For F's sake – here's the how-to of attention grabbing copy.

Eye-tracking studies show that people read online in an F shape, skimming quickly to find what they’re looking for. Learn how to take advantage of this behaviour by tweaking your layout and writing compelling headlines and subheads.

Attention-grabbing copy – The F-shape eye-tracking is the key

If you're one of the romantics who think what you write is everything, here's the truth – how you lay it out is equally as important. Why? Because people will skim-read and, in certain places like online, they’ll read in an F-shape pattern.

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In 2009, Neilson Norman Group brought together groups of users, gave them devices and asked them to complete specific actions. As users worked, the program tracked their eyes when they looked at the screens. Red is where people's eyes dwell the most, blue for the shortest dwell time and grey is where no one looks at all. As you can see, people read the first line and then skimmed down the left side of the article. AKA the F-shape.

People go online to solve a problem, find information or complete a task. They’re not there to enjoy reading for its own sake, they're searching for specific information. With so much content coming at us every day, people have to decide what to focus on and what to ignore. This means your copy needs to work hard. But no matter how good it is, it’s almost never read as you intended. So here's our secret weapon – put your most important information in places on the page where they absolutely will be reading. For example, well-written headlines, subheads and bullet points allow people to quickly skim the information and conclude whether or not the article holds the info they're looking for.

Write great headlines and subheads

People will read headlines and subheads as a little group, skimming as they work out where to dive in. That means you should put the most relevant information in headlines and subheads to tell people what they're going to read and why they should want to in the first place.

If you assume the reader will only look at these headers and subheads, it pays to check – are they working together? Here's to make them work harder:

  • Make them meaningful and specific. We can't be cute, vague, intriguing or clever if it obscures the meaning of the article.
  • Start subheads with different words. For example, if they all start with 'How to', readers will merge them and read them as one.
  • Use your keywords. It takes people 0.2 of a second to skim content for relevant information. Make sure you're highlighting the words they're looking for.

Get meaningful and specific

Here are two examples of how removing cute but vague wording and adding keyword specifics will grab more attention. You can see that in each post’s results – because more people ‘saw’ the keyword-dense post in their news feeds.

          Vague                                                                                             Keyword specific

Get keywords up front – without them, most readers will just ignore the messaging

Add beautiful bullet points

One way to get important information front and centre is a bullet point list. It's the closest you can get to a graphic as a copywriter, and it can be a beautiful way to illustrate your point. Most writers use these for their own convenience, but you should use bullet points to emphasise your text. Here are some tips to make your bullet lists beautiful and compelling:

  • Follow a grammatical form – if one bullet point starts with a verb, the rest should too.
  • Make them a similar length – don’t make one point three sentences long and another two.
  • Keep to five points or fewer – no more, or you’re writing bullet lists people won’t read.

This bullet point list example is ticking all the boxes. Its aesthetic is nice and balanced, each point matching in length and grammatical pattern. Also, it highlights the most compelling benefits for the reader in an easy-to-skim way, adding a little more context underneath.

Use the F key to grab attention with your copy

Eye-tracking studies show us that we need to write copy with the reader's intentions and behaviours in mind. For them, your content is an investment of their time and attention. Because of this, your headlines and subheads need to work extra hard to prove that their investment will pay off. Ask yourself – what is the benefit your content will bring them and what's the result for the reader? If you'd like help planning your content, come and chat with the team at WFB.

Olivia McLeod

A self-described ‘annoying lyrics person’, Liv loves a great song just as much as a poem, a novel – or a headline. That obsession with words has taken her to some interesting places.