Use Good Netiquette When Designing Your Web Site

Netiquette, or Net etiquette, is a set of guidelines for content and web site design that seek to create a seamless communications channel with users and to avoid areas that sometimes cloud or confuse the communications. Many rules that have become bona fide standards for print media do not work well with the Internet. It is a mistake to assume that all standards used for books, brochures and print media advertising work equally well with the web. Here are some examples of bad netiquette.

Use of all upper case words is the equivalent of shouting on the Internet. This goes back to the early days of Usenet (a precursor to the web) when everything was text based (no graphics or images). In order to convey feelings or emotion, certain writing characteristics evolved. One was the use of all upper case words to convey strong emotion or shouting. You can see how THE USE OF UPPER CASE CHARACTERS ACCOMPLISHES THIS. As you read the sentence, most people have a tendency to read the upper case portion more loudly.

As a general rule, it is a good idea to avoid the use of all upper case sentences. You can sometimes get by with it for the title on a page, but beyond that and in use with acronyms, upper case words should be avoided. Shouting is not considered to be friendly and may distort your message.

Another evolution is the use of text emoticons, which are combinations of characters used to convey emotion. some examples of text emoticons are :-) equals a smile, ;-) equals a wink, etc. One more is the use of Internet slang, which are acronyms still used in Internet forums and for text messaging on cell phones. With Internet slang, LOL means “laughing out loud”, IMHO means “in my humble opinion”, ROTFL means “rolling on the floor laughing,

The Use of Underscores
On a web page and underscore means one thing. It denotes a hyperlink. While an underscore helps to emphasize words in print media, it confuses users who try to click on underscored words on a web page. An underscore should never be used on a web page unless it is used with a hyperlink.

The misuse of underscores also distorts your message. I’ve run tests with users where we randomly add underscores to certain words and headings on pages. Many users do click on these words to see if they lead to another web page. That distracts your users, especially when they click on what they think is a link, but it doesn’t take them anywhere. What so they typically do? They click on the words again because they think that they did not click hard enough. Meanwhile, you have distracted them from the real message. Always try to avoid anything that distracts or confuses a user. Anything that confuses a user never leaves them with a better impression of a web site.

A Poor Choice of Fonts
The standard font used in most books and print media is a serif font, which means that there is a little horizontal line at the base and a small accent mark the top of most alphabetic characters. Times New Roman is a popular serif font and looks like this: This is Times Roman text. Notice this little horizontal serif at the base of the characters and the small accent mark at the ends of the characters.

Serif fonts are intended to help your eyes follow text across a page. The problem is that this does not translate well to a computer monitor, whose image is made up of dot pixels. On a web page, serif fonts have the opposite affect and make text harder to read.

Almost all web pages use sans-serif (without serifs) fonts because these fonts are much easier to read on a computer monitor. The most popular sans-serif font is Arial, followed by Verdana and Tahoma. There are other sans-serif fonts that you can use, but it is a good idea to stick to using the fonts that are found in most browsers. Some designers do not realize that many unusual fonts are not available on most user’s PCs or browsers. if a font is not available, the browser uses a default font.

Overuse of Italics
Italics are another font characteristic that doesn’t always display well with a web page. While italics do a good job of emphasizing words when used with printed media, they can have the opposite effect on a computer monitor because they make text harder to read.

The use of italics should be limited and needs to be tested with each font that you use. The worst thing that you can do to a web page is use italics for all of the content, yet I still see designers who do this. Anything that makes a web page harder to read is bad netiquette.

Forcing the Use of Double Spacing Between Sentences
It is common to separate sentences with double spaces in printed media. Double spaces do not exist on web pages unless you force them. All browsers treat multiple spaces as a single space. In other words, you can place ten spaces between sentences, but the browser will display it as one space.

Some web page content editors plug in an entity code for non-breaking spaces when you try to force the page to display with double spaces. The entity code looks like this:  . This adds a lot of unnecessary garbage to your web page content. Just let your sentences display naturally. Single spaces along with sans-serif fonts are standards for the web.

It is important to stick to web standards when communicating on the web. When you stick to the standards, users are much more comfortable with your site and your web pages. Alway be aware that printed media standards and web media standards are not always compatible. When on the web, do as the web users do–and use good netiquette when designing your pages.