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Top Editing Tip: Emphasis Must Be Selective



When it comes to marketing—especially on the web—there are often no second chances.  You either capture your visitor the first time around, or you don’t.  The hard fact is—if you don’t immediately  grab their attention with your absolutely stellar content, it’s highly doubtful they’ll come back for a second look. 

Unless you’re a must-have site (such as the IRS), what this means is that you really have to nail  your messaging with carefully crafted writing and editing—and one of the most important ways to do this is to become very selective in how you present your content visually. 


You only want to run with those elements that are vitally important to getting your core message across.  This is where “selective emphasis” comes in.  You cannot emphasize everything, or you will have emphasized nothing.  So, resist the urge to crank up the “volume” on everything, since this is sure to annoy your visitors—and confuse them at the same time.

Much web research has been devoted to this “volume” issue.  It’s been well-documented that blatant visual elements—whether they are text or images—are automatically tuned out by most people.  This research, in fact, is where the term “banner blindness” originated (now it’s called “ad blindness”). 

What you want to do in your writing and editing, then, is selectively  emphasize so that you focus attention only on your site’s key elements, de-emphasizing everything else.  The tactical elements you’ll employ to emphasize your text consist of:           

  • Font sizes and font families—for headlines and sub-heads, especially
  • Font options—bolding, underlining, italics, capitalization, color
  • The screen space amount that is devoted to any given item
  • Relevant images, such as “real” people or specific product photos
  • Visual “separators,” such as tables or horizontal or vertical lines
  • “White space” and “visual isolation” for focusing on important items
  • Image captions
  • Background images or color blocks
  • Links and buttons
  • Special shapes, sizes, visual styles, and effects—such as borders, drop-shadows, and beveling (which are often used for call-to-action buttons, for instance)

Emphasis also involves legibility.  Ask yourself how legible your site is—how difficult or easy is it to read your text?  Since most people’s web experiences are still based on the reading of text, and this is still recognized as the hands-down superior method of getting your message across—AND most people are in a major-league hurry to “get on with it,” let’s spend some time on the issue of website legibility. 

You can save yourself an enormous amount of grief by simply conforming to conventional copywriting legibility guidelines, which include the following:


Font Sizes:  For most body text, 10-12 point fonts are best.  Anything larger or smaller than that reduces reading speed.  If you are targeting an older audience, think about increasing the font size and also set the line spacing so that you have sufficient space between lines.

Font Styles
:  “Sans Serif” fonts like Verdana, Arial, or Tahoma work best.  Avoid using “Serif” fonts, which have small lines at the end of the characters, such as Century, Bookman Old Style, or Times New Roman.  “Serif” fonts are harder to read on most monitors because the screen resolutions are much lower than for printed materials.

Font Consistency
:  Don’t use a wide range of font sizes, colors, or styles.  Too much change is confusing to the eye and can make reading difficult—the last thing you want!

Line Justification
:  “Justification” spreads the text out to create lines of equal length, giving your text a box-like look.  It’s also a boring, put-me-to-sleep look.  So, instead, use left-justified text because it has been proven that when lines end in varying lengths, people increase their reading comprehension and speed.

:  Avoid using underlines in regular text.  Conventional internet practice dictates that underlines only be used for hyperlinks.  To add emphasis to text, consider other ways of going about it, such as bolding, italics, a different text color, or a different size font.

:  Legibility is increased with a high contrast between the text and the background.  Reflected light sources such as monitors are easier to read with black or dark text on a white or light background.

Background Colors
:  This has to do with contrast.  Normal web convention for body text is a white background.  To enhance legibility, header and navigation background colors also need to be fairly light.  In the same vein, dark backgrounds with light text colors are difficult to read and should be used sparingly, if at all.

Link Text
:  The accepted internet standard for link text prior to a link’s being activated is blue, with the blue text underlined to indicate that it is a link.  The standard color for a link once it has been activated is purple.  It’s best to leave these in this default mode, and then be sure you don’t use these exact colors for any other text on your site.

:  Publishers of all kinds have known for years that text in all-capital letters is more difficult to read.  That’s why you don’t see newspaper headlines in all-caps. 

In addition, there are two more web copywriting elements that fall into the category of “selective emphasis.”  These are color and page layout.  I’ll discuss them both.

As we all know, color affects mood.  Calm colors are soothing.  Loud, highly contrasting or jarring colors are exciting.  So, you need to look at color as a powerful emotional element in your website.  What mood or emotion do you want to create?


The way you use colors—and which colors you select—depends entirely upon how and what you’re selling.  Because people react emotionally and on a gut level to colors, they’re huge motivators in and of themselves.  Select them carefully, and they’ll help you convert your visitors into customers, but don’t fall into the trap of using colors ornamentally—they’ll only prove distracting if you do.

Page layout sounds dull, dull, dull—but the success of your carefully-constructed writing depends in large part upon your layout, as odd as that may seem.  It is, in fact, an over-arching design element to which you will want to give a great deal of thought because it not only affects the visual impact of all of your pages—it pulls together and makes cohesive the theme of your entire website.


Page layout should be as clear and uncluttered as possible.  This entails using enough “white space” to rest the eyes.  This, in turn, will assist in emphasizing your core message. 

Your page layout should also be coherent throughout the site.  A jumble of differing layouts can create unnecessary confusion—and a corresponding drop-off in visitor interest.  So, again, what we are talking about here is selective emphasis.  This is editing, editing, editing—attention to detail to the max.


Handle it well, and you will find yourself richly rewarded!

Denver Business Editor | Boulder Business Editor