Almost every week I’m telling a client there’s a big problem with their marketing content.
It’s not the subject matter, their writing style, their grammar, or even typos.
The problem is that their content is simply hard to read because of the way it’s formatted.
Def: Format: “The way in which something is arranged or set out.”
I’ve seen web pages with wonderful content that is simply unreadable because of poor formatting.
You’ve taken all that time to write a blog post or service description and nobody is reading it.
You, the writer, probably don’t even notice, because you’re too close to it; you have no objectivity.
The good news is that fixing readability is easy-peasy.
And once you understand the mistakes you’re making, you’ll never make them again.
Here are seven formatting mistakes that make it hard for readers to read your content.
I’m going to concentrate on the formatting of content on web pages and blogs as these are where we read most online marketing content.
1 . Text that is too small
This is the number one text formatting error. If someone has to squint to read your text, you’re in trouble.
And did you know that more than 50% of people now browse the web on mobile devices? This makes small text even harder to read.
These days, with more web pages moving to WordPress, and with wider monitors, page widths are wider than ever, so small text gets lost in the vast expanse of your screen.
How big should your text be? My recommendation is no smaller than 16px, however 20px is becoming more common. Bigger IS better.
2. Text that is too light.
I blame designers for this. Lighter text looks cool. I don’t know why, but it just does.
And even worse is text that’s both small and light!
But after you’ve made that cool impression on your website, can anyone read your text?
No, they can’t!
Your poor readers! They can’t read what you’ve written.
How dark should your text be? I recommend no lighter than 85% black. This will make your text a tad lighter, and less stark (hence, more cool) than 100% black.
3. Text that is too wide on the page
Now that you have a big, wide page to write on, why not format your text from edge-to-edge!
Adding wide text blocks to already small, light text and you have a major reading catastrophe.
Instead, you want some white space to narrow the text blocks on the page.
On a site such as Medium.com (which gets millions of readers) the font size is 21px and the margins of each side of the text take up about 50% of the screen real estate.
Another way to narrow your text block is to have a narrower left or right margin and then on the opposite side have a wider margin with graphic content or side-menus.
You’ll see this on this blog page, for instance.
I recommend that your main text block take no more than 60% of your screen’s width.
4. Paragraphs that are too long
Long paragraphs are just as problematic as small, light or wide text. Huge paragraphs are simply hard to read online.
A web page is not read like a book. And the same paragraph rules don’t apply.
It’s OK to have short paragraphs.
Even one-sentence paragraphs.
I recommend that paragraphs be no deeper than five lines. If you put just one key idea into each paragraph, readership will soar.
5. Poor font choice
There are a zillion fonts available these days, so it can be confusing to choose the right one for you.
That said, I generally suggest a very readable serif font such a “Georgia” or a sans-serif font such as “Open Sans.”
But be careful about mixing fonts. You don’t want your website to look like a ransom note.
It’s common to use a bold serif or sans-serif font for headings, and then the opposite for body content.
This is where a designer can come in handy and help give a unified, professional look to your web pages.
6. Failure to use bolding
This is my secret weapon to increase readability. You don’t see this enough online.
If your text is all black/gray text with no variation, there is no focal point to draw the eye.
Here’s what happens:
A reader comes to your page and sees nothing but monochromatic text. Nothing attracts the eye.
The subconscious mind says, “Where’s the good stuff? Do I have to wade through all of that text to find it? Shoot, that’s too hard, let me go someplace else!”
But if you bold first sentences (sometimes initial clauses), the reader’s eye is attracted and they get an immediate payoff.
The reader is focused and understands instantly what your content is about and is encouraged to keep reading.
If you have lots of boldface throughout your text, then the reader can quickly scan for meaning. And even if they don’t read your whole page, they’ll get the general gist.
One mistake to avoid with bolding: You should almost never bold words or sentences in the middle of a paragraph. That just makes it harder to read.
If you want to add emphasis in the middle of a paragraph, use italics instead.
7. Not using sub-heads
Another great way to increase readability is to break up pages with sub-heads.
This is simply text in a larger font, often colored and/or bold text, as I’ve done in this article.
Subheads serve to organize the most important sections of your content. They also give readers more “entry points” into your writing.
Again, all of this increases readability which is what you want when a visitor comes to your website, right?
P.S. To check the type of font and font size on any web page you can get a free Google Extension called What Font.
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