We don’t read everything on the web. We scan, but we don’t scan everything. We zap from left to right in a ridiculous pace, searching for something that grabs our attention. We don’t really look at photo’s in news articles, unless they are big enough. The same for ads goes as well, size matters and we look longer, a lot longer, if it’s a text ad close to the main content of the page.
We have a way with bold intro paragraphs: we actually read them! Paragraphs’ best size is around 45-50 words, much longer will result in less attention. We also don’t read all the headlines and intros but spread our attention what results in a heatmaps of attention.
Eyetrack2004 is a loosely held investigation of what people watch when they visit newssites. Some of thse issues already surfaced in usability studies, but there are some pretty interesting findings in their public report. Which is also available as a 340 page downloadable pdf. One thing is clear: there definately needs to be more study by independent institutions of the way the user interacts with a website.
What we’ll find may very wel not please designers, and the final result may not be as pretty as it could be, but we’ll be sure that it will work.