but most of us read websites and web content the same way – by following a very specific pattern with our eyes.

How Do We Know This?

Researchers at the Nielsen Norman Group study how users use the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) to consume content. In 2006, they released an “eyetracking” study that revealed how 232 users viewed content on thousands of web pages. The common pattern of consumption, referred to by the researchers as a “dominant reading pattern”, was revealed to be shaped like a capital “F”.

The F Pattern

Users begin to consume website content by quickly scanning the uppermost part of the content area – the top horizontal line of the F pattern. The users’ eye movements then quickly moved down the page a short distance and then back across the content from left to right, although this time for a shorter span – hence the second, shorter horizontal line in the F. Finally, the eye movement scans down the left side of the web page, either in a slower or faster movement, forming the vertical line of the F.

So What Does This Mean For My Website’s Usability?

Although the researchers from Neilson Norman Group have stressed that this F-shaped eye movement is not “pixel perfect”, it does provide a very important guide for how content on most web pages should be organized, prioritized and edited. By displaying your content in this F-shaped pattern, you can encourage visitors to your site to primarily focus on the content you want to prioritize.

Content Placement

Based on this pattern of eye movement, you should begin by placing some of the most important elements of your website at the top of the screen, from left to right. Most websites are designed to include a banner and a row of menu options immediately below. It is advisable to include your company logo on the far left of this banner area. To the right of the logo should feature either an extension of your primary branding, a search bar, or primary navigational elements.

Left Most Prominent

Next, if you include a bar-shaped menu immediately below this banner area, you should prioritize the list of your content in a logical fashion from left to right. If you are selling a selection of products or services, you should begin by listing your most prominent (or profitable) offerings to the left. This may include direct links to product categories or an online store. Less prominent or important portions of your website should appear farther to the right.

Finally, if you want to include a more extensive list of products, services or content on your front page, you should compile a list on the left-hand side of the page. According to the Neilson Norman Group’s study, this will be the final area scanned by a user before deciding to either continue browsing content or abandoning the page and moving on to another.

Website Examples

The following are a few prominent and popular websites that follow this F pattern in their primary desktop site design as of the date of this post.
• Yahoo!
• YouTube