Content for the Internet
by Dean Jacques
content for the Internet
is an art and science of its own, dictated by the type of reading
web site technology generates from its audience.
We provide the
following as a helpful guide. Click topic of interest or scroll
down to read the entire article.
& Typeface Design
See also Web
Site Readability Standards (WSRS).
the Internet provides incredible potential
for carrying your message to the public, it also provides new challenges
for carrying that message effectively. Print has dominated communication
design for centuries, developing guidelines through trial and error
that work exceedingly well in print.
The web site medium is significantly
different from print, and has its own guidelines.
- Web sites
give you the ability to convey your message worldwide,
24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
to print, it is very inexpensive.
- A web site
allows for the availability of an incredible amount of information.
It is not limited to a boxed ad in the newspaper, a magazine layout,
the confinements of a brochure or even multiple-paged annual reports.
- Content can
be changed easily and quickly .
is taken care of by the nature of the medium itself..
- Server memory
takes the place of storage rooms.
- No huge expenses
for utilizing color and graphics.
- It's 80%
more difficult reading from a computer screen than print. People
tend to visually scan for information rather than read in a linear
fashion. This means your content has to be focused and well-presented
to overcome these challenges. Writing content for the Internet
is now a specialized field.
to present information within the "box environment"
of a computer screen.
look different on different screens and computer platforms.
time (graphics can be a killer).
control of default settings.
in a nonlinear environment.
limitations (there are only a few common typefaces to choose
- While distribution
is no problem, marketing is. You have to make people aware
of your web site so that they will come to it.
& Typeface Design
need a design worthy of your content.
Compare the look and feel of a tabloid newspaper compared to Newsweek
Magazine. Which would you take more seriously? A quality look is
important to convince your readers to take your message seriously.
In recent years, designers have tackled
the limitations of web design and came up with a helpful set of
- A narrow
column of text is easier to read; do not allow lines of
text to run from one side of the screen to the other.
- Certain typefaces
are easier to read on a computer screen, depending on the size
of the text.
- Keep number
of typefaces to two or three.
- Use contrasting
typefaces for maximum effect (one serif, one sans serif)..
- Use typefaces
that are available on most computers (for PCs right now, that
would be Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Georgia, Geneva).
monotype fonts (such as Courier) for lengthy text. People
read the shape of a word rather than its spelling. The regular
spacing of monotype destroys the shape and slows the reading.
use dark text on a light background. The opposite can occasionally
provide dramatic effect, but use it sparingly.
- Left justification
presents a stronger display of your message than centered text.
Never, ever, put lengthy text in a centered alignment.
- Be consistent
in your alignment.
- Use nonbreaking
spaces to create paragraph indents.
- Bold or enlarge
the first word or words of a section. This draws the eye into
reading your text.
- Small paragraphs
are more readable than large ones.
- Be consistent
in your design.
- Use invisible
tables to hold the design together.
- When possible,
try to avoid the "boxy look" that tables create.
- Use colors
that go well with each other.
animated graphics; they distract from your message and annoy
photos and graphics for quick downloads.
- Use pictures
only if they add to your message.
- Develop a
navigational hierarchy that is logical and intuitive.
- Avoid large
and/or gaudy graphical buttons.
- Utilize "white
space" and other design elements to avoid clutter and direct
the reader's eye where you want it to go.
- Beware of
the auto-stretch feature! It changes the look of your design
on different sized monitors and can ruin it entirely.
goes a long way.
visible tables! Use color or white space instead.
- Avoid large
- For accessibility,
use headers of tabulated data on the left side rather than on
the top of a graph (accessibility programs read from left to right,
and then from top to bottom).
Place related information next to each other.
- Avoid distracting
- Use frames
sparingly (or not at all), and never on the entry page!
(Browsers might link to only one frame in your set, thereby ruining
your design and stranding your visitor.)
Home Page needs at least one sentence of
greeting or introduction right up front. This sets the tone of the
site, puts the reader at ease and defines what is expected. It also
establishes your narrative voice.
When someone comes to your door to visit,
it's proper decorum to say hello, invite them in and show them around.
We expect that. It's the same with someone visiting your web site.
Unfortunately, many well-designed
sites fail to deliver this simple nicety! Why? They are convinced
that visitors want to see as little text on their page as possible.
