You want people to read your website—that’s the whole point. Yet, many website owners and even web designers don’t make the connection between that and HOW to do it. This month, we’ll examine some basic techniques to make web content user-friendly.
First, the Why
Remember, content is king on the Internet. On most websites, people come for the content—not just a quick slogan and some pictures. They want to learn something. They either want to read about a subject of interest to them or perhaps learn about you and your business—or both. You need sufficient content to get the job done.
Now the How
Let’s begin with what NOT to do. Don’t create a “wall of text” on your website with long blocks of text that continue unending as you scroll down. It creates a subliminal sense of dread in the reader. It looks like work to read it.
So, make things easy for your reader!” (sage advice from the Chicago web design guy…)
No matter how much content you have on a page, you can make it easily digestible for readers. Here’s how. Create a visual “breathing room” by using the following techniques:
Shorten Sentence Structure
This part happens before you even put words on a web page. Keep your sentence and paragraph structure short. According to onlinegrammar.com, today’s readers can comprehend 90 percent of content with sentences of 9-14 words. But, comprehension drops as length increases. With 43-word sentences, comprehension scores dropped to less than 10 percent. Wow!
Reduce Paragraph Length
There are two rules of thumb about paragraph length. The first, from Bob Brooke’s Writer’s Corner, is to limit paragraphs to five lines. This changes, of course, with responsive design depending on what device you are using to access content. But generally, shorter is better.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with one-line paragraphs. Often, for layout purposes, I will use them to balance content with adjacent images. It simply adds more “air” to a page. The other rule comes from the Yahoo! Style Guide, which advises that paragraphs be no more than two to three sentences.
Use Headlines Throughout
Secondary headlines, or subheads, help break up the content. They give the eye a natural break point and can also be used to introduce new sections. In addition, headlines are an excellent opportunity to place keywords for those focused on search engine optimization (SEO). Keywords with “H” (header) coding count for more in search engine algorithms.
Vary Your Text Treatment
Similar to headlines, text variations can be used to create visual breakpoints. The occasional use of boldface, colored, or capitalized text adds variety to your page and can call attention to content sections. One caution, however. Do not use underlined text on web pages. Most readers will interpret this as hyperlinked text and may try to click on it.
Make Ample Use of Images
Placing photos and infographics throughout the page makes things more interesting for the eye. Another important role of images is to shorten the horizontal length of text lines. It is generally considered a no-no to have text lines stretch the entire width of a page. You may not always be able to avoid this, but images help you minimize it.
Images can also fulfill another important function when it comes to SEO. Images allow you to put keywords in a title/filename and the “ALT” meta tag. The readers generally don’t see these, but they help improve your search ranking.
Use Bulleted Text
In addition to making text sections stand out, using bullets or numbering helps break up the humdrum of just another paragraph.
Box Some Content
If a section of content feels natural to isolate from the main body, consider boxing it. You can use a shaded background or border to set it apart from the rest of the page. Doing so creates a break point similar to the use of images. Boxing can be used horizontally, with a ¼ column of text to the right or left on the page. This helps prevent text from stretching the entire width of the page.
However, boxing can also apply to sections placed vertically above or below other content. This is especially useful today with the increased use of wide-format monitors. People tend to consume content in horizontal sections, scrolling down to the next section once they have reviewed the one above. Shading sections help create a natural divider for the eye.