Tag Archives: Web usability

Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable

22 Jul

This isn’t about nailing a sheet of writing to the forehead of your target audience – it’s about understanding how people read on the web so that you can lay out your copy to make sure your words aren’t ignored – this is called readability.

Why is readability important?

Whether on the web, in brochures, sales letters, newsletters and reports or really anything you want people to read, the way you lay out your copy has an effect on whether your words will actually be read. 

After all, you’ll have put some time and effort into constructing some killer copy.  You may even have all your keywords in your web copy to be found in the search engines.  But if someone is faced with a wall of text they’re likely to groan and leave.  If you’ve got a great sales pitch, want to impart important or interesting information or whatever you want to achieve with the words on your website, it will have little effect if no one reads them.

How do people read on the web?

The short answer is they don’t.  Some people will read every word, but the majority of people in readability tests scan the page.  They look for words that get their interest or relate in some way to what they are looking for.  People are usually looking for fast results, and really only need to get the gist.

What does this mean for your web copy?

Knowing that people scan web pages, here are some quick tips to laying out your copy so that you’re less likely to stop people from reading on:

1. Use headlines to capture attention.

  • Make them distinct from the main text by increasing the font size so it’s larger than the main body of the text
  • Its position should be about a third of the way down the page to meet the eye line
  • Don’t capitalise you headline or place a caplital at the beginning of each word (unless it’s a proper noun) – it stops people from reading fluently and reduces the impact of its meaning.

Headlines is a big subject which will be covered in more detail in later blogs.

2. Break up long text using sub headings so people can jump to what they need to know.

3. Highlight important words in bold or italic. When people scan the page, these words will stand out and tell your reader quickly what the copy is generally about. Also great for SEO.

4. Use bulleted lists – everyone loves a tidy list of bullet points. It quickly imparts information without the added detail, organises key points on the page and is much easier for your reader to digest. Imagine if I had placed all these tips in one long block of text. Would you have read this far?

5. Place copy to the left of picturesAs people scan images from top to bottom, words on the right can be ignored.  Yes, I know I have placed an image on the left, but it’s pointing to the text and as a general rule it should be on the right.

6. Don’t write too much . Web pages are generally no more than 250 words for a normal page depending on how much information your reader needs to know. You only need to write enough to get the message across or people will stop reading.

7. Don’t use justified or centred text.

Justified text is like a newspaper column. It tends to stretch out words to fit the space and adds a hyphen (-) where it splits a word in two as it runs into the next line so it fits the text area.

Centred text is difficult to read. The next line is indented and looks a bit like this. Your reader will have to look for the beginning of the sentence every time they move down a line. People often use it because they think it livens up the look of the page or makes it easier to read the copy, but it actually has the opposite effect.

 Keep your copy left-aligned.

Lamb’s final thought

Although I have written about web copy layout for readability, it really does apply to anything you have written copy for. If you have a sales letter with lots of blocky text, a brochure, for example, with no highlighted words or quotes, a report without subsections, it all prevents people from wanting to read on.

Oh my God, you’re annoying – 5 ways to turn off your web visitors

27 Jun

Have you ever clicked on a website and suddenly a song starts playing really rubbish music?  Perhaps a pop-up appears with moving graphics or some guy starts telling you about himself before you even know where you are.  How distracting is that?

If you actually enjoy that stuff and can honestly say it’s not made you quickly search for the ‘off’ switch or indeed ‘back’ button, you’re in the minority my friend. 

It’s one of many common problems with websites that soon switch off your viewers.  When people arrive on your website, they need to know you’ve got what they want, or are at least likely to be able to provide for their needs.  What they don’t need is anything that will distract or annoy them enough to put them off their task – the back button is very easy to push.

Starting with noises and pictures, here are five of the worst culprits:

1.  Music, sounds and whizzy graphics people can’t control

These are the bells and whistles that some web developers, novices or overly-excited web designers love to put on websites, often simply because they can.  Don’t follow their lead.  If you must put moving images, music or noise on your site, place the controls in the hands of your user and make it easy for them to turn off and on.

2. Where are you taking me?  Poor navigation

This includes links that don’t go where your user expects them to go when they click them.  It happens a lot  – you press the link and it either doesn’t work or goes elsewhere.  People arrive on your site and scan the page for things that look like they fit with what they’re looking for or are interested in.  They’ll look at your navigation and select the most likely option to get what they want.  If it doesn’t work, or most commonly it’s labelled confusingly, they’ll be annoyed.  Annoyed people won’t stay long.

3.  It looks nice, but does it work?  Overly-artistic web design

Some websites, due to the nature of the subject they represent, are designed in extraordinary ways.  There’s nothing wrong with a bit of creative flair, but it is widely held amongst usability professionals that web designers have to work within certain conventions in order for people to feel comfortable using a website.  That means placing content such as navigation, search boxes, copy and logos where people expect to find them.  Anything that requires too much brain power to find will make people irritated and more likely to leave.                                              

4.  Why are we waiting…?  Flash intro nightmares

Flash is the programme used to make moving graphics and those intro pages that take ages to load – usually with the word ‘loading’ or a loading bar and an ‘Enter here’ button.  Yawn.  They are pointless and annoying and if they take ages to load, people get bored and leave.  If you’ve used the web a fair bit it’s likely you’ve experienced it.  I assume it’s like a book cover (or because someone likes playing with Flash) – but what works in print certainly isn’t the same for the web.

5.  Corporate jargon which utilizes the exact phraseology to exemplify their working practices – or such bore-speak

Yes, I made up the word bore-speak.  But how annoying and dull it is when you come across a website that spouts nonsense at you – and it happens all too often.  You have to assume that your reader knows nothing about you or your company, so you need to explain in your copy what your site can do for them in terms they understand.  That means knowing who your audience is and how they express themselves in order to make the connection. Keep it simple and everyone is happy.                   

If there are any other aspects of websites that really get to you, please feel free to share them in the comment box below and we can all have a good old moan together. Hopefully it will help a few people to improve the experience for their users – and their sales.