There are a lot of elements to take into consideration when designing a website. For example, the way you structure each page influences what information users will pay attention to. Research shows that people don’t read online content the way they would a book or a magazine, but they usually scan it instead.
This is why the visual organization of a website is so important. There is a handful of predictable scanning patterns people follow when consuming online content. Understanding these patterns enables you to arrange elements on your site in a way that increases engagement and boosts conversions.
In this article, we’ll discuss what eye-tracking patterns are and how certain patterns can be used to improve your web content. Let’s get started!
F-Shaped Patterns vs. Z-Shaped Patterns
Eye-tracking studies have discovered that people tend to use certain patterns when scanning web pages and other digital content. Two of the most common patterns are ‘F’ and ‘Z’ shapes. In other words, the natural eye movement of visitors who arrive on a web page tends to follow the shape of one of those letters.
By superimposing these letters over a web page, you can get an idea for where users' eyes will land and in what order. For example, F-shaped layouts assume that a person’s eyes will start at the top of the page, reading the headline first. Then they'll move down the left side of the web page, skimming through the content that stands out.
Next, their eyes will horizontally move across the page to read subheadings and bold text, before skimming through the rest of the content until the end. F-patterns are most common on text-heavy web pages such as blog posts, when readers have to make sense of a lot of information very quickly.
The visual hierarchy of the Z-pattern, also known as the reverse S-pattern, moves both from left to right and from top to bottom. It starts in the left-hand corner of the page, moves horizontally to the right, and diagonally crosses down and to the left, before finally landing on the bottom-right side of the page.
The Z-shaped pattern is extremely useful, because it’s a simple concept that can be adjusted as needed. The pattern is most commonly-observed on home pages, advertisements, and other image-heavy content. That makes knowledge of this pattern invaluable when designing web content that isn't text-focused.
When and How to Use Z-Shaped Pattern for Web Content (3 Tips)
By understanding how people are likely to read your content, you’ll be better positioned to choose the right design for your web pages. Let's focus on how you can use knowledge of the Z-shaped pattern to increase the odds of visitor retention and conversions.
1. Designing Pages With Minimal Text
Text-heavy pages, such as blog posts and search results, are often more effective when they follow F-pattern layouts. After all, that type of design mirrors how our eyes tend to naturally read and process dense text.
On the other hand, Z-shaped patterns are applicable to content with minimal text, such as landing pages and home pages. On these types of pages, the call to action (CTA) is typically the most important feature.
A common layout that takes advantage of this pattern includes a logo in the top-left corner of the page, a menu or sign-in bar to the right, some key information and high-quality images that are easy to digest in the middle, and a compelling CTA at the bottom. The web page below is an excellent example:
The purpose of landing pages and other media-heavy content is usually to point the user’s attention to a specific desired action. Designing with the Z-pattern in mind guides the user’s gaze smoothly across the various elements on the page, to land finally on the CTA.
2. Highlighting a Few Key Elements
On text-heavy pages, you're charged with presenting a bulk of information in a visually appealing way. Since you know that the reader will be following an F-pattern when scanning pages with a lot of text, it's helpful to put the most important elements first on those pages.
Unlike with F-patterns, Z-patterns work best on pages where simplicity is the goal. One of the benefits of using the Z-pattern layout is it that enables designers to incorporate four key principles of effective site design:
The Z-pattern helps you make effective use of these four elements. This is why it's useful for landing pages, home pages, and sign-in pages. A perfect example of this in action is on Facebook’s website:
As you can see, the Z-pattern can be used to highlight multiple CTAs, rather than just one. In this example, the page is encouraging you to either log in or sign up for an account, whichever is most relevant to each user.
Typically, the content separating the two horizontal lines of the ‘Z' includes large graphics and images, as well as concise and easily-scannable text.
Research has found that humans process images faster than they process text, which is why including them in the center keeps the eye moving. CTAs are often reserved for the right side, either at the top or bottom of the page, since this is where the eyes tend to land or pause while scanning.
3. Creating a Clear Path Down the Page
The Z-layout doesn’t necessarily need to follow a hard-angled path. It can take more of a curved path instead, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a reverse S-pattern.
Another option is to use a series of Z-patterns to create a natural flow down the page. When done correctly, this pattern can build momentum before arriving at the final CTA. Plus, it's helpful on pages that have more than a few simple elements.
The following web page is an excellent example:
This zig-zag structure enables you to create a visual narrative for users to follow as they scroll down the page. In a series, once one ‘Z' ends the pattern begins again, smoothly guiding the visitors all the way to the final piece of important information.
When creating online content, it’s important to remember that users won’t likely be on your site for very long. So you need to quickly capture their attention and ensure they find what they’re looking for right away. In order to do that, you'll need to choose a design that adheres to well-known eye-tracking patterns.
F-shaped patterns are ideal for text-heavy pages like blog posts and news articles. On the other hand, Z-patterns are ideal for:
- Designing pages with minimal text
- Highlighting a few key elements
- Creating a clear path down the page
Do you have any questions about using the Z-shaped pattern in your web designs? Let us know in the comments section below!