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Home » In Writing an Online Listing, What Does Invalid Characters Mean?

In Writing an Online Listing, What Does Invalid Characters Mean?

The other day, while perusing the web for some inspiration, I came across a blog post claiming that using special characters in your online listing is useless.

Without a doubt, there are instances where special characters do have a use in e-commerce. However, as much as possible, you should endeavour to avoid them.

Why is that?

Well, just imagine how much more readable your e-commerce description would be without all those extra characters! Of course, if there’s a particularly tricky word to describe your product, then you might need to use one of these characters. But, otherwise, your e-commerce description would be a whole lot more pleasant to read.

What Are Invalid Characters?

As you may know, HTML encodes special characters so that they can be displayed on a web page.

Depending on the font you’re using, certain characters may be replaced by black boxes. So, if you see  or £ next to a product listing, you’ll know that the product name contains some special characters.

Often, the characters are used in Latin-based languages, such as English and French. For instance, the French word for “toothbrush” is “toothpbrush”, which contains the special character “é”, meaning “e” with an acute accent.

Due to the prevalence of UTF-8, a more modern and preferred way of encoding HTML documents, many fonts have started supporting additional characters. For example, the new Verdana font, which is part of the Microsoft Office suite, supports nearly all characters from the Latin alphabet. So does the popular Arial font.

Due to advances in technology and a rise in consumer demand, it’s now possible to have products containing special characters in their names. For example, the aforementioned French toothbrush is now available in the United States, where it’s known as “épijouet”.

Why Is It Important to Avoid Invalid Characters?

One of the main reasons why you should avoid using special characters in your product names and descriptions is that computers may have trouble displaying them properly. On a website, this could mean that the characters are replaced by question marks or other junk.

In the case of English-speaking countries, the vast majority of web browsers are equipped to handle UTF-8 documents. So, if you use UTF-8, your products will be shown exactly as you intended. You’ll save a lot of time and effort by avoiding any potential problem areas.

Apart from the abovementioned issue, some browsers may interpret certain characters as special instructions to the website’s server. For example, the character “£”, in the form of a “” tag, directs a web browser to replace characters with a stronger visual appearance. This may mean that your product name and description are shown in a larger font or even displayed in bold text.

How to Avoid Invalid Characters

To avoid using special characters, you have a number of options. Of course, the easiest one is to simply use another alphabet or mix up the special characters with other letters. The second option is to use a software such as Google Chrome’s Content Screenshot Tool to take a snapshot of a page with all special characters replaced by the standard alphabetical letters. This may also be a good idea if you want to use a specific font in your project, but it contains special characters.

The third option is to try and stick to a maximum of two or three special characters per product name or description. Finally, if for some reason you must have a special character in your product name or description, you can always resort to a dash or a space.

While I’m sure there are dozens of reasons why you might want to use special characters in your product names and descriptions (geographical names, the names of historical figures, technical terms, made-up words, etc.), using them unnecessarily just to make your writing look nicer is a bad idea. In writing an online listing, what does invalid characters mean? If you want to avoid any problems, work with standard alphabetical letters and try to keep your character usage to a minimum.