I Shot the Serif

Which group of fonts is better for online marketing efforts: Times, Palatino, and Bembo? Or Verdana, Helvetica, and Arial? Typeface lovers will immediately know the difference. The first three are serif fonts; the second three are sans-serif fonts.

Why should you care? Because the type of font you use could affect the success of your online business.

A serif is the small embellishment on the ends of the up-strokes (ascenders) or down-strokes (descenders) of some fonts. The serif gives the typeface a more "elegant" look and feel.

Whether you choose to use serif or sans-serif fonts seems like a super-small detail. But it’s one that every marketer should be aware of. Because if you make the wrong choice, you could be prohibiting your customers from reading your online content or sales promotions. And if they can’t read your copy, there’s a good chance they won’t buy anything from you.

The general rule about fonts is as follows: For printed content, blocks of text using serif fonts are generally more legible. On a computer (or television) screen, sans-serif fonts are generally more legible.

Various usability studies have shown that people generally perform on-screen tasks more expediently and retain more information when reading sans-serif fonts. In Britain, sans-serif fonts are used almost exclusively as the default fonts on screen, precisely because they are more legible.

Here’s another reason why serif fonts may be less legible on screen than sans-serif fonts. To correctly display the nuances of serif fonts requires a resolution higher than most computer monitors can deliver. Most computer monitors operate between 72 and 96 dots per inch (dpi). At the font size of most on-screen content, there are not enough dots on your PC monitor to render the serifs accurately without making them look bitty or pixilated.

Finally, a caveat. Rules are there to be tested and broken. One of the advantages of doing business online is the ease with which you can test assumptions. So why not run a multivariate or A/B split test – one with a serif font and one with a sans-serif font – and see which pulls a better response?

[Ed. Note: There’s a lot you may not know about starting and building an Internet business. David Cross – Senior Internet Consultant for Agora Inc. – and a team of marketing and business-building experts have gathered together all the core information you need in one place, organized in simple steps, ready to be put into action. Here’s how to go from a standing start to a thriving business online.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies. David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen! He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.