It's true that visitors tend to skim first
page material rather than read it, making lengthy text questionable.
But you don't want to make their initial
experience of the site uncomfortable either. Too little explanation
of the site (or none at all) will leave them confused. Like entering
an unfamiliar workplace without being invited. They pause. In their
rush for information, they will probably resent trying to understand
what your site is all about. Your lack of introduction forces them
to either investigate or leave.
As they click away, their four second
impression of your site will not be positive. And worse you
just lost a visitor/potential customer.
A short, friendly statement will alleviate
People want information. The initial
experience of your site sets up the delivery mode of that process.
When they land in your site, they are experiencing your threshold.
They decide whether or not they want to stay. While an endless,
meaningless narrative will also send them elsewhere, a poor greeting
may result in the same effect.
Home Page is your first page of content.
It provides you the strategic opportunity to hookyour
visitors. The content has to be special. It has to catch the eye
and reward your viewers. They want specific information. Give it
to them right up front, with the promise of more if they decide
The problem is, the amount of your
hook information is limited to the visible territory
of your first screen. They may scroll down to see what lies below,
but don't count on it.
After a brief greeting/introduction,
you need to provide some serious points of interest.
Give them genuine pearls of information that will draw them in to
The points can link to further details
or extended text. That's exactly what they're there for. If the
reader's interest is sparked, he or she will read your elaborated
text. It is, after all, the information that they want!
Newspaper layouts are similar. The
most important information is located on the front page above
the fold. Bold headlines attract the eye. Short introductions
whet your interest and then continue on other pages. The good layout
will get you to open the paper up and look around. It will attract
you to read other articles by juxtaposing them according to common
themes. A good picture adds tremendously to the experience.
So too with your Home Page. Bold headings,
suitable color variations, white space, and strong introductory
sentences all cater to the viewer's interest. That said, you still
have to reward them with the information they are seeking. This
hopefully encourages them to seek other rewards by exploring different
levels of your site.
Remember, readers skim for keywords.
Know what the keywords are and utilize them in your titles and text.
Highlight them in your narratives. Use bullets or white space to
point them out.
purpose of a web site is to convey information. While
points of interest reward a visitor for coming, the
hook they provide should lead to more and even greater
What are these rewards? More information!
Well written information, of greater depth or variety. Provide them
with something good to read, something they will tell others about
and maybe print.
We're talking about longer columns
of text. Something that may utilize bulleted lists, but is not limited
Is there danger in this? Of course.
Reading from a computer screen is 80% more difficult than reading
from print. This means you have the burden of a reluctant reader
from the very start! A reader who can click away to another world
at the slightest whim.
The same problems exist as on your
Home Page except your reader has consciously stepped into your next
level. You've generated enough interested to accomplish this. Congratulations!
Now you have to present serious content
in a way that is acceptable and appreciated. Use every trick in
the book to maintain your readership. This means using a proper
typeface at a proper size, a narrow text column, contrasting colors,
decorations (boldface, etc.) and few, if any, hypertext links that
lead to the outside world. (If you have to use one, make sure it
opens on a separate browser window, so the reader hasn't lost you.)
Most of all it needs good writing,
fashioned specifically for web site reading.
What does this mean? The usual, of
- Correct spelling.
- Good grammar.
- Clarity of
clichés unless absolutely necessary.
your message in a unique fashion for greater impact; offering
greater depth or a new, and fascinating perspective.
there's more as well. Writing for the Internet demands that you
confront it's limitations in everything you do.
So, how do you make lengthy text more
- First of
all, keep it simple. Deliver your message so there is no
doubt as to what it is. Avoid jargon.
- Similar to
your Home Page points of interest, put your conclusions
at the beginning of your paragraphs, and then elaborate on
- Keep paragraphs
small. Long paragraphs are intimidating, especially to a reader
who is rushing (i.e. your average user of the Internet). Paragraph
indentations add white space to the column, enhancing its appearance
- Use a voice
the reader will be comfortable with. A medical site will use a
more formal voice than that of a a community center, but it should
still be friendly and easy to read.
information. This means dividing your narrative into comprehensive
segments that are individually condensed, logically placed and
An example of
"chunking" information is found on this web page.
What was originally a lengthy article was broken up into segments
that a reader can choose from and link down to. You have to be careful
with chunking however. Each segment may have to stand on its own.
