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Web Global Net Web Application & Web Development Project Center  |  Web Site Planning Related  |  Web Site Planning Questions  |  Topic: Words, Words, Words 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Words, Words, Words  (Read 6761 times)
« on: February 26, 2005, 12:36: PM »

Almost every discussion of Web design these days spends a lot of time considering graphical page elements. And yet, text-based content has several demonstrable advantages over its graphical counterpart. To paraphrase an old TV show, optimally designed text-based pages are:

Smarter... Faster... Better


Text content is easily accessible to search engines, spiders, and so-called "intelligent agents." These agents rely on text-based parsers to ferret out and understand page contents. Thus it's not surprising that graphically-based content is essentially invisible to these agents.

As the sheer size of the Web continues to grow, it's very likely that these intermediaries will play an increasingly central role in identifying and acquiring content. Thus, compatibility with text-based parsers will likely be a key element in folks' finding your Website in the first place.


Every reader-friendly Website ensures that its images are optimized for speed. Even so, nothing transmits faster than simple text, and load time is second only to legibility as the single most important factor in Web design.

Of special note are those navigational images that are themselves merely pictures of words. Even the most brutal optimization techniques cannot hope to transmit these images fast enough to beat a simple text-based navigation bar.

"But images are cached, and can be reused," comes the stock reply.

Okay, the typical visitor at a typical Web site looks at an average of about five pages in a single visit. A tiny, really well-optimized graphical rendition of, say, the word "top" takes 160-or-so bytes. In contrast, the word "top" takes a whopping three bytes as text.

Math quiz: which is less -- the "uncached" 3 bytes, retransmitted 5 times, or 160 "cached" bytes? (Now multiply by a half-dozen common navigational elements, and you'll see why this argument remains unconvincing.)

Then too, every reader-friendly Website actively accommodates non-graphical visitors by providing text-based navigation anyway. Once the text-based navigational structure is in place, it's increasingly difficult to justify graphical duplicates of these devices.

Not Only Faster, but Better, too

Recent research suggests that text-based content is remarkably resistant to the effects of Internet delays. When subjected to the yransmission delays that are an inevitable part of today's "World-Wide Wait," text-based information is actually perceived more favorably than identical content composed of text and graphics. Reader perceptions of both organization and quality of content are substantially lower for the graphics-based version.

Effective Text Interfaces

Of course, text is not only "the medium" by which content is conveyed, but also a key element of the interface of the page itself. Therefore, effective use of text on a Web page imposes specific design requirements all its own:

*   Design for "scannability"

Reading text from a CRT is harder than reading from paper. By implication, a reader-friendly approach to page design makes it easy for readers to "scan" a page in search of content.

Generally speaking, a page made up of short paragraphs, interspersed with ample header tags, bullet lists, and judiciously applied text formatting tags makes for a more scannable page. Then too, an effectively designed page makes liberal use of whitespace, both to organize content and to speed navigation.

*   Make effective use of hyperlinks

Genuinely effective Web designs employ hyperlinks to break content into readable, manageable "chunks." But it's also very easy to overuse hyperlinks, which can, in turn, undermine both readability and scannability of a document. An optimal Web design exploits hyperlinks without compromising the readability of the page.

*   Always present "core" content as text

Never rely solely on graphics for presentation of core content. Remember that text content is inherently accessible to a variety of automated intermediaries and agents. By implication, graphics are best used as a supplement to text content, and not as a substitute for it.

Effective interface design with simple text-based content is the key to building Web pages that are smarter... faster... better. The cornerstone of effective, economical Web design is that most powerful of communication tools: the written word.
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Web Global Net Web Application & Web Development Project Center  |  Web Site Planning Related  |  Web Site Planning Questions  |  Topic: Words, Words, Words « previous next »
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