The Write Stuff – Blog

Apr 11 2011 From Dazzle to Death – Five Fatal Web Content Flaws
Website mistakes

Writing web content can be a hard enough task… researching your topic, finding the best SEO keywords, agonising over every single sentence to keep it engaging, informative, and relevant. Finally you piece together content that is a shining masterpiece full of intelligent, insightful and pertinent information.

After taking a moment to give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, you hit UPLOAD, then sit back to watch your content dazzle!

But for some inexplicable reason, your content fails to deliver. You can’t understand why. Even your mum agreed it was brilliant!

Here are five reasons your content copy may have failed…

Minuscule Font

OK, this may not be the most politically correct comment… but size matters!

Especially when it comes to your font size. (Or it could just be I’m showing my age now that I seem to need my glasses to read pretty much everything these days.)

Small font may not matter so much when it’s used for a description below a picture, but if you have a page of copy which is no larger than font size 10, it makes it incredibly difficult to read.

Sure, I could enlarge the page size, but why make me go to the effort?

Keep your font size at least 11-12 points so your readers can enjoy your brilliant content, without having to sit 4mm from their screen.

Sharply Contrasted Text/Background

White text on a black background may look edgy and cool… but it can be a killer on your eyes! Just like a bright point of light in a dark room, it can be very difficult to look at and leave you half-blinded long after you’ve finished reading.

Another truly nasty combination is green on red (or vice versa) which should never be used, even if it is Christmas time and you think it looks “festive and fun!”

If you feel you simply have to use these colour combinations, consider taking the contrast down a few notches by using light grey text on a dark grey background (like this), or pale green on a darker maroon background… which is still pretty ghastly, but at least it won’t send your readers into convulsions!

Centred Text

So you’ve gone a good sized font in friendly colours, but for some strange reason you’ve decided to centre all of your text!

Now just for the record, I don’t have an issue with headlines being centred, it can be a smart way to break up the page and add visual interest – but paragraphs and bulleted lists should never be centred!

If you don’t care for the messy right-hand edges of text that’s been left-aligned, then choose fully justified text to keep it neat and tidy.

Otherwise it just looks weird and makes it hard to read, since you have to go hunting for the start of each line.

Large, Unwieldy Paragraphs

Have you ever been in a conversation with one of those people (say a telemarketer) who just keeps talking and talking and talking and they just don’t give you a break in the conversation? You find your mind starts to wander because it’s just one endless tirade of words and without a break it starts to become a little overwhelming. You start looking for an escape because it seems it just won’t end and you need to get home to put dinner on before midnight and if you have to wait until they finish what it is they’re saying, you’re afraid you’re going to be stuck here all night and maybe even the next. This is why it’s so important to put lots of breaks into your online copy. It gives your reader’s a chance to stop and absorb what you’ve said and also makes it easier for them to keep their place. When you’re forced to read one big block of copy, you start to lose track of what line you’ve just read and before you know it, your trapped, reading the same lines over again, as you try to work your way through it all! At some point you just don’t care any more and decide to skip the entire thing and move on to the next website that doesn’t hold you to ransom with nasty big paragraphs.

Too Many Different Font Colours, Styles & Sizes

There’s a perfectly reasonable theory that you can highlight your key points by using a different colour, style or font size to make them stand out.

A theory which works very well when used in moderation.

However, this is one of those things where less is more!!!

To paraphrase Dr Phil (because, gosh, he sure knows his stuff!), when EVERYTHING is important… ultimately NOTHING is important. And if you highlight and emphasise everything you write, then the effect is lost and nothing really stands out as being important.

I’ve also seen sites where words or phrases have been highlighted with underlining. In the world of online content this would normally indicate a link, but if used as a highlighting technique, any actual links would most likely be dismissed.

Above all else, the use of too many colours and font styles and sizes just looks messy!!

To entice your audience to stick around and finish reading your labour of love, keep it easy to read. Make sure your copy:

  • is published in a good sized font
  • uses reader-friendly colour schemes
  • is aligned to the left, or fully justified
  • has plenty of paragraph breaks
  • maintains a consistent layout with only the most important points highlighted

Got any other examples of layout flaws that do your head in? I’d love to hear them.

10 Responses to “From Dazzle to Death – Five Fatal Web Content Flaws”

  • Reply Tricia Hood May 05, 2011at 10:02 am

    I’ve found that using bullets or numbered points helpful as people can scan easily and quickly. Few people ‘read’ the full content on pages when looking for things and scan over images, headings and text. If there’s a point or heading of interest they’ll pause and read the content a little more carefully.

    • Reply Anna Peterson May 05, 2011at 10:14 am

      You’re absolutely right Tricia. A good header should encourage your audience to stop and read more, while bullets help give an overview of the content (note the bulleted list at the end of my post).

      Personally I think the layout of the copy can be every bit as important as the copy itself. Bad copy will still be bad copy, no matter how well it’s presented, but it probably stands a better chance of being read than the most brilliant copy made difficult to read because of poor layout choices.

      Thanks for your comments 🙂

  • […] Of course, there’s plenty of other layout options to make your copy easy to read which I’ve outlined in From Dazzle to Death – Five Fatal Web Content Flaws […]

  • Reply Micky Stuivenberg May 01, 2012at 11:17 am

    Hi Anna, great post. 
    This is one of my bugbears too. I love how you’ve illustrated your points with examples of what that actually looks like. How anyone can still make these mistakes is beyond me.

    • Reply Anna Butler May 01, 2012at 11:38 am

      Thanks Mickey. I guess there are some who don’t yet appreciate how different it is to read from screen, as opposed to from printed material; that traditional print methods don’t necessarily translate. 

      For example, using white text on a black background usually isn’t as hard on the eyes when used in print, so it’s easy to see how people can make the mistake of thinking it would work on-screen. 

      But who knows what goes through people’s minds. I’d rather think it was a lack of education than a lack of style. 

  • Reply Nicole Leedham May 01, 2012at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for making me laugh on this gloomy day

  • Reply Nick Morris May 01, 2012at 1:32 pm

    Why does white on black hurt your eyes while black on white doesn’t?

    • Reply Anna Butler May 01, 2012at 1:48 pm

      Interesting question Nick. Again, I can only refer to the analogy of looking at a bright spot of light in a dark room. The reverse of that might be looking into a deep hole on a bright day – that doesn’t seem to mess with your eyes at all. 

      Where’s an optometrist when you need one? ;D

  • […] for Wil, his web designer chose to use white text on a black background, which is almost an instant migraine waiting to happen for anyone brave enough to attempt reading […]

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