Public Relations Tactics

3 Checks to Help You Get the Word Out Online

December 3, 2013

I’m back in school, studying for my Oregon Master Naturalist certificate. (Somebody check my pulse: Why did I think that taking geology again might suddenly be fun?)

In this back-to-school spirit, here are three tests that you can run on your Web page to make sure that your message is accessible to skimmers and to scanners. 

1. Pass the three-second test.

Visitors spend less than four seconds on 25 percent of the Web pages they visit, according to a 2006 study by University of Hamburg researchers Harald Weinrich and Eelco Herder.

Those visits peaked at two to three seconds. This means that within three seconds, Web visitors decide that about a quarter of the pages that they visit aren’t right for them.

So pass the three-second test: Hook visitors within two or three seconds. Your Web visitors should grasp instantly what the page is about and why it’s relevant to them.

Clear page design and a solid headline and deck will help you make your point quickly.

2. Pass the skim test.

If your Web page passes the three-second test, then Web visitors will spend about 10 seconds scanning the page, according to Weinrich and Herder. One-quarter of Web pages don’t make it past that 10-second scan.

So conduct the skim test on your copy. Make sure that your audience members can get the gist of your message in 10 seconds without reading the paragraphs. To do so, place your:

  • Main idea in the headline and deck, or one-sentence summary
  • Major points in the subheads
  • Minor points in the boldfaced lead-ins, highlighted key words, links and other display copy

Now, have a colleague read the display copy. He or she should be able to understand your key points without reading the text.
If so, then you pass the skim test. Otherwise, make your copy more skimmable with display copy like:

  • Headlines
  • Decks
  • Subheads
  • Lists
  • Boldfaced lead-ins
  • Links
  • Highlighted key words

3. Pass the squint test.

Display copy is also the secret to passing the squint test.

When Andrew Stoner wants to see whether or not his copy is scannable, he takes off his glasses. Squint, suggests the marketing communication director for P-Plan in Indianapolis.

Does your copy look easy to read? Is it broken into little chunks? Or is it one long river of gray text?

If it looks inviting, then you passed the squint test. If it doesn’t, then break your page up and make it look easier to read with display copy.

Does your copy pass these simple tests?

If so, then congratulations! You get an A on getting the word out to skimmers and scanners.

Copyright © 2013 Ann Wylie.  All rights reserved.


Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at Visit and get more than 2,000 writing tipsheets at


Sylvia Burgos Toftness says:

Great tips based on real research. This helps loads. Thanks so much.

Feb. 18, 2014

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