What is Scannability and How to Use it to Improve Content?     

We are bombarded every day with tremendous amounts of information, both online and offline. People can create more stuff than they can physically consume thanks to new technology and fast internet connections. 

When dealing with a large number of websites and apps, consumers do not read everything word for word; instead, they scan the page to determine why and how it is relevant to them. 

Scannability is now regarded as an important aspect of website usability, resulting from its impact on users’ experience.

This article examines the topic and offers advice on how to make digital products scannable.    

Scannability & IMPORTANCE?

Simply expressed, scannability refers to the ease with which a user can scan web information rather than reading it word for word.

Visitors can read text and pictures on scannable content quickly and easily as they have been prepared and arranged for swift comprehension.

The overall influence of the messaging, formatting, and writing styles employed to make the material scannable. It is a fundamental principle of UX authoring, and by extension, UX and product design in general.

Major corporations and startups increasingly consider scannable content a must-have, leading to the continuous expansion of UX authoring and content design as a subject.

The Nielsen Norman Group conducted intriguing research in 1997 that popularized the word “scannability.”

Jakob Nielsen and his colleagues attempted to learn how people read on the internet.

What’s their conclusion? “They don’t.”

“People seldom read websites word for word; instead, they scan the page, highlighting particular phrases and sentences.”

Only a small proportion of users in the research read pages word for word. A subsequent study reached the same result.

Scannability is important because people scan. This is not a hard and fast guideline that everyone follows. It’s a generalization—some readers will read your material in depth, but most will rapidly scan the page for information that is useful to them.

The four factors determine the amount of time consumers are willing to spend reading (or scanning).

  • Level of motivation
  • Level of focus
  • Type of task
  • Personal traits

Several studies have shown that consumers scan digital content, the most well-known being Nielsen Norman Group’s F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content. 

Following a thorough examination of how people read online, it identified three major conclusions that synthesize into the F-shaped pattern:

  • Users often begin by reading the topmost portion of the material horizontally, which creates the top bar of the F.
  • After sliding down the page content slightly, readers read the second section horizontally, usually in a shorter movement than the preceding one. This is the lowest bar of the F.  
  • From then, people often scan the content’s left side vertically, which can be fast, slow, and methodical, or somewhere in the middle. This vertical scanning creates the stem of the F and completes the F-shaped pattern.

This finding regarding how people consume digital material using the F-shaped pattern was and continues to be a game changer for UX writers, content designers, content strategists, technical writers, and anybody else who values user-centered content.

That’s because it’s critical to design and generate content that represents how people really behave online, rather than how we want them to behave. 

Designing and generating information that mirrors actual user behavior (scanning) is a critical component of developing a “sticky UI” (an interface that keeps users returning). And a sticky user interface is vital to any digital product’s long-term success.

We’ll look at how the F-shaped reading pattern has affected the concepts of scannability later, but first, let’s recap how scannability enhances user experience.

By considering how people consume and digest digital material, scannable content contributes to a good UX (and a sticky UI) in various ways:

  • Users can discover what they need faster by scanning material instead of reading through large amounts of text slowly and carefully, saving time.
  • It lessens cognitive load: Scannable material is more digestible than dense walls of text and needs far less mental energy to ingest.
  • It’s accessible: Making material scannable entails implementing many (if not all) accessibility guidelines.
  • It decreases uncertainty and frustration: Because it allows users to discover what they need quickly and easily, they are less likely to become confused or frustrated.

How can I test scannability?


Consumers can engage with your material and be tested for scannability using a variety of approaches.

Here are several methods for determining the scannability of your content:

a. Usability Testing: Include activities for scanning and discovering particular information during usability testing sessions. Examine how users explore the material, what components they focus on, and if they can easily find the needed information. 

Encourage participants to think aloud, which will provide useful insights into their scanning habits and mental processes.

Users utilize heatmap tools to create visual representations of where their attention is focused. Heatmaps utilize aggregated data to indicate which parts of a website get the most interest. 

You can determine which regions are gaining attention and which are being missed by analyzing the heatmap findings.

b. A/B Testing: Create several versions of your material using different scannability strategies. In this A/B testing, different user groups will be shown various versions.

To assess whether the version works better in terms of scannability, track user involvement, time spent looking for information, and success rates.

Participants’ eye movements are captured while they read your content in eye-tracking studies. You capture participants’ eye movements as they read your content in eye-tracking studies.

This strategy gives quantifiable information on which places people focus on the most and how their attention moves throughout the page. It aids in the identification of trends and opportunities for improvement.

10 Tips to Improve Scannability


1. Create a Proper Visual Hierarchy

The visual hierarchy of a computer interface refers to the organization and display of UI design components to indicate degrees of significance, allowing users to swiftly scan for needed information. Designing a layout with good visual hierarchy involves numerous factors:

  • Size
  • Color 
  • Contrast 
  • Proximity
  • Alignment
  • Negative Space 
  • Repetition

A designer that considers these UI design patterns while producing a UI layout design will ensure that the finished product has a great-looking, harmonious, and intuitively scannable layout.

Google’s search results page employs all of the visual hierarchy elements to improve scannability. 

The use of color, size, and contrast emphasizes the headlines. The negative space surrounding each headline helps to ensure that it is the first thing a user scans.

