Fancy formatting and how to ensure your content gets ignored

When posting content to your site, if you really want it to stand out make it red and bold. And, if you bump up the text by 20px and change the font then everyone will see it. Right? Wrong.

An all too common scenario

We recently launched a new site for a prominent Western Australian Institution. The site looked great. The content was laid out nicely. Images were sized, captioned and positioned uniformly. All the articles had consistent fonts, headings and subheadings. The client was happy and we transferred ownership of the site to them.

A few weeks later, I checked in on the site. There was a new article about an upcoming event published on the home page. OH NO! The event title was in bold, red text. The font size was about 12 points bigger than the page title with asterisks on either side of it. A little further down the page there's more big red text. Obviously this was important information that the author was trying to convey.

It is easy to understand the author's reasoning for doing this. It's tempting to highlight important information. If you really want it to stand out you could make it red and bold. Actually, you should bump up the text size by 20px and change the font then everyone will see it. Right? Wrong.

Not only does inconsistent use of fonts and formatting make your beautifully designed website look like a budget highschool hack job, it actually has the opposite effect to what was intended.

Fancy formatting = Looks like a promotion = IGNORED

Here's a Jacob Neilson study from 2007 that proves if it looks like a promotion it'll get ignored. Only 14% of users visiting the US Census Bureau could successfully find the Bureau's most requested information even though it was prominently displayed on the home page. The reason? It resembled a promotion.

It's human nature

Jacob Nielsen explained this phenomenon further in an interview a few weeks later.

"It's because people have evolved a very aggressive hatred of advertising on the web, not in the sense of being anti-commercial, anti-business, because people want to buy stuff. They bring their credit card out quite often and are ready to buy things, and so it's not an anti-business feeling, it's more that advertising on the web has become so polluting."

"It's information pollution, it's yelling and screaming at people and bouncing up and down and slapping their face, and because the advertising is so aggressive now-a-days, and a lot of pages are filled with blinking, flashing, moving things, people are evolving a protective mechanism to protect themselves from that intrusion on their peace and quiet. The protection mechanism is called selective attention, and selective attention is not something that evolved for the web, it's something that humans have had since the Stone Age, when we were out hunting for the wooly mammoths. If you are out hunting for wooly mammoths, you pay more attention to the trail and the tracks and the signs for where that animal is going. If you are on the web, on the other hand, you mentally screen out the ads, using peripheral vision."

So, next time you have something important to tell your readers please stay away from the font size and colour buttons because they do more harm than good.

How to get your important info out there.

Use headings and sub-headings wisely, make your content scannable and use all your available avenues to publish your information. Repetition is more effective than fancy formatting.

  • Post an article to your site.
  • Post a follow up article. A day, two days or a week later. What ever is appropriate.
  • Use an interesting image. Put it above the fold and make it relevant.
  • Send a newsletter.
  • Tweet it. Repeating tweets is fine according to marketing legend Guy Kawasaki. "I don’t assume that all my followers are reading me 24 x 7 x 365. This is the same reason that ESPN and CNN repeat the same news stories throughout the day."
  • Facebook it.
  • Google +1 it.

john-pitchers-avatar smAbout John Pitchers

John Pitchers is co-founder and lead developer at Joomstore where his primary role is the design and development of Joomla websites. He is also the developer of the FocalPoint maps extension for Joomla. John has been building CMS based web sites since 2004, originally working with Mambo before it forked into Joomla. When not writing PHP, Javascript or CSS you'll find John carving up the hills around Baldivis on his longboard (long before Walter Mitty made it famous).

Find out more about John on his About.me page and . Follow John on Twitter.

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