| Design Basics, Web Design

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In my last post, I explained how all items that look like text are not necessarily true readable text, and showed how to figure out if the text on your web site really is text. Otherwise, text elements may actually be graphic images that are just typographic (rather than being a photo, etc.).

A recent screen grab of the Apple home page which is nearly all graphics, including the type.
A recent screen grab of the Apple home page which is nearly all graphics, including the type.

If we know that search engines cannot really read these graphic text elements, then why do designers use them?

  1. Some web designers don’t know any better. A designer who comes from a print background where adjusting the nuances of typography are very desirable, may resort to creating their text into graphics without giving it much thought. (Note: this is not a good reason).
  2. Sometimes a typographic look is a integral part of a brand identity. Not all type should be presented as HTML text. On the most critical level, we would never expect a company name to be set as HTML text, we’d expect it to be their logo type. There may be other elements of your brand identity that are very typography-driven which would be lost if it were set as HTML text.
  3. There is a desire to use a non-web safe font. There are only a handful of fonts that are considered universal across computer systems and deemed web safe. If a designer wants to use a font outside of that list, then the typography will need to be converted into a graphic.
  4. The design effect is more important than the ability to be searched via google or other search engines. This may seem like heresy to some SEO zealots, but sometimes design and branding is more important than SEO. In the most general terms, there are two steps that are necessary for a web site to be effective: getting people to the site; and then having the viewer do whatever the web site owner wants (buy something, contact the owner, read something, etc.) While SEO can be helpful in driving traffic, a well designed web site can help immensely with the second step of holding a viewers attention or pressing them into action.
  5. The text in question is not critical to SEO. This subtlety of this idea seems to be lost on some web developers who are too focused on SEO. As an example, if the elements in your main navigation include: About Us, Contact Us, Products, News, and Biographies you can be pretty assured no one is searching on those terms. You are not going to lose any search engine traffic by converting those text items to graphics. And you may keep a visitor interested or create a more professional image for yourself by using some well-designed typographic elements. (Of course, you should also consider adjusting your navigational elements to more descriptive elements such as replacing a term like Products with XYZ Widgets.)

When you hire a designer to design and develop your web site, make sure you have an understanding of what typographic elements will be created as graphics and which will be true HTML text. Make sure the web designer you work with is not just making things graphic elements because of reason #1 above. But do allow that sometimes reasons 2-5 are worth considering.

There are times when design and branding have to fight with SEO to find the right balance between finding web traffic and keeping viewers engaged.

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