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June 1, 2010

5 Useful Website Design Tips For A More Reader-Friendly Site

One of my favorite things I like to do when I’m online is browse the Internet, and check out other marketing websites. I’m an avid reader, so when I come across a well-designed website that appears to have an abundance of quality content, I’ll usually spend a few minutes on the site reading that content.And if the site provides a pleasant reader experience, I’ll bookmark it and visit it again.

However, it takes a very special website to capture my attention. And unfortunately, most sites fall far short of my expectations. As a result, I rarely bookmark websites. No, more often than not, when I visit a website, I click away after just a second or two.

Why? Because in my opinion, many websites just aren’t what I would call reader-friendly. In fact, they’re just the opposite. They provide a lousy reader experience.

Following are five things that ruin my reader experience:

1. Too Busy Web Pages

Have you ever visited a web page that was so busy and overcrowded your eyes didn’t know what to focus on? The tragedy of these types of web pages is some of them probably have content that readers would be interested in.

But the web pages are so doggone clutttered and disorganized, visitors can’t find what they’re looking for – or are too frustrated to even try.

When you design your website, arrange items in a neat and orderly fashion. Space things out. Because when it comes to website design, a little white space is a good thing.

Also, if you don’t already have one, install a sitemap. The following website will allow you to quickly and easily create your own sitemap right online:

In addition to a sitemap, installing an internal search box will also improve your visitors reading experience, as well as assist them in finding the information that they’re seeking. This is especially important if you have a large website with lots of pages.

If you would like to learn more about installing an internal search box on your site, TechSoup has written an excellent article on the topic, titled Adding a Search Engine to Your Site Is Easier than You Think:

2. Reverse Type

I’m absolutely amazed at how many websites I’ve visited that are written in reverse text. What’s reverse text? Reverse text is light colored or white text on a dark or black background. If used correctly, reverse text can produce an impressive visual impact.

The problem is many websites don’t use it correctly. And if you have a whole web page of reverse text, it’s extremely difficult on the eyes.

Why? Because according to readability studies, reverse text is not suitable for reading because of its poor legibility even in normal lighting conditions. It’s hard on the eyes, and just not reader-friendly. That’s why newspapers, books and magazines have always been printed on white paper with black text.

When designing your website, it’s best to use black text on a white or light-colored background, for optimum readability. However if you decide to use reverse text, use it in moderation.

3. Huge Blocks of Text

Internet users are notorious scanners. They’ll scan your text first, before deciding whether or not to actually read it. That’s why you should always break up your text into short, reader-friendly paragraphs.

When I come across a web page that has these huge blocks of text, (ie, paragraphs that never seem to end), I won’t even waste my valuable time trying to read it. I’ll just click away, and leave your site.

And if I feel that way, you can bet other visitors to your site feel the exact same way. Again, always break up your text into short paragraphs. In addition, use bullets and subheads whenever possible. They help break up your text, so that it’s easier to read.

Remember what I said earlier? Internet users are notorious scanners. That’s why subheads and bullets are so important.

4. Tiny Font Sizes

Do you remember the nearsighted cartoon character, Mr. Magoo? He always walked around with his eyes in a permanent squint, trying to visually decipher things that were right in front of him.

Well, that’s exactly how I feel when I visit some websites. I find myself squinting like Mr. Magoo, because the font size is so tiny. When that happens, guess what? Click…I’m outta there.

Do your readers a favor, and stay away from tiny font sizes. Stick with the standard 12-point font size, whenever possible.

Conversely, it’s not a good ideal to use overly large font sizes either. It’s just not reader-friendly. Another thing, use ALL CAPS and fancy fonts in moderation.

5. Excessive Bold Type and Highlighting

The other day I was browsing the Internet doing research, when I came across something that caught my eye – but not in a good way. It was a web page, and it was absolutely hideous. So, what made it so hideous?

The entire web page written entirely in bold type, which is a crime in itself. But even worse than that, the page was highlighted in yellow from top to bottom.

Can you imagine that? It looked like a big mustard sandwich with ants.

Unfortunately, I see this all too often on websites. You should always use bold type and highlight in moderation, and only to emphasize certain words, sentences or paragraphs.

In closing, I hope you’ll take these reader-friendly website design tips to heart, and apply them to your website, if applicable. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Because if your visitors have an unpleasant reader experience, chances are, they won’t be coming back.

David Jackson is a marketing consultant, and the owner of – Powerful, free marketing tips to help grow your business.