Website content provides people with more information than they can easily handle. When you have a lot of content to share, you’ll need to deploy practical techniques in order to capture the attention of your audience. An efficient way to do this is chunking. Content chunking combines pieces of content into manageable chunks that are easy for your readers to absorb. The chunks facilitate the consumption of information and make it easier for website visitors to quickly find what they need. Let’s take a closer look at the process and how it could benefit your website.
How Website Users Approach Information
Website visitors approach information differently than they would if they interacted with the same content in a book, magazine, or other printed media. Most website owners are surprised to discover that the typical visitor doesn’t read much of what they see online. Instead, they scan or skim it. They pick out words, phrases, and a sentence here or there. They also read subtitles and headers.
Evaluate Your Website
Now that you know how website visitors typically approach the content on a website think about how a first-time user would approach your site’s content. Would they struggle to find information? Will they have to work hard? Do site users quickly navigate away from your site because of a poor layout or experience? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your site needs to use content chunking. Combining pieces of content into small chunks makes it easier for visitors to navigate, find what they need, and absorb it.
Chunking content should follow a clear hierarchy:
- Short sentences
- Short paragraphs with one idea per paragraph
- Meaningful sub-headings
- Bulleted lists without complete sentences
- Highlight important words and sections
- Simple graphics to guide the eyes
- Half the word count (500 words or less
How Readers Handle Content Chunks
A chunk is an organizational unit used by memory. The brain recodes it to group like items together. It’s often used in memorization. Phone numbers are a good example of chunking. The parenthesis around the area code and the hyphen between the exchange and subscriber number make the 10-digit string easier to remember compared to a long string of un-chunked numbers.
What chunking means in User Experience and Design
In user experience or design, chunking means breaking up your content into short sections that are easy to understand and remember. It also creates a visual separation. Chunking avoids walls of text. This layout enables skimming and scrolling on smartphones.
Methods of Chunking Content
There are several methods for chunking content, and some of the most common are:
- Short paragraphs with white space for separation
- Short text lines of text, up to 75 characters
- Clear visual hierarchies with h2, h3, h4, and so on
- Grouping related items grouped together
- Distinct groupings in strings of numbers or letters, such as a credit card number grouped in fours
Advanced Chunking Techniques
Doing basic chunking isn’t enough to facilitate the scanning of your content. You’ll need to make the process even easier by highlighting the main points of each chunk.
Some methods to try:
- Hierarchical headers
- Larger font size
- Bold text
- Numbered or bulleted lists
- Short summaries
- TL;DR footer
Tips for Chunking Multimedia Content
When your content includes images, graphics, videos, buttons, charts, and other elements, keep related items close together. Use white space to help readers identify related groups of information. Background colors also help group similar multimedia items.
The Story of the Number Seven
George Miller, a cognitive psychologist, wrote a 1956 research paper about short-term memory. His research showed that people could remember about seven discrete chunks of information. He found that the size of each chunk didn’t matter. For example, people could remember seven letters or seven words. Miller’s research became almost mythical, which has led to some misconceptions about human memory.
Some designers misuse Miller’s research findings to justify limited designs. For example, some designers won’t use more than seven items in a list or menu. However, people don’t need to remember all the items in a drop-down menu, so there’s no need for a website designer to limit the number of menu items to just seven.
Miller himself noted a caveat to his research. The second half of his paper’s title included a disclaimer: plus or minus two. That means the human memory’s actual range might be five to nine. Other studies have found that chunks of three to six are more feasible for short-term memory. These variances account for a lot of user performance, perception, and ratings of websites. When designing your site, keep in mind that many of your users might be in the minus one or two categories, so smaller chunks of five items may be more manageable for your audience.
How to Make Chunks More Memorable
For people who may have difficulty remembering even five chunks, setting up multimedia content may help. There are several ways you can accomplish this, including
- Organizing your most important points
- Only include essential information
- Make an outline
- Add an image or graphic
Advanced Chunking Techniques
If you have ample time to dedicate to site design, there are several advanced chunking techniques you could try:
- Follow the inverted pyramid
- Try shading
- Implement white space
- Use web links
- Choose an SEO checking tool
Let’s take a look at these advanced methods in greater detail.
The inverted pyramid method is common in journalistic articles. It also works well for web pages. You present the most important information first. This is the foundation of the article, and it corresponds to the base of the pyramid. The least important details come last, and they represent the tip of the pyramid. If your visitor only reads the first sentence or two of your content, they’re getting the most important information. If they want more details, they can keep reading. If they get tired of reading, they’ve absorbed the crux of what you want to share.
Shading and Tables
If you’re making a list of associated items, statistics, or products, consider shading. Don’t use more than two colors. Make sure there’s enough contrast between the two colors and between the shading and the font color. Shading alternate rows help people read across the line of information. If you use tables, don’t include grid lines. They add to visual clutter and cause a distraction.
Use Spacing to Your Advantage
Browsing a page on a website is easier when there’s an even amount of white space between paragraphs or sections. You’ll need to break up long paragraphs and deploy more subheadings. Aim for paragraphs of no more than three to four related sentences. Use spacing between separate paragraphs and between paragraphs and images. Spacing helps you avoid walls of text.
Use Web Links
Consider separating more detailed information onto a new page. For example, your landing page might have introductory chunks. At the end of the paragraph, include a web link to a page where people can go for more detailed information. Add links for topics that users may want to know the nitty-gritty.
Choose an SEO Checking Tool
SEO checking tools count the words in each sentence and paragraph. They also determine keyword density. Try a free tool to get a feel for how they work. You could subscribe to a paid SEO checker if you find one that provides you with helpful information that yields a boost in your site’s ranking on Google and other search engines.
How Chunking Impacts SEO Campaigns
To deploy chunking and SEO at the same time, use your keywords in the first sentence. This is like the topic sentence in a research paper or opinion piece. Use the keyword or a related key phrase in the concrete details, commentary, and concluding sentence. In your paragraphs, answer these questions: Who did what and why, how did they do it, and when did it happen?
The combination of short paragraphs, white space, strategically used key phrases, and words have the potential to bolster your SERP. You can get more mileage out of your discrete chunks by using them in your pay-per-click ads, social media posts, and blurbs or snippets. In SEO, the ideal paragraph length is 100 to 200 words. Keep sentences to 20 words or less. Vary sentence lengths. Alternate sentence structure, and remember that you’re not just writing content for AI and web crawlers. You’re writing it for people.
Using chunking in your website content makes it easier to present and organize information. Your readers will be able to follow the modular layout, and they’ll take in the most important information within seconds. When you correctly use content chunking, you can turn a disorganized, confusing, or monotonous page into one that engages, motivates, and excites your readers.