In a previous article, I mentioned that it's important to know how your pages will appear to surfers, so that you have more control over your image. You should choose a sensible font that most surfers will have installed on their system, and include at least one other similar font as a back-up alternative in your font tags or style sheet.
There's another factor you need to bear in mind when selecting your preferred font sets: some fonts take up more room than others because of slightly larger character size (height and width), or wider letter-to-letter spacing (known as tracking).
For example, Verdana has wide character spacing. It is also 'tall' as is Geneva. Both occupy more space on the page than the Arial font, which is just slighty larger than Helvetica.
Both Helvetica and Geneva are Mac fonts, and you should be careful of the order you place them in your font tags. If you specify Arial, followed by Geneva, like this:
<font face="Arial, Geneva, Helvetica, sans-serif">
Then any Mac user that doesn't have Arial installed on their system (admittedly fewer these days due to the popularity of Explorer and Word) will see the considerably larger Geneva font, instead of the similarly sized Helvetica.
This can lead to complications if you make extensive use of tables. For example, consider the common left column navigation bar found on many web pages. If this employs a table cell sized to be an 'exact-fit' for text in the Arial font, it will also display fine when viewed in Helvetica.
However if viewed in Geneva, it's larger footprint may cause headings to break onto the line below (continue on the next line), or stretch and distort the table. On the other hand, Mac users need to bear in mind that sizing their tables to suit the Geneva font, may lead to poor presentation for Windows users viewing in Arial, with lots of empty space and an untidy appearance.
Small Fonts and Macs
Windows users typically have a screen resolution of 96 dpi (dots-per-inch), whilst Macs are usually at 72 dpi.
What does this mean?
It means that if you use very small text, a Mac user can't read it - at all - it's too small! Text at any size will always appear smaller on a Mac.
I use a Mac. I have been to so many sites which use text that, even when set to largest in the browser, is far too small to read comfortably. I used to hunch up to the screen to read when this happened.
Now I seldom bother.
My experience has been that 90% of sites I come across that suffer from this problem have nothing of value to offer me in return for my trouble, so if the first sentence doesn't grab me, I simply leave. If you're one of the 10% with worthwhile content making this mistake - you're loosing out!
Surfers have so many choices that you can't afford not to cater to as many as possible. Failing to do so not only reduces you're own audience, it increases loyalty to your competitors!
Another reason to avoid small text size is that some search engines (most notably Alta Vista) penalise pages with small text, because they view them as an attempt to spam the engine.
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