Waste of space in text layout, excessive marketing
and other viewer annoyances, to avoid when creating a website

There seems to be a trend lately of far too much wasted space on websites over all. For example: It's very common now to see a page that only takes up 2/3's of the space on the screen to start with, and then in turn, further usable space is cut down by rows of ad space down the sides and often, the top and bottom of the page, and this is not even taking into consideration the needed aspects of navigation etc., leaving a very small window for text down the middle. In some extreme cases, the space that is left for the text, is no more than a paragraph or two long.

Now, the page looks like it has lots of information on it, but the truth is, a 1/3 of the screen is wasted, as there is nothing there, another 1/3 is used up by marketing, and there is almost never a scroll down, so the vast majority of the possible page, is wasted as well.

So what the viewer is getting is what ? A grand total, in most cases, of a handful of paragraphs per page, and then is forced to a new page to read, what could have easily fit on the first page in most cases, even with the recommended "white space" around the textual parts to make it easier to read. Now, the question is, where did this idea come into being, and what does your average viewer think about it ?

Why it came into being:

Monitor size variables:

First off, the forced into a strip down the middle, in newspaper and magazine column format, which is where the idea comes from, does prevent odd spacing and text spacing bleed over when viewed on a variety of monitor resolutions, so it can handle one design problem very neatly , however, wise designers make several columns across, just like the newspapers, and give you the entire story, at the same time.

Lack of scrolling:

The Newspaper format fits more text on the horizontal Vs the vertical page space, so there is less scrolling needed.  People as a rule, don't like to have to scroll about too much, which is unfortunate in some ways, as it forces the webmaster to waste a good deal of otherwise usable web page space. Web pages can easily contain, 2 to 5 times as much information per page, as say a typical 8 1/2 by 11 printer sheet for example. And all of the possible space is seldom used, due to a viewer preference not to have to scroll. So the column format is a compromise solution, for making the best use of the first screen space, before one has to scroll.

Is the newspaper layout good for the viewer ?

In part, yes, as it's how we typically read most anything off-line from the newspaper, to our favorite magazine, they all use this format, so we are at least used to it.

However, in part no, as forcing the viewer to pop their eyes back up to the top of the page to continue reading, can be much harder on screen, as it is typically much larger than your average magazine page, that you can scan in one go with your eyes.

A column format that you can scan from side to side, with non consecutive text, as in the menu for this "how to" for example is a compromise format to use less vertical space, and it is easier on the eyes than small font text, in many columns across, that is often harder to follow, as you have to do a read to the bottom, then back up to the top scan, over and over, in a sine wave fashion to follow it, but it depends a great deal on how you lay it out. It's a usable format, if used correctly.

Taking this idea too far with excessive marketing:

The column format is fine, if used in a sensible fashion as noted above, and very space saving, which is why newspapers and magazines use it, however, what is happening, on far too many sites, is the usable space, space that could be used for several columns across, is being wasted with marketing to excessive degrees, leaving very little room for putting in the textual information. As is typically seen in many magazines.

We have all seen them, tabloid rags that are nothing but wall to wall ads, with a few articles scattered about like an afterthought. We seldom buy such things over once .. why ? Because it is a waste of our time and money is why, as we bought the magazine to read.

I recently received a "free" health magazine, in the hopes I would subscribe to it one assumes. It took me all of five minutes to see it was not a magazine, it was a book of ads, with a few lame, outdated articles in it, that provided almost no real information, but, in-between all these widely space articles, it had a ton ads for every drug company and health fad merchandiser in the world in it. I tossed in the recycle bin, as that is where it belonged, and one hopes in the papers next life, it will be made into something a bit more useful.

This idea of wall to wall ads, is abusive of the viewer, on-line or off-line, as the reason for going to a site, or buying the magazine as the case may be, is to read the articles or view the merchandise posted. If marketing is used to extreme on the pages, the viewers time is being wasted, as they are forced to scan page after page, to read the textual information.

The big question ... Do people like this ?

Answer, by and large ... No, no more than they like it in their newspapers or magazines. The idea of starting to read an article, only to be forced into the back of the book, or forced into flipping through the pages of the newspaper is annoying to most people. We put up with it, as the newspapers and magazines force it on us and have for many years.

