Bigger Screens More Or Less

by Barry Welford December 11th, 2008 

The continuing trend is for desktop computer monitor screens to be getting bigger.  That raises a website design question but more importantly a question of how to use that bigger screen real estate.  More is not always better.

Screens Are Getting Bigger

Two years ago Jakob Nielsen had the following advice for the online world as he viewed it:

Optimize Web pages for 1024×768, but use a liquid layout that stretches well for any resolution, from 800×600 to 1280×1024.

Screens have grown since then.  The following chart shows the current pattern of screen resolutions for visitors to one typical business blog.

screen size resolution for visitors
1024 x 768 pixels 32%  Smaller screen 3%  Larger screen 65%

Nielsen's advice is still fairly good although a liquid layout can give problems with the much wider screen resolutions that some viewers have.  These design issues require solutions but are very much simpler than the challenge of how one should best use this much larger real estate.

Bigger Content

Undoubtedly there will be more content on the page but how is that content to be presented.  One commenter even noted that bigger screens were being used with smaller fonts in order to display more advertising.  That certainly seems a perverse way to use the bigger space.  As he noted the bigger space should be used to give a better user experience.

What Does The Viewer Want

What works best is really determined by the viewer.  That is partly determined by

  • what they expect to see on the page and
  • by their enthusiasm in wandering around the web page and finding what they are looking for.

If the visitor has a keen interest in finding out information then it may be appropriate to show a good deal of information on a single web page.  That is true for classified advertising sites like Craigslist and also for many online sources of news.

Even for newspapers, it may be that old habits die hard.  Printed newspapers do present a great deal of information in a single sheet.  Of course it takes effort to switch from one printed page to another so that is why the standard newspaper has fairly large pages.  When newspapers go online there can be a tendency to adopt the same approach. After all, if you have been involved in putting together printed newspaper pages all your life, you may not realize that different rules apply online.  Since visitors are interested in reading news, there is probably no great damage done if you have too much on the page.  However it is interesting to compare how different news sources are presenting their online news.  Here are some of the more important news sources listed in order of increasing complexity. 

If you are developing a website that brings news, then you may adopt that somewhat crowded approach to a web page.  None of the above websites was particularly difficult for the reader.  A news website that looks like any of these will probably do reasonably well.  For example Internet Evolution, a new website giving news and views on Internet matters, has that same newspaper look to it.

Although a crowded newspaper look can work for a news source, it is questionable for other types of website.  If your visitors typically have arrived from a Google search and are checking out a number of sites, then different rules may apply.

Blink

It is really back to the issue that Malcolm Gladwell raised in his book, Blink.  Visitors to a web page may very, very quickly get an impression of what it is about.  If they do not see what they are looking for, then they may rapidly click away. 

It is back to the KISS principle.  Keep it simple, Simon. If a visitor can rapidly assess what a web page is all about, then they are more likely to stay with it, if it responds to some need they may have.  That after all is why the web page was constructed.  For visitors whom you hope to intrigue and keep on your web page, Less may well be better than More.

SEO And Bigger Screens

Given that this article is appearing in SEO-Scoop, some may instinctively feel that Less cannot be the right answer for search engines. Search engines attach some importance to the content of the page, so one might think More is better than Less.  This is probably not a strong argument, since 300 words or more is certainly adequate for search engines while not being overpowering for the human reader.

The other issue is whether bigger pages can hold more links, since links are important in search engine optimization.  With a big page, one could include a large number of keyword-filled text links in a small font and they would probably be overlooked.  This is likely to be ineffective for two main reasons:

  • Just as the human visitor attaches little importance to such links, it is highly likely that search engine algorithms now treat them in the same way.
  • The value of a link in PageRank terms is the ratio of the PageRank of that web page divided by the number of links out from that page.  This quickly dilutes the value of out links from web pages with a large number of links.

For these reasons, it is probably best not to change your SEO practices merely because there is more web page real estate on your screen.

Conclusion

Given that a bigger screen allows more content, it is very tempting to use all that real estate.  Although this may work with highly motivated web page visitors, it is probably self-defeating for most visitors to the web page.  The KISS principle is just as valid with bigger screens as it was with the older, smaller screens.  You should make sure that the web page can hook the visitor's interest in a matter of seconds. That is the mark of a successful web page, however big it is.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

BPWrap

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13 Responses to “Bigger Screens More Or Less”

  1. Web Talk says:

    The KISS theory is what I have been doing since i start blogging! Beside, before starting blogging I was a user and i know pretty well how bothering those websites offering tons of useless infos on the homepage are! As far as my blog is concerned, its front page offers the latest articles and a lot of links in the sidebar. This stimulate my readers to dig my blog depper and deeper, and the more they dig the more things they find out. It is like teasing them. If you offer everything on the frontpage people won't move from it!

  2. My screen in 21 inches and I really want to upgrade to a 30 inch. It is very annoying and hard to read when I find a "skinny" site for my monitor. The idea of display more ads is disconcerting. I have a tendency to move on quickly when all I see on a page are ad links.

  3. TheMadHat says:

    Excellent post Barry. I'm always going back and forth with that issue. I usually end up keeping it small. Don't want information overload.

  4. That is interesting because we use a wider screen for our monitors here and I have noticed some blogs and sites come up very stretched out.

  5. Good point, Nick. One problem here for designers is that it is a challenge to check how your design appears in wider monitors if you're not using a wider monitor. Ah if only max-width worked in all browsers.

  6. Tertius says:

    This is something my brother and I talked about yesterday.

    If you allow full stretching and someone is using a 30" monitor, given there aren't a lot of those out there percentage wise, then an article and go from having 5 to 10 line paragraphs to having one line paragraphs. Really hard to read.

    I think going for 1024 is still a very good bet.

  7. I still generally use a set width, I am not a big fan of the liquid layouts. They look great one some pc's but on others horrible. They also can completely through off the inner design elements of a page.

  8. Blog Tips says:

    I'm a photographer so I have to have a huge screen. I couldnt deal with working with photoshop everday on a little monitor … Id go blind LOL

  9. Marcus says:

    I agree with Tertius. For now 1024 is still the best option. I find that having 2 19 inch monitors is easier to work with vs have 1 30 inch monitor.

  10. I find myself confining designs to 780 pixels wide regardless. Yes, screens sizes are growing, but roughly 10% of my visitors are still at 800×600. I have to cater to the lowest common denominator — after all, 10% is a lot of clicks I'd be alienating.

  11. I personally think it's even more than 65% in the USA… abroad it is a lil less from my data, even when normalizing it is still more than half so definitely has to be 1024x this days — optimize your designs for it and you will be happy you did!

    Good write up Barry.

    Best,

    Mike
    http://www.wannadevelop.com/

  12. Rene says:

    That's the reason I try to develop new sites with a semi fluid layout while fixing it with max-width. So people with smaller resolutions could shrink the site while visitors with much bigger screens are focussed to the content without moving their eyes hectically from left to right to find the information they are search.

    If the layout have a relative size everybody could scale it up and down if it's needed.

  13. SEO Colombia says:

    This is great information to pass for my designers. We were just looking for this kind of information as we are planning to redesign a couple of our client´s websites are we were just looking for every detail to make a great job. I think that User behavior, and thus, usability, is going to play a crutial role in the search engine rankings, if not already.