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Why Should I Read Your 'Important' Text?

  |  August 28, 2002   |  Comments

The fine print is no place for essential information.

I stayed at a hotel recently where I dialed a local number for my Internet connection and later faced a phone bill that came to hundreds of dollars.

Had I read all the little pieces of paper and cards all over the room, I would have known that some seven-digit numbers, accessed by dialing nine, were long distance.

It seems I was obliged to read everything in the room. Their mistake or mine?

Theirs. Why on earth should I assume I have to read every bit of paper in a hotel room? I know how to "use" a room. I feel no need, and certainly no obligation, to read every line of print presented to me.

When would I want to read one of those interminable cards and small slips of paper? When I have a need or want for something I don't know how to achieve without help. Room service. Help mailing a package.

So long as I know how to use a room, there's no need to read instructions.

The same goes for your Web site. Or at least many Web sites.

In the same way my only interest at the hotel was enjoying a decent night's sleep, your site visitors' interest is achieving a simple goal, whatever that may be.

Do they come to your site intent on reading every line of small print your lawyers devised? Of course not. Will they read your privacy policy? Your return policy? Every last tax and delivery issue for overseas shipping?

No. They won't. They read only the text that helps them make a considered decision and complete their purchase.

As long as they feel comfortable with their ability to use your site, they won't feel the need to read any of your small print.

As we improve our sites and users become more sophisticated in their navigation of our pages, their need to pause and read any small print diminishes.

This is a good thing.

It only becomes a bad thing when you insert text, in the way Mr. Hilton's employee did, that appears not to be essential reading but actually is.

Don't assume people will read all the text on your pages. Don't fume, put your hands on your hips, and say, "Dumb users, they were meant to read that part!"

If text on your site simply must be read, present it in a way that forces users to walk right into it. Highlight it. Show it in red. Do what's necessary to help people recognize it as required reading.

This applies not only to Web pages, but to email and newsletters as well.

If important text isn't read, the fault is not your visitors', it's yours.

Dumb site creator. Dumb hotel manager. Pissed-off visitor.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.

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