Printer-Friendly Pages Will Increase Your Market Reach


In last month’s newsletter we talked about how you can leverage your Web site content…specifically how a “share this page” feature can help your online business grow.

This month we’ll examine another method of reaching more people: printer-friendly pages. Each day more people turn to the Internet to conduct research on subjects from breast-feeding to diaper pails to digital camera reviews. (On an unrelated topic, my wife and I had our second baby, Sophia, two weeks ago.) When they find the information they need they often print these Web pages, allowing your site–and your brand–to travel even further. These printed pages may be filed away, shared with a friend, or posted on a communal bulletin board.

Many site owners don’t give this a lot of thought: if a visitor wants to print a page, just hit “print,” right? Well, if you’ve ever printed a page and had the right side cropped you know it isn’t always that simple.

Why Do Printers Crop Web Pages?

Most printed material comes on “portrait” oriented paper, 8.5″ x 11″, not the other way around. However, computer monitors tend to be of the “landscape” persuasion, leading to cropped text on the right side. (A Macintosh is smart enough to resize the Web page appropriately for the printer…which doesn’t help the 97% of your visitors on Windows machines.)

Web designers customarily create Web pages that have a minimum- or fixed-width size, which gives the designer more control over the way the pages display on the screen. This size–often based on the resolution of the monitor–is usually wider than a printed page.

Making Your Content “Printer-Friendly”

There are several ways in which you can make your pages “printer-friendly,” each with their own plusses and minuses. You’ll need to decide which one–or ones–best suit your needs.

Database Solutions/Content Management Systems

The most elegant solution is to have all of your content stored in a database and dynamically generate your Web pages. This method formats your content beautifully whether it’s on the screen, the printed page, or delivered in another format, such as “share this page,” an email newsletter, on a PDA, etc.) The downside is that this is the most expensive solution and isn’t appropriate for smaller sites.

Printer-Friendly Versions

This is how many of our clients address this problem. On Web pages that are likely to be printed, such as articles or white papers, they offer a printer-friendly version of the same content on a separate, fluid page which will properly wrap to any size size paper.

By clicking on a printer icon or appropriate link, a new window opens with just the article and possibly some identifiying information, such as a URL or the author’s name. The downside of this approach is that if a change is made to an article it needs to be made in both versions.

PDF Documents

PDF, or Portable Document Format, is another solution. It gives you near complete control over your page’s appearance when printed: colors, images, fonts, layout, clip art, and so on, all appear as designed. It’s especially useful when used for registration forms and other documents that require strict formatting.

It has its shortcomings, however. It takes additional time to develop PDF documents, they don’t update automatically when the page’s content is changed, and despite the fact a PDF reader is available for free, there is a small percentage of the population that can’t open them.

Fluid Web sites

It certainly is possible to develop a Web site that is completely fluid and will wrap to any width. The benefit of such a solution is that when an article is changed it doesn’t need to be updated elsewhere. It’s also the simplest solution for your visitor who wants to print a page; all they need to do is just hit “print.”

However, it does limit the width of images you can use on your site. If you have a logo at the top of the page that’s 600 pixels wide, that’s as “thin” as your page can shrink. It also limits the number and width of columns you can use if you have a lot of table data. There are also certain design approaches that can’t be used on a completely fluid design.

In Conclusion

As a Web site owner you should be looking to maximize your results. Printer-friendly pages allow you to extend your reach and get more mileage out of your content and your site. Just be sure to put identifying information on your printer-friendly pages, regardless of which solution works best for you. Your Web site address, contact information, or even a short marketing blurb are all appropriate methods of tagging your work.

Consider this: a lobster shack that only offers dine-in service can only sell to the tourists and locals who walk through its doors. A lobster shack that will pack lobster to travel and can ship anywhere in the U.S.will greatly increase its market share.

Package your content…to go.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please contact us.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media