I’m back on my soapbox about the importance of not only delivering the message that your potential client will respond to, but also presenting it in a way that makes it easy for them to see and process.

After looking at many websites that start with ‘Welcome to our website’ or, worse still, no headline in any prominent position, I wonder what is going on in the heads of some web designers and site owners.  When we’re all so busy there are just a few seconds (not many) before the site visitor gives up, hits the back button and looks at another option on the list.

This also applies to hard copy documents, but there is much more to think about, including how people handle different types of document.

Let’s start with getting the message right

You need to be clear about what your website visitor wants – not what you want to tell them.  If you’re not sure ask a few existing clients what they would be looking for if they were trying to find a new supplier; what is really important to them?

Once you have this information you can use it to deliver the right message.

Remember every page needs a headline, you never know where people will land.  If they have searched for a particular product or service they may arrive on the page that features that, not on the home page.

Focus on ‘you’ (your visitor), not ‘we’ (your company) and be sure to address the ‘what’s in it for me’ throughout the copy.

Now the presentation

Key things to remember:

  • One dominant headline, not several confusing different messages in many boxes, banners and sidebars competing for attention.  It doesn’t mean you can’t have boxes and sidebars, it just means that one headline has to stand out from the rest.
  • Fast moving images can irritate.  If moving images are important ensure they change gently and subtly so they don’t distract your reader when they’re trying to read the content.
  • All capitals are harder to read, stick to sentence case for headlines – as big and bold as necessary.  Never use capitals for main copy.
  • Dark backgrounds make it harder to read the main copy.  Big bold headlines are fine, but light writing on a dark background creates dazzle and makes it much harder for people to actually take on board the message.
  • Justified text encourages people to get lost in paragraphs as there is no shape for the eye to ‘bookmark’ and results in people rereading the same line or skipping a line.  It can also produce ugly gaps between words.
  • Stick to a clean sans serif font (e.g. Verdana, Arial, Tahoma), screen resolution makes this much easier to read.  Serif fonts like Times, Garamond and Palatino tend to look a bit fuzzy making reading slower.
  • Don’t use more than one column of text for your message – people won’t scroll back up to the next column and you never know where the page is going to break with so many different screen sizes today.

Don’t assume that a web designer will know all this – it’s not generally taught as part of their training.  This is a web designer’s site that breaks most of the above ‘rules’!

Black background and caps