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Headlines in a newspapers takes their meaning from their surrounding text or pictures (the macrocontent) and do not have to stand alone. On the web, headlines are likely to be found in lists (from a search engine, for example) and like book titles, they require stand-alone meaning. Headlines, subheads and Page Titles are called microcontent because they need to be summaries of their web pages or sections.
Also web surfers like to get the gist of your page quickly to decide whether they want to read it in detail. If they don't get this information quickly, they are likely to move on. Here's how to do it!
Make it specific and straight-forward. Each element of your microcontent should quickly communicate what your page is about. Be:
Ask: Can your reader get the gist of your page from the microcontent? The ideal is that your reader can scan the heading, subheads, and bold text and get a good summary of the page's content. When your reader looks at your page, the most emphatic parts of the page should provide a meaningful summary of its content.
Make it stand-alone. The title, for example, of your page, should be understandable apart from its following paragraph, pictures, etc. In search engine results what you write as the page title is all the reader will see. So make it meaningful and clear. This applies particularly to:
- Titles (the title tag)
- Headlines (Can be almost the same wording as the title tag)
Make headlines and subheads 5 to 8 words long. This makes scanning easier.
Headlines and subheads: The headline should express the meaning of the page. The subheads express the meaning of the section.
Page Contents: Try to make each page deal with one subject or topic. However, if you have several subjects on the page, then use a list of links (2 to 3 words long) at the top of the page as an executive summary of the page.
Hyperlinks: Make it clear where the link will take the reader, and what he or she will find there. For example the content of the page or the reason you want your reader to go there.
Avoid 'home' and 'contents'. Also avoid 'next', 'back' and 'up'! None of these are very explicit.
Bold text: Emphasise meaningful parts of the text. Ideally this makes a summary of the text. Try to limit this to 3 to 4 words.
Alt text: Use the Alt text for images to state their purpose.
Captions: Use image captions to tell your reader what they are looking at and why.
Horizontal rules: Use these to separate different sections as necessary. A horizontal rule at the very bottom of the page helps with scrolling to the last line.
Link Titles: You can use link titles to add information about the link which is not evident from its description. The different colour of the link should be used to add emphasis.
This is the description of your page in the <title> tags!
This page is strongly influenced by Jakob Nielsen's <http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980906.html.
Most Recent Revision: 18-Apr-99.
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