UX Movement – Why headlines attract more user attention than images

I feel obligated to repost this invaluable bit of knowledge from the excellent UX Movement website.

UX Movement – Why Headlines Attract More User Attention Than Images

When websites show content, they’ll usually use a headline and image. Headline and image quality is important in getting the user’s attention. However, the headline will always get the most attention no matter what. Here’s why.

Look at this image. How relevant is it to you? What is the context behind the image? One could make guesses all day, but the fact is that nobody knows for sure.

Now look at this headline. How relevant is it to you? What is the context behind the headline? You know what the context is immediately after reading it.

You can easily visualize the image with the headline alone. But you can’t make out the headline with the image alone. Users won’t understand the image without the headline. But users will still understand the headline without the image.

With the headline and image put together, users get the full picture. They get both the story context and the emotion.

When users see both together, they will naturally pay more attention to the headline because it has the context and details of a story that they can relate to. Users are looking for information, and a headline gives them more information than an image. However, the image can appeal to users’ emotions more. And that can reinforce the headline and give users the extra boost to click-through. Both are important, but the headline is most important.

Placement & Visual Weight

How can you apply this newfound insight to the way you design content? Since headlines attract more attention than images, you’ll want to place your headline before your image. This way users can immediately get to the headline without having to go through the image.

Putting the image first wastes an extra visual fixation that doesn’t give users any useful information.

The image is more meaningful to users after they understand the context from the headline first.

Another thing is to make sure that your image doesn’t have more visual weight than your headline. When an image is too large, users can easily get distracted. This slows them down from their task of getting information. To avoid this, balance the weight between your headlines and images, and let your headline do most of the talking.

When your image is louder than your headline, users waste their time staring at the image.

Replicated Research

If you’re still not convinced of the claim through objective reasoning, take a look at Jakob Nielson and the Poynter Institute’s research. Their studies “used different methodologies, tested different users and different sites, had different goals, and were conducted at very different stages of the growth of the Web” and they all concluded the same results. In Jakob’s own words:

When different people keep finding the same results year by year, it is time to take the findings seriously and to base Web design on the data and not on wishful thinking.

The results are in and the time to treat headlines with more respect is now. You may love looking at your image, but the user is looking at your headline.

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