Nano-content: 1st 2 words

April 6th, 2009

Not only do you have to choose title of your papers, posts and web pages well, their first two words should be chosen to carry the message. Jakob Nielsen reports on UI research showing that the first 11 characters of links and headlines are important in forming some idea of what the item is about.

First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye
“Our newest usability study … tests how well users understand the first 11 characters of a website’s links and headlines. For example, we’d represent this article by the “First 2 Wor” string. … Why test text that’s so severely truncated? Because online reading is often dominated by the F-pattern. That is, people read the first few listed items somewhat thoroughly — thus the cross-bars of the “F” — but read less and less as they continue down the list, eventually passing their eyes down the text’s left side in a fairly straight line. At this point, users see only the very beginning of the items in a list. …”

Nielsen calls the initial few words in a title “nano-content”. While it’s hard to pack some ideas into 11 characters, it sounds like a good goal.

Choosing the words for a link or title carefully is a key to influencing search engines — these words are given higher weight when indexing the associated content. But search engines don’t scan like humans, so putting the most relevant early in the string helps when a person is shown a list of results.