You have probably read millions of words online over the years. But how many of them do you truly remember? Now compare your online reading with material in print – which do you reckon you remember more easily? There has been an on-going debate about whether reading from a computer screen is more efficient than reading from paper. But that discussion is taking on a new-found urgency with the rise of products like the Amazon Kindle and the ever rising popularity of smartphones as a means of accessing the web. Never before have we read so much from a screen.
There are some people – Google’s founder Larry Page amongst them – who reckon that we read more slowly from computer screens than from printed material. True, there is research which implies this. However, there are equally studies which show the opposite. But, the experts who have reviewed the literature on the topic confirm that actually there is little if any difference in our ability to read online compared with using printed materials.
The most recent studies point to an alarming fact for those people trying to sell stuff online – particularly if they are aiming at the rapidly expanding mobile marketplace. When people read something in printed form they tend to “get it” more quickly and therefore more easily remember it. On screen it appears to take longer to know the material and we sometimes have to go over it three or four times to truly understand it. This problem is worsened when we don’t have enough context for the material we are reading – such as when it is on a small mobile device screen.
For internet marketers this is important. It means that if you truly want to increase your sales you need to ensure that people can easily print out the pages. That means making sure you have a “Print CSS” file for your website, or that you have visible print buttons which create good-looking pages.
It also means you need to ensure that your web pages have enough context – visual signals which help people understand more easily what the text is about. That way, even if people do not print the page, you are enhancing their ability to remember your content.
And that is important – if people cannot remember what you have written they are unlikely to press that all-important “Buy Now” button.
- Larry Page, My Wife’s Lament, and Reading on Books vs. Screens (bobsutton.typepad.com)
- Encyclopedia Britannica Closes Final Page (geeksaresexy.net)
- Making the important stuff stand out (marketing.yell.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+