The look and layout of text and graphics on a web site are as important as in a magazine or newspaper layout. It is dismaying to see how many companies simply throw together HTML pages with excessive amounts of scrolling (and boring) text.
Web surfers will read 25-50% less on their computer than they would on a printed page, due mostly to the fact that printed page resolution is some 100 times as clear. Your pages must be pleasing to (and easy on) the visitor’s eyes, or all your careful content writing will be in vain. With this in mind, consider the following tips for dealing with the unique layout and presentation problems presented by the Web medium.
Proofread Spelling and Grammar!
This is an absolute must. Proofread all your copy at least twice, and if possible have another person read through it as well. A pair of fresh eyes may often pick up on mistakes that you have missed. If you publish copy with typos and poor grammar, what kind of impression is that going to leave? (That said, hopefully you won’t find any typos in this article!)
Make it easy to scan
This is important, especially since most read users dislike reading large blocks of text. Try to break the page up into key points or bullets that will allow for faster reading and make it easier to digest. Avoid overdoing the bolding of text-the point of bold font is to highlight a select few points, not every second line! As a general rule, only the title of the article and perhaps subheadings should be bold. Likewise, avoid overuse of underlining or italics.
Internet users are turned off by long pages that require a large amount of scrolling. If you have to post long articles or content, split it up into multiple pages. Splitting content over multiple pages also encourages the user to read through smaller, manageable chunks, since they seem much less daunting. I have already mentioned that people will read less on the screen than in print. In addition, studies have shown that people read 25% slower onscreen than they do on paper. This means that you should make your content at least 25% shorter than a print version-so edit!
Line Length and Alignment
Newspapers and magazines have long realized the value of short line length. That’s why most articles in these publications are in columns, rather than going across the entire page. However, most web pages have line lengths that are too broad for easy reading. Generally, you should have no more than 15 words on a single line, or roughly 65 characters. In addition, refrain from right or center-aligning your text. Left-alignment is both the simplest and the easiest-to-read.
One common mistake is using distracting backgrounds or backgrounds which make the text downright unreadable. The classic white background with black text is still the best choice for text heavy pages. A light background that stays in place as the reader scrolls can also be an elegant way to offset plain type.
People read by recognizing the overall shape of words. CAPS slow down the character recognition ability of a person, making reading more frustrating and inefficient. Your readers will stay longer and absorb more information if you do not type in caps. Besides, having your text in all caps TENDS TO HAVE THE APPEARANCE OF A HYPED SALESMAN COME-ON! And do also tone down the exclamation points!!! It simply makes your company look like a dubious, fly-by-night operation– not the impression that you want to create. Also keep this in mind when writing email ads, or sending (opt-in) email. Whenever I receive an email in ALL CAPS with !!!!, my brain immediately thinks… spam!
Flashing, Rotating and Animated Graphics
As a rule, animated graphics are to be avoided in a business website. They take longer to load and are simply distracting and annoying. I have been to otherwise professional-looking pages which were ruined by a flashing, cheap, “Email Us” animation at the bottom of the page. Having said this, there are times when a very small and tasteful animation can enhance the look of the site, especially if it somehow relates to the product or service you offer.
There are two fonts specifically designed for maximum readability on screen, they are the Verdana and Georgia. In addition, Times Roman, Courier and Arial are both very legible as well. These fonts might seem “boring” to the webmaster looking to make their website appear hip. However, the most important factor is to choose a font that is clear and does not tax the viewer’s eyes.
The best cure for layout problems is prevention. Before you design your site (or leave it entirely in the hands of a non-creative programmer) do some research and find web sites that you like and you can copy the look and feel somewhat. Also take at look sites in your industry and the types of features that your competitor’s sites incorporate. While you don’t want to copy (you want to innovate), this research can save future time and grief if you get it right the first time.