How Not to Lose Your Readers
These days it is easier than ever to setup your website. Advances in design software and browser technology have brought us into the era where web pages can be created and published in a matter of minutes. Community web portals such as WordPress and Blogger allow users to create web pages using plug-ins that run in the browser itself.
When you create your web page, you are creating something that you want other people to see. Maybe you just want to share photos with your family, or maybe you’ve written some great fan fiction that you want to show off to every other Harry Potter fan. No matter the reason for creating your page, you are going to want people to look at it, and while they are looking at it, you want to keep them happy, so they look at it again.
Designing an excellent web page is hard, well beyond the scope of this article. So instead of telling you what you should do, we are going to tell you some things that you should not do. By following the advice in this article, we can’t guarantee you that you will have a great web page, but we can ensure that it will drastically reduce the number of people who are horrified by it.
Big Blocks of Text
Ideally, your web page will look a lot like a page out of a magazine. Your text will be evenly spaced with breaks between paragraphs. Reading long passages on a web page is not as easy as reading one in a book, so give your reader’s eyes a break by giving them sweet bits of white space. This will allow them time to take a breath, absorb what you just said, and move on to the next chunk.
Unless you use some accurate coding on your web page, most web browsers will happily wrap the text at the end of the screen. This way your users just have to keep scrolling down to read what you are trying to say. Sometimes, however, even the most well-intentioned web page designer can accidentally “break” the browser window and cause it to think that it is bigger than it is. This is most often caused by having wide pictures on your page. If your image is 1000 pixels wide, then any user who has their desktop set to 800 by 600 will suddenly find that they have to horizontally scroll across your page to not only see the entire picture but anything that you have written.
Imagine going to a web page that you want to read. You arrive at that web page, and while you are navigating around, you notice something odd. There is stuff following your mouse around! Maybe it’s a cat, maybe it’s a hundred cats, or maybe it’s a bunch of different colored text that chases your mouse around, and when you stop moving the mouse, reassembles itself into a clock. No matter what it is, it’s distracting and annoying. They were nice five years ago for 2 minutes, but not anymore. You want people to read your page, so stop distracting them!
You are sitting in your office/den/bedroom, browsing the web looking for the latest figures/antiques/American Idol gossip when all of a sudden Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” starts coming out of your speakers. Only it’s not even the real version of the song; it’s a cheap MIDI of the song that sounds like someone is playing it on their Gameboy. When people are browsing the web, if they want to listen to music they will choose their own and put it in their CD player. They don’t want you forcing music on them, especially if you are doing it just for the heck of it. There might be a few, a very few, web pages out there that warrant having music embedded in them, but I have yet to run across one. If you insist on doing this, at least give your visitors fair warning.
The human eye is naturally drawn to movement. If you have a happy face on your web page doing the Macarena, then that is what your visitor’s eyes are going to keep being pulled toward. Do you want your readers reading your vacation story, or staring at the dancing happy face? If you need to draw attention to something, use different colored text or a different font. Never, ever, have more than one animation in one browser window unless you are intentionally trying to trigger epileptic fits.
People are uncomfortable downloading unfamiliar software to their computer, and rightly so. Therefore you should avoid placing anything on your web page that forces your users to download a plug-in. People have gotten used to Java and Flash, and putting something on your page that requires one of those is okay. However, people are not going to want to download “Joe’s Super Cool Weather Info Plugin” so that they can see the current temperature (plus great offers) whenever they visit your web page.
Your website is a gift to your friends, family, or the whole world. Try to make your web page as neat and clean as possible. Most likely you want your website to be one that people come to again and again, so you want to make sure that when people are reading your page they are not distracted or annoyed by a bunch of cutesy bells and whistles. Respect your visitors and they will appreciate your website.