It is done partly, for perfectly good reason, in newspapers for example, to be able to put more story headers on the front page of that particular section, and then it leads you off into another page to read the rest of the story, Which is fine, if done once ! As the first page, with all the little text teasers, becomes a menu page in effect. But how many times have you found yourself forced into section after section, for no good reason, just to finish a story ? A lot I bet, we are forced to do it so much, we often don't even think about just how much of our time is being wasted by having to flip about, seeking the right page to finish the story.

Now that same format is showing up on the web. Ok, why ?

For the same reason it's often forced on the reader in off-line print formats, plain and simple as stated throughout, advertisements, adverts for things that are often not related to the article at all, parked right along side of a small column of text. Every time you are forced on to a new page, in order to keep reading, more ads are run by your eyes, just as is done in your favorite magazine, and often in your daily newspaper.

Now, if you are like most people, you will notice that the text, or news article for example, your trying to read, could have easily been put on one page, or at least printed page by page, consecutively, using most of the text available sectors of the page to do it.

But what typically happens is, you are fed small dribs and dabs of it, and forced to wander about the site like a lost soul, trying not to lose your train of thought here, as you read a little bit of it at a time, while a dozen or more ads are flashing off in your face, just to make it even harder to read whatever it is, as your being distracted by all the ads, most of which move and jump about. Flash ads being the most commonly used at the moment.

They want you to notice them of course, which is why they move, ads are a part of life true enough, as any business, even my own, must advertise in order to do business, but there comes a point of over kill, to where it's excessive, and an abuse of the viewers time.

At this point it stops being good advertisement and becomes in fact, negative advertisement, as the viewer is now actively ignoring the ads for one. For another, if done to really annoying lengths, they will go beyond ignoring the ads, and into active refusal to do business with the advertiser, just because their ads are annoying, and will further avoid the place that is providing the ad space. So it's easy to take the idea too far, to where it; becomes a negative effect Vs the positive effect that is intended.

Just as a side note: This creates a rather nasty cycle however, as the more the ads are ignored, the more obvious they tend to get, to try and get your attention. And in some cases, it seems they think if they are obnoxious enough, you will buy from them. Rather twisted logic to that, but it's the only rational explanation for some ad campaigns. Love them or hate them, but don't ignore them, is the general rule many businesses seem to follow.

Just how bad is this idea ?

Just to show you how bad this can get. I did a test one day on a typical site of this format. I copied off all the text of one article, and printed it out. It took up less than one sheet of printer paper, count em, one sheet. Just to give you a comparison, the article you are now reading, would take up almost four full pages of printer paper. The article in question however, I had to flip past no less than seven pages to read it !

Which proves, that it was done purposely, for the sake of dragging me past page after page of advertisements, as otherwise, there was no rational point to it. Every article on the site I chose as an example, was done this way, taken as a whole, the entire textual contents of the site would have taken up no more than 8 pages worth of paper, if I were to print it out. The total number of; web pages however, was a grand total of 56, 3/4's of which, were advertisements.

This is not a site, it's a online bill board, that happens to contain a few articles I might want to read, if I want to put up with all that to attempt to read them. This is no different than the "free" health magazine I tossed in the recycle bin. The web versions only saving grace is, they don't waste perfectly good paper to create it.

I don't know about you, but I personally am sick and tired of going to a site to read an article, and being bombarded with adverts that take up most of the page, that I am forced to try and ignore so I can read it, and according to the viewer annoyance statistics, and the most recent surveys, so is just about everybody else.

Now, the suggestion is, of course, not to do this for your own web pages, to avoid this viewer annoyance factor with your own text layout, but may I make a further suggestion, which is to help stop this trend on the part of many sites, which is to use the power of email and ... complain to the web sites who do this.

If enough people tell site holders that they do not appreciate their time being wasted in this fashion, the practice might just cease, but until and unless, we, the viewer say something about it, above and beyond voting with our mouse, as we click away from such sites, we will see more and more of this kind of abuse of our time, due to excessive marketing tactics, as the advert "rules" for magazine and newspaper copy, make their way on to the web.

More soon

Return to how to design a website