Woman sitting on the floor in front of a laptop, holding and looking at a smart phone in her left hand, and holding a credit card in her right hand. Young girl petting a golden retriever in the background.

How Customers Read & Digest Information

February 10, 2020 / Guest Author

Understanding the Mind of the Customer: How Customers Read & Digest Information on the Web

Some people get the bulk of their information from Google or Bing. Some use social media. Some just click links from other sites they visit. Some click on ads; some never do. Even with analytics, it’s hard to predict where all your visitors will come from, and what their frame of mind will be. However, no matter what digital channel you’re on, some things about user behaviour and mindset are constant. The more people you can cater to, the better your online presence will be - for you, and for your potential clients.

Different users have different journeys

Not everyone is looking for the same thing from a website. Some will be looking for a basic introduction to insurance, some will be looking for a detailed list of services you offer, and some will just be looking for a number to call. These are what web designers refer to as different “user journeys” – scenarios explaining how a person might interact with a website.

Some user journeys are predictable, and can be easily accommodated – for instance, mobile versions of websites tend to emphasize contact information, because very often, that’s what’s being looked for when the user is in the car or out on the street. It’s fair to say, as a general rule, user journeys are made better when users can quickly and easily find what they’re looking for. On a website, that means quick loading times and prominent and simple navigation.

Skimming, not reading

People don’t read the web like they read physical material (like books, newspapers, and brochures). People tend to read physical material from front to back. Internet users aren’t so ordered – they skim, skip whole sections, and miss small details. If you have something you want emphasized, make sure it’s very obvious – make your most important links and sections bigger and bolder than others.

Also, web page titles should be as clear as possible. Page titles are prominently displayed in search engines and on shared links in social media, so yours should say exactly what the page is. A non-literal title like “Preparing for the Journey of a Lifetime” does not promise to be nearly as informative as “Canadian Mobile Home Insurance Basics”.

When it comes to text, less is more

The less text people have to read, the more likely they are to read it (or at least skim it). The skimming eye tends to avoid big, dense blocks of text – even if it contains the information they’re looking for.

There are stylistic ways to lighten text, like breaking big paragraphs up in to smaller ones, or using bulleted or numbered lists to break down topics into manageable chunks. However, the best way to lighten text is to write less – make things as succinct as possible.

There are also other media besides text. If something can be explained in fewer words using a graphic, it’s more likely to be read (and shared!). Videos are also a user-friendly way to go into lengthy detail. However, both of these methods require more work than writing, and won’t be indexed by search engines the same way.

People get very distracted

People don’t just skim – they skim distractedly. Granted, not all visitors will be sidetracked – some will be on a desktop computer, giving it their full attention. But many will be on their phone in a doctor’s office, or on a bus, with only a few minutes before they put their phone away.

The clock starts ticking the moment they start looking, and it doesn’t stop once they’ve found your site. The quicker you can answer their questions, or direct them to what they’re hoping to find (whether it’s a resource or a phone call with you), the more likely they are to reach that goal. The longer it takes, the more likely something is to interrupt them, whether it’s a dentist’s appointment or simple frustration.

For many, phone calls are becoming a last resort

With the availability of online resources and advice, many customers prefer to make their own decisions, and do as much research for themselves as they can. They’ll read (or skim) as much as they can before speaking to a broker, or entertaining the idea of buying.

In a way, this is good news – if you have a helpful body of online resources (pamphlets, articles, infographics, and more), they can reach a lot of potential clients without you having to actively send them.

However, it’s also bad news – it means a lot of good resources will be read in the same disrupted way as other online content, and many prospective clients are less likely to talk to a broker because they feel they’ll be given a sales pitch, not an education. You may want to find ways to suggest that a phone call is not an invitation to a sales pitch, but a chance for you to answer their questions one-on-one.

The way people search the web is very different from the way they talk to people. It’s less attentive, more interrupted, and much quicker – especially in the age of smartphones. But it’s also new – as a marketing opportunity, it didn’t exist twenty-five years ago. We can now reach customers and help them make decisions in an instant – especially if we cater to the way they think when searching.