You cannot be sure the reader has read any of the previous segments.
I used bookmarks linking down through
a single page in this article. This way, a reader can just scroll
down to read in a linear fashion, or return to the menu and choose
another topic. Some examples of chunking use separate web pages
for each segment, necessitating a hyperlink menu on each page.
rules for good writing can overwhelm the uninitiated!
To make things easier, we offer you
the concept of word-sculpting.
The idea is to write your narrative
as comprehensively as possible, with as many words as you want or
flourishes you can think of. Be verbose. Be creative.
Once you have your first draft, it's
time to make changes. Word-sculpting means to go through your writing
and eliminate the nonessentials. Chisel away at superfluous phrases.
Move fragmented ideas to where they better serve their purpose like
a chuck of soft clay.
Simplify! If a small word expresses
the same idea as a large word, use the smaller. If an adjective
is nice but really isn't needed, throw it out. Excise the ponderous.
Replace tired sounding words with something bold and exciting. Use
active sentences. Compress ideas into their simplest form. If something
is interesting but not altogether pertinent, put it elsewhere and
provide a link. Let the reader choose.
A true word-sculptor will phrase even
familiar terms in such a way that readers feel that this is the
first time they heard it. Provoke the response of "hey, I never
thought of it like that before," or, "wow, this says it
like it is." This is where creative literary talent is vital.
But be careful! The narrative needs
to flow. Unique phrases can be ponderous. Don't overdue it.
The final product will be the crafting
of a pleasant sound of words, liberated from the nonessentials until
the narrative is lean, easy to read and loaded with pertinent, originally
do photographs have to do with writing content?
Nothing directly, of course. But content
is often well served if pictures are included. Content, after all,
is what fills your page with information. Pictures can be part of
Use pictures to enhance your message,
but don't include them just because you know how. Make sure they
add something to the narrative. Use interesting pictures that that
illustrate your text.
And please, PLEASE, enhance
and optimize your photos before placing them on the web.
How many times have you seen beautiful landscapes or beach scenes
on the web that were darker than they should be? They completely
lose their impact and make the whole design look amateurish.
If you don't properly optimize your
pictures for quick and easy downloads, your visitors might go elsewhere
instead of waiting.
Although a picture is worth a thousand
words, it is never worth a thousand kilobytes.
provide the web with its magic, making
a world of information conveniently available at the click of a
As a content designer, you may want
to recommend your visitors to other web sites. It's a wonderful
courtesy, especially if the other site links back to yours.
Unfortunately, once your visitor clicks
on that outside link, he or she is gone!
This is why you have to be judicious
in utilizing outside links.
One popular solution is to code your
link to open in a separate browser window, thus leaving your site
still open. But even this has its drawbacks. For one thing, it pulls
the reader away from your message. With the new site open, you've
willingly promoted the competition.
Not many years ago, there were a lot
of pages with blue, underlined links interspersed throughout the
narrative. Keywords were turned into hypertext that led to further
information. Sort of like footnotes.
Such a strategy contradicts having
a narrative in the first place! If your reader clicks on a link
in the middle of a paragraph, your continuing message is lost, or
at least interrupted. Professional writers don't want that. They
respect their work enough to want the viewer to read it from beginning
If you still want to supply your visitor
with access to important links, provide them at the end of your
narrative, or on a page meant specifically for advertising other
ending of a narrative plays an important yet
somewhat subordinate role to the finished product. If you follow
the advice under Good Writing, you will promote the most
important information to the beginning of the text. The middle will
add details. The ending sums up what preceded it.
Endings should be short. Don't waste
the reader's time rehashing details. Keep it brisk and light. If
possible, make the reader satisfied while still wanting more. In
other words, keep it enjoyable.
At the very end, add links returning
to the top of the page or to the menu. Remember your Copyright
One more important piece of advice.
Have someone you trust edit your work. No matter how many times
you edit it yourself, errors slip by. Why? Because your brain is
so attuned to the creative aspects of your words, it automatically
fills in mistakes and concentrates on the meaning.
Writing for the web can be fun and
challenging. It demands a balance between form and creativity that
differs from that of print. Study what other web sites produce.
Don't be afraid to experiment.
You'll be surprised how satisfying
it is to produce a streamlined work of prose that captivates the
reader even over the Internet.