Web Site Visitors Don't Change Text Size

Click Density recently posted the results of a survey of browser text size settings across the 1,500 sites they currently track.

For consistency's sake their analysis was limited to Internet Explorer users, but the results are pretty conclusive: 99.7% of web site visitors used the medium (default) text size.

This doesn't even vary much depending on screen resolution either.

I find the ability to change my browser's text size very useful (I just did it in order to quickly re-read this post) and so it's a shame so many people are apparently unaware this ability even exists (I'm assuming that they're unaware rather than that they simply choose not to use this feature).

I don't see why browser makers can't display this functionality in a more obvious fashion — either within the default set of browser buttons or in the browser toolbar.

Posted on: September 27, 2006 | 6 Comments

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6 Comments Posted

Even if users knew that it exists it's still not great because it breaks many sites.

The right answer is to Zoom the site. When you zoom the page will still works as designed and it's easier to read. IE7 will allow people to zoom and I suspect many people will discover and use this functionality.

I change font size all the time in Firefox, because it's just a quick keystroke. I never do it in IE because it requires clicking and following menus down a couple levels (unless there's a keystroke I don't know about!). Maybe that influenced their results too ...

Greg – good point. It will be interesting to see what sort of take up there is on this functionality.

robin – in IE you can hold down CTRL and scroll the mouse wheel to change the text size. Obviously, even less people know about this shortcut!

IE7's zoom feature isn't really a good alternative because unlike Opera, which zooms within the confine of the window, IE7 just zooms straight off the right edge creating a horizontal scrollbar.
This discussion comes up quite frequently on Accessify Forum with the general consensus being that browser manufacturers should do more to let people know this facility is available rather than leaving it to developers to include resize text buttons on their pages.

I'm guessing the results from Click Density are only detecting users' browser text size on load (or am I mistaken?). It would be interesting (but seemingly difficult, if not impossible) to see how many users increase the font-size once page has loaded – perhaps on a page that has a slightly smaller font size. Might give a better idea of how many people are aware of the feature. Aside from users with a very high screen resolution, I would think many users increase font size on a case by case scenario.

John – thanks for the clarification. It'll be interesting to see if the 'zoom' concept catches on. Personally, I'm fine with changing the text size when I need to.

A site should be able to handle a text increase of 1-2x before the visual design starts to break, in my opinion.

ryan – you make a very good point! So it could be that we still don't really know what people do once they are on the site.

What you could conclude is that if you're designing a site for the elderly (who likely have worse eyesight) you may want to use a larger default font size because they won't have set their browser text size to be larger to compensate for their poor eyesight.

Not that you have to be a genius to work that out!

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