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How user friendly is your website?

A cardinal rule in developing a good website is to remember that it is for the user, not the creator. Sometimes you must sacrifice graphic elements, backgrounds, colors and layouts that strike your fancy in order to achieve a user-centered website. Here are three ways to make your website more usable and, perhaps, draw a bigger audience.

Consider how it will print.
Your website might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, graphically speaking. However, it is not enough only to consider how it looks on a computer screen. You also need to consider how it will print. Very few websites print out well. A common problem is that the right side cuts off, as paper and screen dimensions are not the same. This does not mean you cannot use the left and right margins; it simply means the meat of your content should be in the middle column, with the webpage title clearly displayed there. In addition, recognize that background colors and images do not print by default.

Think about the design.
A common problem with many websites is that the font size is too small. Remember that some people have a hard time reading smaller text. It is advisable to use at least 16-point font on screen, which is comparable to a 12-point font in print. Realize, too, that the same point size can look larger or smaller depending on the typeface. Have potential users check out the readability of your text. Other design tips include:

  • Use standard fonts like Helvetica, Verdana, etc. Using an obscure font will affect how the web page displays and prints out.
  • Do not reverse type. Neon yellow text against a black background may look great in a brochure, but it does not translate well on computer screens.
  • Keep line widths between 60 and 70 characters. With more characters than that, the type will likely be cut off in printing. Conversely, fewer than 40 characters can create eye fatigue and decrease readability.
  • Do not break up the left margin with graphics. They are hurdles in your reader’s path.
  • In blogs, drop caps (on the first letter of the first word) actually enhance readability. Some studies have shown that drop caps in blogs increase readership.

Know the proper use of PDFs.
PDF stands for Portable Document File, and the name says it all. Use PDFs primarily to distribute documents that will be printed. Too many website managers think they should populate their website by loading huge amounts of print documents onto the site: entire manuals, newsletters and brochures. However, print is print and web is web.

Why do PDFs not translate well onto websites? For one thing, hypertext links are seldom embedded in PDFs. This makes it difficult for web users to find the desired information within the PDF and requires them to do a great deal of scrolling. In addition, users tend to close the window when they are finished reading the PDF instead of just hitting the back button. This means they leave your website unintentionally. They may not return.

Should you use PDFs on your website? Indeed. However, build the content as a well-designed web page and then link to a PDF of that same content. Do not forget to include a link to the Adobe site where your users can download Acrobat Reader.

Here’s an example of how to use web pages and a PDF in concert. Take your church’s weekly newsletter and build each section as a page. Because you undoubtedly have the same types of content (calendar items, pastor’s letter, prayer requests and announcements) in each newsletter, you can easily build a navigation that will enable your website users to find what they need quickly. Then include a link to the PDF of the printed newsletter for users who want to print the newsletter.

These ideas will help you develop and maintain a website that is user friendly. If you understand and anticipate what your site visitors want and need, you will have a site that is well used and engaging.