When we are discussing written messages, the two key components which define their success are the substance (meaning) and the form (the visual presentation). We have been discussing the substance of your marketing messages for some time now. Today we will focus on the form – namely, the fonts that you use for your ecommerce website.
What Is a Font?
“Fonts” is a general terms everyone uses, but the actual name of a family of characters is typeface. Typefaces are defined by several characteristics, such as:
- Font style: regular, bold and italic are font styles and they change the appearance, slanting and thickness of each character without essentially changing its look;
- Serif and sans-serif: serif typefaces have tiny decorative appendages at the end of each line defining a character. For example, Times New Roman is a serif typeface, while Arial is a sans-serif typeface;
- Weight – the thickness of the stroke for each line composing the characters gives its weight – Arial, for instance, has a light weight, while Impact has a heavy weight;
- Kerning – the distance between characters as you type them. Arial Narrow has a very small kerning, while Cambria has a large kerning.
You may wonder why we bother you with these technical details. For one, it is important to know them when you are talking to the designer who creates your website. For another, each of these elements has a psychological impact on people who read your text. Yes, people react differently to various typefaces and fonts. And their reaction could be that of “I really like this – I think I’ll buy the product” to “I’m getting away from this web page”. This was proven by research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (you can read their research paper here).
How Do You Find the Perfect Font for Your Ecommerce Website?
There is no all-purpose list of the best fonts to pick from for your website. Each business has its brand image, each niche has its specifics – and these must be reflected in the typeface and font you use on your website.
Consider these as general guidance to help you find (or create) the perfect font which helps boost your sales:
- Do Not Use More Than Two Different Fonts
One font all over your website would look rather dull, no matter how many variations of it you use – and in general, you should not go overboard with bold, italic and underline in your texts.
All the successful ecommerce websites opt for a pair of typefaces – one for headlines and titles, another for the body text. The two fonts must be compatible, coming from the same large family of typefaces. For instance, a slanting, handwritten type of font will not go well with an angular, futuristic looking font.
- Serif vs. Sans-Serif
People have various perceptions with regard to serif and sans-serif typefaces. The serif typeface is the oldest – it actually has its origin in Roman texts carved in stones (this is why it is also called Roman font). Serif typefaces are perceived as formal, to be used for official and administrative documents and connected to high-level business.
By contrast, sans-serif typefaces are treated as more informal, friendly, and modern. These different perceptions influence your choice, depending on your target audience and brand image. For example, new start-ups which target young customers would pick a sans-serif font, while a bank or a large corporation would select a serif typeface.
- Consider Legibility on All Devices
One of the key aspects to consider when picking the fonts for your ecommerce website is how legible your text is on a desktop monitor, a tablet and a smartphone. Here are some thoughts:
- Screen size influences kerning – so a text written with small kerning on a large 21” computer screen will become mashed up together on a 4” mobile screen;
- People adjust the size of text on smartphones by pinching the screen – if your font is not web and mobile compatible, the end result would be impossible to read;
- A text written in bold font on the screen of a computer would look cumbersome and take a lot of scrolling to read on a smartphone.
The rule of the thumb is to test your fonts on various devices and to opt for simplicity in favour of script (handwritten style) or decorative fonts.
- Colours Matter
Black is no longer the only colour used for typeface. Some companies pick a customised dark grey or solid beige tone for any kind of written text as part of their brand identity. In ecommerce there are even more colours used – red, green, blue, etc.
However, each colour changes the appearance of a character, both on screen and in print. A neon green for a heavy typeface would cause eye fatigue. A pale red on a light, sans-serif typeface makes it illegible. Colours change the perceived thickness of the characters and spaces between them, so make sure your text is easy to read.
- Avoid Alterations of Typefaces
Any designer can make changes to a typeface (increase weight, height, kerning, etc.) in specialised software – but it does not mean that this is a recommended choice. When a standard typeface is altered in this manner, it may no longer be web and mobile compatible.
If a typeface does not offer all the characteristics you want (bold, italics) it is preferable to look for another one than have it altered by a designer.