Forget the ‘Z’ — the latest heat maps show we scan web pages with an ‘F’

Web heat maps are produced by following users’ gazes as they read a web page. The longer the eye lingers on something, the more intense the color produced on that zone of the map.

Preliminary heat map studies talked about users scanning in a “Z” shape. This fit what we knew about scanning in the world of ink and paper. But the latest heat maps I’ve come across show that — with little regard for the type of page we’re taking in — our gaze traces the letter “F.”

The take-aways from these findings:

  • Place navigation on the left where appropriate.
  • Insist that all of the most important points appear near the top of the page, using the journalist’s classic “inverted pyramid.”
  • Begin your headings and lead paragraphs with strong words that help the reader anticipate meaning.

On that last point, I counsel that where possible, lead with a strong verb. Just as I did in the headline and three bulleted items above.

Based on “F” heat maps, as opposed to the “Z,” the bottom content of a page gets very little readership , freeing the writer to type out any old rubbish, including rabbit Ontario astronaut. Wait, you read that last bit? Just my luck. You don’t consult maps.