Good content for the web

publishing text online • considering the reading experience

We're all individuals with our own tastes and preferences but when it comes to what we expect from a website, it all comes down to pretty much the same thing: good content. A web site with a bare and minimal design might not deliver much eye candy but if the content is top quality, we will enjoy the reading and viewing and come back for more. To get this right, we should look first to produce good text and accompanying media and then how to present it well on the page.

When we ask ourselves about how much patience we have when browsing the web ~ most of us will admit being quite impatient most of the time. Our brain seems wired to skip and jump, latching onto the visual clues on the page. If the page requires too much mental effort, we'll likely go elsewhere.

As content producers, we have to consider the factors affecting the site visitor's experience when viewing our publications. These include the device/browser used, the connection and the access and presentation of content within the overall site. At the core of it is the text in all its forms: the main article with its sub-/headings, lists, quotes and paragraphs as well as the microcopy, i.e. the phrasing of menu links and prompts.

In his book Don't make me think!, Steve Krug concludes clearly how a poorly planned and implemented design will affect site visitors' attention and results in more time and mental energy spent. When we publish online, our focus has to be ease of access to the sought-for content.

illustrations of thoughts when looking on site

We are then confronted with the actual scenario - how we might design with thorough planning and best of intentions, only to find that our site visitors are not at all doing what we expected. Therefore we have to consider carefully our own online behaviour, and more importantly, that of our site visitors.

illustrations of view patterns across the page, planned/expected vs actual

The following is merely scratching the surface, of course. Becoming a professional writer requires much practice and goes much, much deeper than these brief lists of pointers. The aim of this page is to offer advice to novice writers, highlight important aspects in writing and publishing text online, prevent common mistakes and share some tips of what works.

The habits, preferences, site and apps/devices people use for online reading are constantly evolving. There is much to interfere with our reading. Typesetting and layout alone can slow us down. Ads intersected with content. Internal or promotional links. Pop-ups. And more.

This meant that 'reader' apps and services jumped in and offered distraction-free reading. Hugely popular especially with the RSS crowd, they focused entirely on the text and show their own version of the text, stripped of all irrelevant details. While this did indeed calm down the page and allow space for the text, formatting is often lost to the detriment of legibility.

The Guardian newspaper article

Let's take a look at this article from the Guardian, published in 2017. The 2 previews below are full-page screenshots of the same article viewed on the site and via the reader. To compare, place your cursor over the preview image and scroll down to view the page in full, or view directly via the links.

Veerle Pieters Blog post

As inspiration, here are 2 full-page screenshots from the blog of Veerle Pieters, a talented and well-known graphic and web designer from Belgium. For our joy and inspiration, she has been running her blog to share her vast experience and expertise for many years. Her site is an excellent example of how design and text can merge together for a nice reading experience.

(check out Veerle's profile on people of the web for more info and links).

story telling one exemplary

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