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Strategy, tactics, ideas and tips from Creative Company.

Writing websites: Don’t make me squint!

A great website is informative AND readable

As our online styles and tastes change we still need to understand how people see and read. Writing websites is one level, but how the copy is formatted and appears on screen is just as important.

writing websites don't make me squint

Websites and blogs continue to evolve. Layouts are more open, must be responsive, and text is shorter. More photos and visuals help people navigate from section to section and page to page. Images dominate (because our brains process them 60,000 x faster than words).

Even though our image shows a senior, review the facts below. Even at the age of 40, we’re reading and light challenged.

Yet many designers (especially the younger ones who have good eyes) love the look of what I call “mouse type.” They often focus more on overall look and presentation of the layout than on content and readability. This leads to websites with dense copy in small fonts. Or layouts with reverse text (white on black) or low contrast between text and background. Ouch.

Many available website templates also have these unreadable formats (plus long line lengths) built-in. Double ouch.

From Smashing Magazine, this excerpted post summarizes why 16 pixels is today’s minimum font size for websites or blogs. We actually prefer even larger sizes for body copy–20 pixels–which gives us 16 pixels or slightly less for captions and credits.

“Important Facts About Reading

There are some particular findings that are pivotal to issues such as readershipand readability and comprehension. If people won’t read it, or if they can’t read it or understand it, then what’s the point of having it?

  1. At age 40, only half the light gets through to the retina as it did at age 20. For 60-year-olds, it’s just 20%.
  2. Nearly 9% of Americans are visually impaired, meaning their vision cannot be completely corrected with lenses.
  3. The distance at which we can read letters is a common measure of both legibility and reading speed. … The biggest factor that determines how far this distance can increase is font size. Seen any billboards lately?
  4. Most people, when sitting comfortably, are about 20 to 23 inches from their computer screens. …  This is much further than the distance at which we read printed text — most people do not hold magazines at arm’s length!
  5. 16-pixel text on a screen is about the same size as text printed in a book or magazine; this is accounting for reading distance. Because we read books pretty close — often only a few inches away — they are typically set at about 10 points. If you were to read them at arm’s length, you’d want at least 12 points, which is about the same size as 16 pixels on most screens.”

Clumsy content and poor readability will cost you money

Readability is both legibility (the visible format and structure) and content (how the copy is written). When writing websites, layout and content must address both areas to keep your visitors reading and clicking through. After all, if they land on the page and it’s not easy to read, they’re going to leave!

To make your layout legible and engaging, don’t use

  • Reverse text (white on black)
  • Low contrast between background and text (see point #1 above)
  • Small text with tight line spacing (see above)
  • Long, dense paragraphs–break them up with subheads or bullet lists

To improve the quality of your writing

  • Keep the language simple and actionable, use the Flesch Reading Score to check yourself
  • Proof well, typos and grammatical errors reflect poorly on the author
  • Stay on topic and be succinct, online readers have less patience
  • Avoid technical verbage and acronyms, be clear
  • Review our post on writing well to prosper–more tips

Your goal is to improve visitor engagement. After all, why put content up if the people you need to reach can’t read it or understand it?

Use our 12 tactics for better blogging — tips to integrate keywords, engage readers and accomplish more with both your blog and your website.

About the author

Jennifer Larsen Morrow

Jennifer's four decades of work in the industry, starting as a designer and adding marketing, copywriting and digital marketing, has generated response for clients since 1978.

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