When users find a relevant headline, they examine the link’s color and proximity to determine its credibility.

Next, to further assess the outcome, they will examine the content copy, which is uniform in color, size, and closeness. In addition to these criteria, repetition and alignment make Google search results simple to peruse.

2. Put the Basic Navigation in the Website Header

All of the described eye-scanning patterns indicate that whichever one a user chooses, the scanning process will begin in the top horizontal section of the webpage. 

Using it to display crucial zones of engagement and branding is a technique that benefits both sides. 

UI/UX designers, content managers, and marketing professionals see the primary reason for the critical importance of website header design.

  • The header should not be overcrowded with too much information on the other side, making it difficult to concentrate.
  • The attempt to fit everything into the top portion of the page might turn the arrangement into a jumble. 
  • It’s critical to analyze the objectives of the main target audience, how they intersect with the business goals of the website, and, based on that, what information or navigation is included in the header is the most relevant. 
  • For example, on a large e-commerce website, search capability must be immediately visible and frequently located in the header to be available from every point of contact.
  • For a small business website, search functionality may be superfluous, but an easily accessible link to the portfolio is critical.

3. Leverage Negative Space

The genius Claude Debussy famously stated, “Music is the space between the notes.” The same is true for scannability; negative space between pieces is what distinguishes a successful layout.

The right amount of negative (white) space surrounding UI components draws attention to the elements themselves. It emphasizes the information while still providing enough breathing room to keep the layout from becoming overloaded. 

Without a breathing room, the human brain is less inclined to scan for objects of interest and becomes confused.

4. Highlight Keywords and Phrases

  • Another strategy for making your material more scannable is to highlight keywords and phrases that you want your readers to notice and remember. 
  • You can use bold, italic, underlining, or color to highlight keywords, calls to action, quotations, statistics, or queries. 
  • Highlighting can serve to establish focus and urgency in your readers, encouraging them to take action or learn more. 
  • However, do not overdo or misuse highlighting, which may make your material appear cluttered or spammy. Use it wisely and regularly to help your content stand out.

5. Test the Readability of the Copy Text

  • Readability refers to how easily individuals can read words, sentences, and blocks of content. 
  • Legibility refers to how fast and intuitively consumers can recognize the letters in a specific typeface. 
  • One should carefully examine these qualities, especially for interfaces with a large amount of text.
  • The color of the backdrop, the amount of space surrounding copy blocks, kerning, leading, font type, and font pairing.
  • All have an impact on the ability to swiftly read the text and capture the material that persuades people to stick around. 
  • Designers must ensure that typographic laws are obeyed and that the fonts promote visual hierarchy and readability to avoid issues.

6. Use Subheadings to Summarize Content


People frequently react badly to big amounts of text. If the paragraph does not match their interests, they may believe they will waste time. 

UI design best practices provide a solution to this problem. By including brief subheadings at the start of large pieces, the user gains complete knowledge of the subject.

When composing the subheading, it is critical to make it concise. Simply express the crucial point presented in the information below.

7. Use Numbered and Bulleted Lists

Another smart way to make the content more scannable is to use lists with numbers or bullets. They assist in clearly organizing data. They also draw the user’s attention to the information, preventing it from becoming lost in the text’s overall structure.

8. Include Photos, Videos and Other Content

  • Visual features help improve readability and scannability by providing diversity, interest, and context to your text. 
  • Images, videos, infographics, charts, graphs, and other media may help you show your views, offer examples, and back up your claims. 
  • They can also assist in breaking up your material, making it more interesting and memorable. 
  • However, avoid using excessive or irrelevant media that may distract or overwhelm your audience. 
  • Choose high-quality, relevant media that complements your content and is consistent with your brand and message.

9. Place one Concept in a Paragraph

When processing copy material for scannability, avoid making large blocks of text excessively lengthy.  The reader finds short paragraphs more digestible and can easily skip unhelpful material. So, after you give one notion in one paragraph, start another one with a fresh thought.

10. Avoid Using Jargon and Technical Words

Jargon and needless technical terminology diminish your content’s scannability by forcing readers to halt or slow down to digest what they’re reading.  When using jargon and technical terminology, it’s important to exercise caution.


Although frequently ignored, scannability is an important design aspect that influences how long consumers remain on your website. Users are more likely to stick with content that is simple to navigate.

The contrary is also true. Users lose interest when there is too much text and not enough bullet points or graphics.

Begin by following best practices such as adding negative space into your design, employing formatting to highlight crucial material, and showing information in scannable bullet points. 

Consider diverse scanning patterns when developing your content to improve your site’s usability and scannability.

Frequently Asked Questions

a. Why is scannability so vital for modern readers, particularly digital media consumers?

Scannability is a formatting approach that allows the intended audience to readily read and comprehend the body of text. Scannability compensates for the fact that the majority of internet users skim stuff rather than reading it.

b. Do links improve scannability?

Keywords in content also aid with scannability since they serve as guideposts for bots crawling web pages. Furthermore, having links inside content allows readers to browse swiftly between relevant subjects or pages on the website itself.

c. Which content element does not improve scannability?

White Space – Walls of text do not provide great scannable content.

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