Cut webpages in half

Shorter webpages nearly 60% more usable

When usability guru Jakob Nielsen wanted to measure the effects of short web copy, he studied a webpage about Nebraska.

Cut webpages in half

Half as big is twice as nice Short webpages outperform long ones. Image by Danielle MacInnes

One of the original passages said:

Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. [Last year], some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).

Then Nielsen rewrote the webpage, taking out half of the words. The rewrite:

[Last year], some of the most-visited places in Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).

Short webpage: 58% more usable.

Then Nielsen tested both pages for metrics including:

  • Task time: the number of seconds it took users to find answers to questions like “On what date did Nebraska become a state?”
  • Errors, or a percentage score based on the number of questions readers answered incorrectly
  • Memory — a recall test asking such questions as “Please list any names of tourist attractions you remember from the site.”
  • Subjective satisfaction, or how participants felt about the site’s quality, ease of use and likeability. This was measured by questions like “How frustrated did you feel while working on this site?”

The result: The shorter rewrite was 58% more usable.

Nearly half again more usable just by cutting out half the words? That’s a pretty good ROI on concise copy!

The 124% solution

Finally, Nielsen made the Nebraska webpage more:

  • Concise
  • Scannable
  • Objective

Here’s his rewrite:

[Last year], some of the most popular places were:

  • Fort Robinson State Park
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum
  • Carhenge
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

With just these three tweaks, he more than doubled usability, to 124%.

How do you make your webpages shorter?

“High-quality short copy will outperform poorly written long copy every time.”
— Michel Fortin, chief experience office, Supportibles, Inc.

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