Websites are looking more and more like children’s books.

Maybe you remember the first time you picked up a book and – oh my – there were no pictures!

Maybe you put it right back down. Or perhaps you bit the bullet and read your first text-only book, and discovered that a good story helps your imagination create its own pictures.

Switching over to the web, we seem to seeing that process in reverse.

Fifteen years ago most site pages were all text. The images that were included tended to be small, primarily to accommodate slow dial-up connections.

Then broadband came along and we discovered we could not only add more and bigger images to each page, but we could also include multimedia.

There is an important point there: we COULD include more images and multimedia. There is no requirement, it’s just something we can choose to do.

But if you look at today’s websites and blogs, you might be excused for thinking that it was a requirement. No blog post seems to be complete without an image, even if the image in boring and barely relevant.

You know the kind of image I mean. Someone writes a post about working from home, and then they go to an image bank and grab a photo of someone sitting on a beach with a laptop, jumping ecstatically into the air with a blue sky background, or holding wads of cash with a stupid grin on their face.

These images don’t add any real value or meaning to the post. They are visual clichés, and merely decorative.

If an image doesn’t work for you, how about a chart or, even better, an infographic?

Yes, sometimes charts and infographics can add real value. But often they don’t. They are added to the page as eye candy.

Or how about forgetting the text altogether, and shooting a 7-minute video?

Again, for some topics a video can communicate your point more effectively than text. But very often they are used for the wrong reasons, and are either too amateur, or too slick and over-produced.

We can argue about the relative benefits of text versus multimedia, and we probably should.

But regardless, am I alone in seeing a dumbing down of web content?

I’m guilty of this myself, in so far as I deliberately write online content in a way that makes it easy to read.

But are we perhaps going too far?

In our attempts to attract and hold readers, are we making everything too simple and too easy? Are we underestimating the intelligence and attention span of our readers?

I ask, because, as I noted at the beginning of this article, websites are becoming more and more like children’s books.

Lots of images and multimedia, and not too much text.

After all, we can’t expect the poor dears to stay focused if we fill the pages with too many words.

BTW – Before you respond, I do know that images, infographics and video can add enormous value when done well, and used in the right circumstances. And I do know that adding other elements to a text-only page can give you some SEO brownie points. And I do know that multimedia can be a big draw when promoting your pages through social media. I know that stuff.

But even so, I resent having to search far and wide to find a quality writer who has taken the trouble to write a high-quality page.

As with that first book without pictures, a well written text-only web page can stimulate your brain into making all the necessary connections without any extra help.

No pictures of happy, leaping people required.

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8 thoughts on “Websites are looking more and more like children’s books.

  1. Nick, I completely agree with everything you’ve stated here. And I’m guilty of grabbing the opportunistic image to dress up my articles.

    Why do I do it? Because I know that incorporating graphics attracts more readers than plain text, whether I like it or agree with it, and I’m greedy for eyeballs.

    Personally, I abhor the move toward video-everything on the web today. I’d much rather read something unless it’s a demonstration. (Even then sometimes.) I’ve come to realize that I’m not representative of the “average” internet user, though, so I do video posts occasionally.

    It doesn’t matter how great my content is if the viewer doesn’t stick around to read it.

  2. I’m with you, too, Nick. I find myself clicking away from more and more sites lately because there’s literally nothing there but images. Sometimes one big fat one, right in the middle of the page. How is that supposed to communicate anything?

    With our growing addiction to gadgets and speed, we’ve become more like babies, oohing and aahing at the colorful mobile over our crib or the flashing colors in a TV ad. Even our language is degenerating into a giant string of acronyms.

    But on the bright side, this new trend does present a lot of opportunities for good writers. And as long as there are even a few of us left, I’ll keep fighting the good fight.

    • The same trend is evident in movies, where hi-tech special effects — or “FX” — have completely taken the place of such minor elements as plot and character development. . . it’s very sad, really, that so many people are so amazed by these shiny toys.

  3. A very interesting article and I have to agree with you on the problem with incorporating all these graphics and multimedia in to posts.

    I am a great believer in the KISS principle “Keeping It Simple S ……”

    It is like when you see a van drive by that has very eye catching graphics all over it, and you are left wondering what is it that they are trying to promote.

  4. I know exactly the type of website you’re talking about and I agree! I think it seems like people really are “dumbing down” websites for consumers and it’s pretty frustrating to those of us who actually are interested in finding quality content online. While you’re right, images and graphics have their place, I think many websites use them as a filler to keep from writing educated and well thought pieces. Great post!

  5. Nick you hit a home run and I totally agree. Dumbing-down because everyone else appears to do it or some ‘expert’ says you need to entertain your readers is simply a lazy way of shouting – I don’t know how to write legibly so I’ll give you smoke and mirrors.

    Google now has the ability to see the reading level of certain keywords and phrases (you can find it under the more tools area, left navigation column). It’s interesting to see how many times ‘basic’ reading level shows for business terms. Basic reading level is below 6th grade. Think about that the next time you see someone promoting a business opportunity or being your own boss type site – do you really want to take business advice from the average 6th grader?

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