Turning “Scanners” into Readers

One of Bright Launch’s core beliefs is that design – and the copy that goes with it – has a huge impact on converting website visitors into customers. Research has shown that viewers form an opinion of your website in about a twentieth of a second. Digest that for a moment.

It’s less time than an elevator pitch. As of 2007, website surfers are sophisticated enough that they expect your website to conform to “established” standards, meaning things like the location of your search box, navigation, or advertising. On top of this, they will instantly evaluate whether or not your design is worse – or better – than the sites that they normally visit. What does it mean for your site? You better present yourself in the best light possible, to ensure you end up in that second category.

The same goes for your copy, as a recent article in Digital Web magazine points out.

Evaluate Your Copy

  • Make sure your graphics are proportionate to the rest of the body text. Huge images that take up most of the screen not only convey very little about the subject, they also keep readers from your content. Don’t assume that everyone will scroll below the fold.
  • Take a look at your stats, and you’ll see that a surprising number of the visits to your site last less than a minute. Sure, some of those may be bots or search engines, but real visitors are making decisions about your site in the time it takes to blink. The average visitor scans a web page rather than reading it […].
  • Keep it relevant. An image is like a headline; choose images that speak clearly to your point. An obscure or meaningless image is just filler. Worse, it breaks up the rhythm of your words without adding anything of value to the page […].
  • Remember the white space. Style your images so that they have enough space surrounding them to flow seamlessly with the rest of the paragraph. An attractively styled image won’t slow the eye in its journey across your page.

What works?

  • Pull quotes: Just as in print articles, pull quotes are a great way to highlight individual lines of text. They provide a nice visual alternative to an unbroken expanse of text, and they give an air of importance to the writer’s words. Try to choose lines that are descriptive but not entirely headline-worthy. A good pull quote whets readers’ appetites without making them scratch their collective heads and ask, “Huh?”
  • Blurbs: Sure, you know all about headlines, but The Stanford-Poynter Eyetracking Study found that including blurbs below headlines increased the amount of time readers spent on an average page by about 33%. Blurbs also encouraged readers to scroll down the page, which increases the likelihood that they will be bowled over by your brilliant prose. Like a pull quote, a good blurb is descriptive without completely robbing the article of all mystery.
  • Icons: Web iconography instantly denotes certain site elements. A hard drive with an arrow? Download. Speech bubble? Comments. Why not make it easy on your viewers by using a few […].
  • Linkage: Viewers are used to identifying a certain style (blue, underlined) as a link. Boring, right? It doesn’t have to be. Style your links in such a way that they’re obvious even to people who aren’t reading your copy by making them graphically different from the rest of your text […].
  • Lists: In web copy, lists are like M&M candies: tiny, fun, and easy to eat by the handful. Or, wait, lists may not taste quite as good. No matter—readers love lists. No pesky body copy to wade through: A list is information distilled to its essence. They’re perfect for the restless viewer because they require so little work.

What doesn’t work?

  • Ads: Viewers tend to skip right over advertising, especially if it’s in the traditional right-hand column. Ads that use an unobtrusive text link are more effective than a flashing banner.
  • Animation: If it looks too much like an ad, viewers will avoid it. The exception to this rule? User-controlled animation. If the viewer can stop and start the animation at will, it becomes an interactive element and can actually entice the user to stay on the site.
  • Inconsistency: Nothing breaks up the flow like a mid-section layout change. People rely on visual cues to tell them how to process the information on your site, and changing those cues without good reason is confusing at best […]