Practical Blogging Tips: Check Your Typography

Are visitors coming in to your blog – which you feel has great content – but they’re not returning? Maybe your typography is at fault. Bad font choices (family, size, color) make for a poor reading experience.

I’m surprised at how many of my colleagues don’t realize that their blog is difficult to read. Most of them don’t mind my saying so because it’s constructive criticism. (I’ve had a long love affair with the printed word and with typography in general, though I am not a designer.)

So if someone, maybe me, tells you your blog posts are hard to read, don’t be offended. They took the time to tell you. It doesn’t mean your site is not otherwise visually appealing, just that good web typography might make a significant difference in your site’s success.

Here are the regular culprits:

  1. Poor font choice. It’s an unfortunate fact but Serif fonts such as Times Roman just do not suit the computer screen. Microsoft spent a lot of money to find out that the Sans Serif fonts Verdana and Helvetica are best for body text on computer screens. Just keep in mind, however, that Sans Serif fonts make large blocks of text very difficult to read for prolonged periods. You need to break up your text.
  2. Small text. Using a very small font seems to be a trend amongst younger bloggers. As I’ve said before, that’s fine. Just don’t expect me to be a regular reader. (Or maybe you’re adopting Kurt Cobain’s motto of not trusting anyone over thirty – or something like that.) It’s not like you have to worry about the cost of newsprint, so I don’t see why this is such a popular option. (Just wait a few years and you’ll know what I mean. Eyesight decreases once you hit thirty, if I recall.) So please consider 11-14 pt body text.
  3. Colored fonts. No!! Well, I’m a design minimalist (most of the time, though it’s harder on monetized websites) who believes in function over form. Colored fonts are most likely to reduce contrast on your web pages. What’s worse than colored fonts is this incredible urge by so many bloggers to use light gray text. Some web designers aren’t helping things because I see this most often on their sites and newly-released themes. It’s fine if instead of straight black text you use a dark gray text. However, light gray makes it difficult to read blog posts – especially at night time. Low contrast text can cause eye fatigue, which in turn can produce headaches for some people.
  4. Colored backgrounds. Please, no! This is not a typographical issue, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen otherwise great blogs with colored backgrounds and small, light gray text. The worst part is that many of my fave bloggers (also colleagues) do this. It’s a shame that I have to stop reading them. (I no longer use RSS readers. At least I suddenly realized I haven’t for about six months, maybe longer.)

Obviously, you’re free to do what you like, but if you don’t make it easy for readers to actually read your content, don’t expect all of them to return. If after reading my pleas, you decide to commit these typographical offenses anyway, then here are a few suggestions that you should follow:

  1. Break up your text into sections with subheadings. (Sans Serif body text and Serif headings can help build contrast.)
  2. Use bold text for visual contrast.
  3. Use bulleted lists, which inherently add white space to your posts.
  4. Use pull quotes, which also add white space and visual punch.
  5. Do anything that increases white space or contrast, and generally makes it easier for the eye to concentrate on your content without fatigue.

On a related note, one WordPress theme that I’ve come across recently with very nice typography is designer Chris Pearson’s Neoclassical.

And now, once we find a Drupal designer, Performancing could do with a bit of an overhaul.

7 thoughts on “Practical Blogging Tips: Check Your Typography

  1. Markus: I prefer Times Roman body text in printed matter, but the fact is, Microsoft spent lots of money on research that proved serif fonts do not render nor read well on screen. They found Verdana to be the easiest to read, based on extensive user testing. I have to agree with them, despite my preference for Serif fonts (especially Palatino and Georgia).

    Re colored fonts: It’s not just that I don’t like them and they reduce page contrast. Colored fonts are eye candy, and serve very little function on a blog -unless it’s a blog about design or typography, and if the colored fonts are used sparingly for headlines. A fine example is the I Love Typography blog, which I linked to above.

    Colored backgrounds: Of course, for sidebars. I’m referring to areas where body text resides. Anything that reduces contrast makes a web page difficult to read.

    Re your posts: I don’t know. I’m not the only moderator and I’ve been busy. I’ll look into it for you. (The spam filter settings were changed recently.)

  2. > Serif fonts such as Times Roman just do not suit the computer screen.

    I strongly disagree. Also on the screen the serifes make sense because they lead the eye of reader better along the single line. For paragraphs I use the beautiful Palatino as a first choice, followed by Georgia if not available.

    But you are right Times is crap because it is a) too narrow and b) too heavy.

    And very important is that serif fonts need a certain minimum size on the screen. I use 16px.

    > Colored fonts. No!!

    Another disagree from me. I.e I use a dark red for blockquotes and citations. I used to have a left 5px border line but testing many short quotes with the dark red satisfies much more and is clearly identifiable.

    > Colored backgrounds. Please, no!

    Well, it depends. Very light colors like #ffe which I use for a sidebar can very well show different parts of contents. It also looks good on long text pages. #ff0 is definitely too much 🙂

    But you are hitting the right point by mentioning the contrast issue. Text must have the strongest contrast to the background. But for standard copy text it is a binary decision: black or white. Definitely nothing else.

    [OT] Raj, there are three articles from me in the moderation queue. I would like to know why they are not showing up on my blog?

  3. Chris: Agreed. The big disappointment is that I’ve had to stop reading many of the great content sites I used to read regularly due to difficult reading experience.

    There is one major problem: most bloggers, like myself, are not designers. So if they use a crappy theme, it doesn’t help. If you’re serious about your site, ask a few friends to provide constructive criticism about their reading experience. If you don’t know how to fix the CSS code yourself, then get/hire someone who does.

    There is also a hidden negative in bad typography on your blog: lack of desire to post. When I think about it, the sites I own where I can’t get myself to post, have poor typography. I prefer posting on the sites that are attractive and easy to read. So if your productivity is down, check your typography.

  4. Ultimately you want people to link to you. To get them to link to you, they need to enjoy reading your site. If they enjoy your site and find the experience pleasing then they’ll continue to return and they’ll continue to link.

    I’ve written about this issue before on my blog and I think it’s totally relevant to effective design for SEO.

    Great post and I believe it’s something that people overlook on a regular basis. I was surfing through some new sites yesterday and it’s surprising how many sites are just plain hard to read or full of static because they have too much crap on the pages, small text, etc.

    It’s all about the content and you HAVE to make your site easy to read and an enjoyable experience.


  5. Jeremy: It might be due to my experience publishing a print magazine many years ago, but I typically think in pt for type. However I do think in px for general web page layout. I think it’s a personal choice in this case, as all are valid.

  6. Quick question while we’re on the topic of fonts… what do you recommend as far as defining font sizes goes? px, pt, %, etc? I know they all have their advantages and disadvantages, but it’d be interesting to see what your thoughts are.


  7. Too true! It’s such a simple thing, but really needs to be mentioned because the wrong font decision can ruin a visitor’s experience. There are some nice color mixes that are not black on white, but when in doubt stick with the simple, obvious choice.

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