Designing Your Website for Readability: You Hold the Keys

website readability
visualpun.ch / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
A Must-Read for Lawyers in Charge of Their Website’s Copy

Don’t be fooled by the heading. You don’t need to be a designer to boost the readability of your site.

Why? Because most of your site is made up of your copy, your powerful words. Take away the images and colors and all you are left with is text, text, and more text; thousands of words and characters. And who controls the text? Yes, that’s right, you. And what can you do to improve the design of your copy for readability? Follow these simple techniques.

What do we mean by design?

Let’s take a step back and consider what we mean by design. Don’t just think of design as flashy images, diagrams, and colors. Think also of font layout, typefaces, and sizes. These are the things that drive your design. Everything else fits in around this stuff, and they all affect readability. The layout of the text is like the trunk of a tree. Without a good trunk, there are no good branches and leaves.

By all means, engage a good designer to execute your vision. In fact, it’s a must. Work with that designer to add images to reinforce the text, such as photos, videos, vector diagrams, and pie charts. But these things are just the icing on the cake; they cement your messages in your readers’ minds.

Slice and dice your copy

Nobody wants to read solid blocks of text. So breathe life into your writing by breaking up your text using headlines and subheadings.

Otherwise, you’ll leave it up to your readers to work out what’s important. It’s your job to control the reader’s focus and highlight the important stuff, the stuff that makes you different. So draw out your key messages and make it easy for readers to digest and remember.

Hit readers with a headline

Start each page with a big and bold headline. Your headline persuades readers to keep reading. Most people only read the headline, and that’s all. Without one, what do you have to draw readers into your copy? They’ll quickly move on.

The headline is where you put your most important message. For example, if you are stacking your website with Benefits, put the biggest benefit in the headline. If you are telling your story in your ‘About’ page, put the moral of your story in the headline.

Draw readers in with subheadings

Set your subheadings to bold and to a larger font size than the body copy. That way, you’ll cater for skimmers and hopefully draw them into wanting more. Combine this with plenty of white spaces in between, and you’ll look clean while effectively compartmentalizing the separate elements.

For example, write a subheading for each benefit on your ‘Benefits’ page. That’s what Gmail has done. And so has Flipboard. These subheadings make each of the benefits stand out. As a result, the reader is not left to ponder – “what’s in it for me?”

Reduce your line length

Make your sentences easier on the eye by limiting the number of characters you put on each line. But break them at the right words otherwise you risk disrupting the flow of the sentence.

See how Apple limits the line length of its copy for the iPod touch and caps the number of characters it uses in a line.

Optimize font type and size

There are so many fonts to choose from that it can be overwhelming. And what works in one medium might not work in another. This is a lengthy topic in itself. Many studies claim to have determined the optimal reading fonts for the Internet.

But the bottom line is: avoid tiny font sizes and hard to read font typefaces. From there, you might choose to stick to the popular online fonts or Google the topic and research for yourself. A well-known study that might come up in your search engine results is “A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which Size and Type are Best,” which was completed by the Software Usability Research Laboratory. This may prove of use. Remember that it’s about readability and not just what looks good.

Draw out your call to actions

If you want your readers to take action after reading your copy, make sure to tell them what steps they must take. And make those actions stand out from your other text. They need to be unequivocal.

Often these actions will be placed at the bottom of the page, and the reader will be given a few options to take. From there, your prospects should be directed to exactly where you want them to go. What do you want your prospects to do? To contact you? To move to another page of your website? To ask for a quote? Or to read your blog?

Next steps

This is all pretty simple, isn’t it? But you’d be surprised at how many of your competitors continue to persevere with an old design. Why don’t you buck the trend? You hold the keys. You can boost the readability of your website for readers. Good design doesn’t just start with a good designer. It starts with you.

Norman Anthony Balberan

Anything out of the ordinary (?) Utopian dream, crashed and merged with unstable consequences causing mayhem...

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