Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

4 Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content

chart for testing eye sightYou can spend a lot of time carefully crafting text for online or print, to ensure it’s easy to understand and engaging, and people can still have difficulty reading what you wrote.

Even well written and enticing content can suffer from poor readability, which is affected by not just by what your words say, but also, by how they look.

It’s all a matter of perception

The format, style and structure of text all play a role in readability.

Although these are aspects of design, it’s important for copywriters and content strategists to be aware of how they can affect the way text is perceived. Appearances matter. A lot.

Our visual perception controls how we process, analyze and understand information. If text is hard to perceive, we’re less likely to read it.

OK, maybe you’re thinking, “Heck, tell me something I don’t know. This all seems pretty darn obvious.” Well, you’re right about that. However, based on many websites, ads and other marketing materials I’ve seen (and likely you, too), the rules of readability are not readily understood.

Four tips to improve readability

There’s a science to visual perception, and it gets pretty deep, but for a quick fix, you can use these four basic guidelines to improve readability:

Tip #1: Align text flush left

We naturally read and understand things faster if we can perceive a pattern.

When aligning text you generally have these choices: flush left, flush right, centered or justified.

In most cases, flush left is your best bet. That’s because we read from left to right (at least we do here in the U.S.) and having a strong left edge makes it easy for the eye to know where to come back to after reaching the end of the line.

In other words, you create an easily recognized pattern. If text is centered, your eyes have to work a lot harder to figure out where the next line begins.

Compare and contrast: Here are lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that you may be able to recite by heart, and which are easier to read when aligned flush left:

The beginning lines of Hamlet's To be or not to be speech

Tip #2: Avoid ALL CAPS

Putting words in all caps can make text look all nice and neat in a uniform block. And therein lies the problem — it’s a block.

All caps reduces the contrast between words which makes them harder to read.

Even though words are made up of individual letters, subconsciously, we read the shapes of words rather than parse things out letter by letter. Words in lowercase are more distinct in shape than words written in all caps.

Seeing is believing: Compare these paragraphs and decide for yourself which one is easier to read:

Example of two paragraphs, one in sentence case the the other in all capital letters

Tip #3: Line height — a general guideline

Line height, also known as leading or line spacing, is the distance between one line of text and the line above or below it. Too little or too much spacing can reduce readability.

When typing documents we’re used to terms like single-space and double-space. On the web, where text can be defined by pixels, picas and ems, we don’t have that same terminology, however, a good rule of thumb is to follow the W3C accessibility guidelines. These call for line spacing of at least 1.5 times the font size within paragraphs, and paragraph spacing that is at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing.

Example: Which set of sentences is easier to read? FYI, this quote is by the famous philosopher, Morticia Addams, of the Addams Family:

Comparison of two line heights for the quote" Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos to the fly.

Keep in mind other factors can come into play here, including line length, screen size, resolution, and even the size of the text.

There’s debate about ideal line height and if you’re interested in varying opinions on the topic, there’s a good thread about it on ux.stackexchange for the question: Is there an optimal font size/height ratio?

Tip #4: Choose colors carefully

The difference between the color of your text and the color behind it can make or break readability. If the colors are too similar, it can be nearly impossible to make out the words.

Dark text on a dark background is hard to read, and so is light text on a light background. For maximum legibility, you want high contrast between text and background.

Sounds simple, yet working with color is complex.

Reverse type — where white type appears on a dark background — is readable in small doses. When you put full pages of text in reverse type, you can run into problems, because our eyes have difficulty processing large amounts of reverse text.

And then there is the issue of people who are color-blind; which does not mean they cannot see color, but rather they have problems telling the difference between certain colors, such as red and green.

Here are examples of color combinations of varying readability:

Three examples of varying color combinations of text on a background

Of course, even if you have high contrast, certain colors clash and don’t work well together.  Coordinating colors is an art unto itself (you don’t have to work in design to know this — most anyone who’s had to pick out paint colors for different rooms in their house can attest to this fact). The good news is, there are free tools to help you find out if your color choices provide enough contrast for optimum readability, including the following:

WebAim Color Contrast Checker

Colour Contrast Check

Check My Colours


Other articles related to this topic:

Readability Do’s and Don’ts (Western Michigan University)

5 Tips For Improving Readability on Your Website (Spyre Studios)

Expand Your Market By Improving Web Page Readability (Key Relevance)

Why Text in All Caps is Hard For Users to Read (UX Movement)

A quick introduction to color blindness (We Are Colorblind)

Add your two cents

What’s you take on readability? What role does it play in your user experience? Comments welcome.


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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .


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