The best website text alignment has been a raging debate in the website development world since the internet’s mainstream adoption back in the 1990s. Do you align your text left, right, centred or justified? Each text alignment has its benefits, and drawbacks, and incorrectly aligned texts are far better than having no text at all! Let’s take a look at how people read online texts, a few challenges with the four different alignments, and how to choose the best website text alignment for your business site:
How People Read Online Text
Nielson Norman Group, world leaders in research-based user experience, discovered back in 2006 that online users follow a specific pattern when reading digital texts. The research firm used eye-tracking software to track where website visitors’ eyes ventured across the page, and how long they spend looking at every section. What they discovered is known informally as the ‘F-Zone’, and says a lot about how we read online texts:
As you can see above, whether reading a website page or a Google search results page, the majority of people read from top to bottom (no surprise there) and from left to right (also no surprise). This means that left-aligned and justified digital texts (both with sentences starting on the left of the screen) will naturally be easier to read for the majority of internet users.
So, what’s the matter with formatting your online texts using other alignments? Is it OK to use centre alignment? Is right-aligned text even worth looking at? We’re going to come right out and say it; left alignment is the best choice for digital texts. Here’s why…
Issues with Text Alignments
There are a few issues associated with choosing justified, right-aligned and centre-aligned texts:
It might look more balanced on screen, but a centre-aligned text is much harder to read than a left-aligned one. This is because there is no uniformity along the left-hand margin. With every line starting at a different point on the screen, centre alignment is an eyesore for website visitors – literally!
A right-aligned section of text goes against everything we know about how people read things online. Like centre alignment, there is no uniform left margin when using right alignment. Also, the text is heavily weighted to the right of the screen – which is an unnatural position for most website visitors to start reading the text.
Could the solution be justified texts? Not quite. While justification creates uniform margins both to the left and right side of the text, it has to alter the word spacing to do so. This causes large ‘rivers’ of white space running down the page, which makes reading the text extremely difficult for people with cognitive disabilities.
Choosing the Best Website Text Alignment
To ensure your online texts have the best chance of being read by as many website visitors as possible, default your online texts to left alignment. There are exceptions to the rule, however. For example, some website pages have very little text on them – in which case centre alignment could work quite nicely. Likewise, if you post creative writing or book-style stories on your website or blog, justification is the industry-standard formatting.
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