Multimedia is clearly a popular form of communication online, but classic text is still the standard for effectively communicating with visitors. You would think, with close to a decade of the internet being accessible from most homes, most site creators would know how to handle text, but plenty are still struggling with text presentation.
So how can you make sure your content is readable? Well, there are some things you should know first. For example, reading online is 25 percent slower than when reading printed material, and according to a Nielson study, visitors are only reading between 20 and 28% percent of the words on your page. When reading printed text, readers usually take in every word, but online visitors scan, and hop from place to place.
But, we have eight ways to help you make your content more readable and help you communicate with your visitors.
1) Pick You Fonts Wisely – It hasn’t been this way forever, but thanks to web fonts, designers are able to use any font they want in their designs. This can be a gift and a curse though. While creative use of fonts can improve a page, it often comes at the expense of readability.
You can use more creative headlines because they are shorter and often larger, making them easier to scan. Just make sure the font utilizes both capital and lowercase letters. The height makes scanning more easy. For body texts, always use clear sans-serif fonts. On screen, serifs can blur together, so while serif fonts make printed text easier to read, they actually impede the process online.
2) Font Size & Line Spacing Are Important – As a designer, you should be designing for the huge range of internet capable devices out thereand their widely varying screen sizes. This is why using a fixed font size can work on large desktop screens, but often are far too big for mobile. The modern web design requires a flexible approach and percentages rather than fixed heights adapt to personal browser settings and varying screen resolutions.
When picking font sizes and line spacing, remember that the standard line height is too small. More room equals better readability.
3) Use High Contrasts – You never want your text to bleed in to the background. The more contrast between the background and text, the more readable text will be. It is also true that noisy backgrounds make almost all types of text unreadable. If you are going to place text on top of background images, make sure it is placed in the least busy area of the image, like maybe a blurred out area, or areas lacking texture. Another way to deal with this issue is placing an extra layer between your image and the text. This will help seperate the two.
4) Keep Lines Short – Because readers online tend to only skim, you want to keep your lines of text short. The best length is between 50-60 characters. If your lines are bigger, some readers may not even skim because the text appears overwhelming. They may think it will take too much time or work to read. Long lines also make it harder for your eyes to jump from one line to the next.
One way to get readers engaged is to start each article with short lines. Keeping the intro short and inviting helps hook the reader, and from there, expanding the text is more accessible.
5) Keep Paragraphs Short – 75 percent of readers online are estimated to not read websites word for word. They scan for what is most relevant to them. You want to keep your readers attention, but you also want to make sure anyone skimming your content can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
6) Cut to the Point – It is common for writers to ramble for a few reasons. It is easy, and in print media, it helps make readers feel like they got their money worth. On the web, readers don’t care about the picture you paint with your words and they will leave if they can’t find what they are looking for.
This also suggests that simple sentences and vocabulary are more attractive to readers than long verbose sentences. If you have a new point, start a new sentence. It may seem weird, but it helps readers scan for what is important.
7) Avoid Jargon – Of course you want to appear to be an expert in your field, but you should also realize most experts are able to explain what they are talking about to the average person. Being able to simplify what you are talking about to the level a child could understand shows a real command over the technical and complicated information you possess.
Trying to use too much technical jargon can intimidate users, or make them feel like they need a dictionary near by to get through your post. This usually results in the user leaving. Instead, try to think like a normal person. Keep your posts accessible, and easy to understand.
8) Use Highlights, Lists, and Images – This also deals with the scanning nature of your visitors. Highlighting relevant keywords can help identify the main points of the paragraph, and lead reader’s eyes to what they are probably looking for. Likewise, structure your content in a way to help readers. Lists lay out specific ideas in an easily searchable format, or lay out step by step guides clearly. Images also help people stay focused on your post, especially when using image captions that act as reference points.
It is easy to see that most web readers are lazy when it comes to reading, and you want to make sure you are catering to their needs. Formatting your posts in a way that accomodates the scanning nature of online readers will actually help make viewers see more of your content. It may seem backwards, but simplifying your page format and structure can help keep readers on your site longer.
For more ways to improve your site’s usability, check out Sabina Adler’s posts at Usabilla.