New Dog Learns Old Tricks

“My gut feeling is that paper and ink are going to be with us for a long time yet.” – Fred Saberhagen

One major thing that we wanted to change when we revamped the Early to Rise website late last year had nothing to do with the Internet… well, not really. But it’s something that affects every website in some way. Because in the race to have the coolest, “stickiest” website, the way many millions of people use the Internet is often overlooked.

Think for a moment about how you use the Internet.

When you receive an e-mail, you speed-read it to see if it requires you to take any sort of action. If it does, you print it out … to make sure you don’t forget.

When you use a search engine and (finally!) arrive at what you think is the right site, you scan and skim to make sure it’s got the information you need. If it does, you print it out.

The same goes for the promotional copy that shows up in your inbox. Though it may be about something you are very interested in, you almost never have time to read it immediately. So you give it a quick look-see… and print it out.

That’s the way most of us solve the problem of online information-overload. We take matters into our own hands… literally… by taking the information we need offline.

All we have to do is go to our file menu and choose “print.”

Paper is lovely, tactile, touch-feely stuff. You can sit in bed with your cup of cocoa and a slice of hot-buttered toast and get crumbs and greasy paw prints all over it. Snug in the woolly-cotton fog of your comforting quilt, you slowly succumb to paper’s soporific charms. As you drift into slumber, the paper slips from your tired fingers.

And what should be waiting there for you – patiently – right by your bedside the next day? Paper! The antithesis of everything computers are.

We’ve been creating printed works and scattering paper around in our lives since the days of Egyptian papyri … and in even greater profusion since our good friend Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1453.

And you think the Internet will change thousands of years of human behavior? Pah! Not a chance. If you create information online that is worthy of being assimilated, people are going to continue to want and need it in a format they understand. A format that makes them feel in control. Paper!

They may accept the Internet as the transmittal medium, but they’re going to want to hold that information in their hands.

The challenge all online businesses face is how to capture a casual website visitor’s limited attention and focus it – to “convert” them from passively browsing to being an actively engaged enquirer, caller, or paying customer. Given what we know about the habits of so many Internet users, that means giving them an easy way to physically hang onto the information we’re giving them.

It’s difficult to assess how many people print Web pages. But a test I did some years back – where we placed a “Print This Page” button on each page of a client’s website – tells me that as many as a quarter of the people who spend time reading your individual Web pages will also print them out.

Unfortunately, many websites and e-mail messages aren’t particularly printer friendly. You can print off a sheaf of type, all right – but it might come out in an unintelligible jumble, full of unclickable Web addresses, useless hyperlinks, clipped-off menus, missing text, misaligned tables and dates, and distorted images or graphics.

That’s why, when we revamped ETR’s site and e-mails, we worked so hard to make them printer friendly. Here’s what we did – and what you can do to improve your own online efforts:

Tip #1. Make it easy – very easy – for people to print what interests them.

Sure, they can click “print” on their file menu – but in your website and e-mail design you can make sure that those pages print out without parts of the text or images being clipped off. And (see Tip #2) you can actually code your website information to completely skip such items as menus and other “screen-only” elements that are so irritating when they try to print a page.

Tip #2. Point your Web designer to Jeffrey Zeldman’s super article on creating print-friendly style sheets at

It explains how to show menus and “Web-only” elements on-screen, but to have them disappear when a person hits “print”… leaving only what the person really wants. Using this and Tip #3 to create print-only content, page headers, etc., can make your printed pages look great.

Tip #3. Paper gets lost.

The fact that you have a simple link to your order form online matters not when your reader is offline. “Click here to order” is useless when he’s on the couch reading your printed page. Add your telephone number, fax number, and e-mail address to every printed page so people have ready access to your contact info when they’re away from the computer. You can do this by referring your Web designer to helpful articles on creating printer-friendly style sheets (“CSS”) and to information about running headers and footers on printed pages. You can also insert your contact info manually every (say) 40 lines and hiding it by using the technique revealed in Tip #2.

Tip #4. Add incentives for people to come back to your website.

Use print-only elements (Tip #2 and Tip #3) to add a message like this that will be visible only on your printed pages: “For a free, easy-to-print report on ABC and 123, visit our website at”

Tip #5. Test printing pages from your website and your e-mails from different Web browsers and e-mail programs.

Adjust the information to make sure it looks good on paper too.

Tip #6. Ask a graphic designer with traditional print design skills to advise you on the best layout and format for your printed pages.

One more thing: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – in this case, human behavior. People like to print e-mails and Web pages. Help them do it and you may find that more of them will read what you have to offer… which can make a difference in your profits.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant for Agora, Inc, in Baltimore. David is one of the experts featured on ETR’s Internet Marketing DVD Library, where you’ll learn dozens of unique and powerful strategies for starting and running a profitable home-based Internet business, attracting throngs of eager customers, earning ten times more from existing customers, and tripling your profits this year.]