In a previous post we talked about high-level strategic principles that marketing should aim at in creating promotions that users pay attention to and would act upon. That is, Web marketing should work with users’ expectation and present a clear user benefit in order to engage users and drive conversion.
In this follow-up post, we’ll talk about specific, actionable content writing and creative design tips that will bring those principles to life and result in great user experience.
All of the tips below are derived from what we saw through many user interviews and reflect user opinions rather than mine.
1. Provide Only Useful Content, with Value Proposition Presented Upfront
Users will pay attention to any marketing promotion only if the promotion features information valuable perceived by them, not by the marketers. And, the more irrelevant, marketing-like content there is, the more diluted the perceived value becomes. Seeing a single useless piece of information can “taint” a promotion so that users would simply ignore it, skipping even the useful part.
Below is an example: The value proposition or user benefit is not clearly presented upfront. Rather, it’s buried in too many words. The graphic on the right side, the skyscrapers, also doesn’t clearly indicate the user benefit.
On the other hand, this banner from Liquidweb, a hosting company, represents a key user benefit loud and clear:
2. Use All Elements to Reinforce a Coherent Message
Most Web promotions have text and graphical elements. The biggest problem we’ve often seen in Web design is that in making the promotions appear creative and “cute”, fancy graphics are created which unfortunately don’t support the content indicated in the text. When that happens, users always tend to ignore the promotion because they feel the irrelevant graphics reflect salesmanship rather than a real user benefit.
Below is such as an example: Whereas the text in the Web promotion speaks of a healthcare ETF as an investment choice for investors, the image has no connection with the content, and therefore makes the whole thing look like an ad to be ignored.
The lack of connection between graphics and text is rather prevalent, in part due to the fact that visual designers and content writers don’t work together as a tight team. Below is another example, from the email marketing company Mailchimp: The graphics on the screen has no connection whatsoever with the content of “Send Better Email”.
On the other hand, the banner below has well integrated graphical and text elements: The graphic — indicating an Indian-related theme — supports the content which is about a fund tied to Indian companies. That is the right way to align your graphics to content.
3. Use Large, Clear Headlines and Succinct, Useful Text
The text of Web promotions always consist of a headline and body text. The headline should be written using clear straightforward language that is direct and to the point. And the body text is most effective when it provides useful, non-repetitious information. When calls to action, such as buttons and links, are included, make sure it’s using a very short word. The Indian ETF illustrated above is a good example: The headline uses a large font to ensure readability. The text consists of very short sentences to quickly deliver key messages. The end result? Users get the idea at just a glance!
4. Make Visual Presentation Professional, Attractive and Contrasting
A well-known issue that can impact web marketing is the phenomenon of “banner blindness,” in which users ignore elements that come across as ads due to appearance or placement. Users commented that images create more of a marketing feeling; although this is not always a negative, they must be used very carefully to avoid being perceived as an ad. Stock images should especially be used with care as they are often used in ads. Visual contrast also works as it helps draw attention, specifically via contrasting colors and distinct visual elements (e.g., a colorful photo stands out better than an illustration in the same color that is used throughout the website). When applying the above tips, always make sure that the visual presentation looks relevant to the user benefit you want to convey (e.g., using a truck to represent faster shipping, using a sales rep’s head shot to represent better customer service). Otherwise, the more visually prominent your promotion is, the more likely users will treat it as ads and ignore it.
Again, the Indian ETF banner illustrated above is a good example. The Orange color scheme forms a good contrast against the white background (not shown in the screen shot), the elephant image is well done and seems interesting, and the overall visual presentation is executed with high quality.
5. Apply Movement When Appropriate, but with Caution
Animation and movement, due to the way human visual system is hard wired — we detect movement far better than static images — can certainly effectively draw attention. On the other hand, if overused, whereas users do notice the promotion, they will find it distractive, gimmicky, and upsetting. For example, the homepage promotion below could turn off users because there’re too many elements moving all the time (the many little colorful circles and the text), and therefore it looks distracting, gimmicky, rather than clearly communicate user benefits.
To effectively leverage animation, we need to take care of 1) presenting information clearly — allow users to have the time to clearly see the message on screen, and 2) giving user control — allow users to stop the animation and/or move to the next frame. Example: A common way to animate in grabbing user attention is to use an animated “slideshow” that rotates content to expose marketing materials. When doing this, we need to make sure that each slide stays long enough, say 5+ seconds, for users to clearly see its content, before moving to the next. Also, give users control, say, through tabs, to advance to the next frame.
6. Keep the Design Simple!
Simplicity is beautiful in the world of online ads and marketing. An elegantly designed marketing piece helps users immediately see the user benefit you want to communicate, whereas a lot of text and graphics will certainly turn them away — who has the time to read the fine print? Below is an example of a well received Web promotion, a very simple, yet very communicative design. When it comes to Web promotions, less is indeed more.
Reactions to web promotions are highly impacted how the rest of the screen looks. Any time you want to really promote something, make sure that the surrounding content is not cluttered so that users can clearly notice the thing that you want to promote. For example, Amazon is known for promoting its own product, Kindle, above all other products sold on the site. In achieving this, Amazon.com’s homepage is overall pretty clean with a lot of white space so that users can easily spot Kindle at top of the screen. This tells us that the design of Web marketing is a holistic process — not only should you design the promotional piece well, you should also take into consideration the regions outside of the promotion.
7. Leverage Content Pages to Market
Traditionally marketers heavily leverage the face of websites, the homepage and landing pages, to present marketing materials. On the other hand, we’ve found, through interviews with many users, there might be a lot of opportunities on content pages, such as product details page, category page, etc., to show ads and merchandising. Two key advantages exist: One is that those content pages tend to be less visually busy than homepages and lend themselves well to directing user attention to marketing pieces. The other is that you can easily present relevant marketing there, knowing exactly what users are looking for (content pages have very narrow focuses).
Below is an example of effective marketing on content page. This is a page of document library (reports, white papers, etc.) of a mutual fund company. Users are seeking investment related information on this screen and therefore presenting the banner on the right aligns with user objective very well, and it looks very prominent as this page is less busy than a typical homepage where lots of information competes for user attention.
Conclusion: Apply a Combination of the The Seven Tips!
Web marketing is very hard and the chance of success is small because we’re faced with an uphill battle — by default, users don’t care about marketing so we need to do a really great job in order to influence them through our marketing.
That means, applying only one, two, or three of the above tips really doesn’t help much. For instance, even if you do everything right except #6, Keep the Design Simple, then your marketing materials will still be lost among too much competing content on the screen. To have a chance of grabbing user attention, you need to apply most if not all of the above.
By Frank Guo