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Web Design vs. Web Content: What Matters for Higher Conversions?

By Tracy VidesOct 7, 2014

graphic_designer_workplaceWhen it comes to redesigning your website, you may find yourself asking, "What should get precedence? Great design or smart copy?" It can often be difficult to combine the best of both, but Kuno Creative demands equal effort on both sides. Take for example, the new, improved Web Design page:kuno_web_design

On this page, the section headings and text explain exactly why you need to have your site redesigned, how it relates to inbound marketing and, most importantly, what it will do for you.

So how do you arrive at the right balance of design elements and persuading content for your own site?

What You See...

Let’s begin with the facts. Humans, as we are aware, are visual creatures. According to research by William Bradford from the United States Coast Guard Academy, 65 percent of people are visual learners, which means images help us grasp a topic much better than words. 

Trouble is, however many words your pictures may speak, they can never convey the fine print of any message. That is the job of the written word. Content conveys exactly what you want your user to know about your brand, your services and how you can help them. It gently guides the user toward the final action you want them to take – make a purchase, download your album or whitepaper, subscribe to your services – whatever it may be.

Expert-Speak

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising, acknowledged the dilemma of striking the right balance between design and copy. While he greatly valued the perfect image, his powerful copy breathed new life into his ads. Ogilvy devised a simple ‘5-step Ad Design Formula’ to create his most successful ads. Research corroborates Ogilvy’s process and shows that users look at ads (and web pages) in the following sequence:

  1. Visuals
  2. Caption
  3. Headline
  4. Copy
  5. Signature

One of Ogilvy’s most successful campaigns – this one for Rolls Royce – used these five principles:car_picture

While you may argue this approach probably worked in the age of print advertisements, over the years web designers have found Ogilvy’s principles hold just as true online as they did offline. Let’s analyze this ad to see if it conforms to today’s web design principles:

A striking product shot (check) with a caption (check) and a headline that has since become legendary (check), this ad was credited for the success of the Rolls Royce in the United States. The copy, though long, is bulleted (check) and the ad ends with a clear call to action (check) at the bottom right hand corner of the page – the last part of the page a typical reader’s eyes would rest on.

A Happy Marriage of Design and Content

Whether you’re building your own website with a DIY website builder or getting a professional designer to build your site from scratch, the fundamental interaction between design and content is something you need to understand. There are three things central to this interaction.

1. A Great Headline

In the words of Ogilvy,

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

You could be creating a landing page, a product page, a homepage or even a banner; a catchy headline is what grabs the attention and reels readers in. Tabloid newspapers employ catchy headlines to great effect, persuading users to part with their money just to satisfy the curiosity that a headline evoked.

There’s a common fallacy that shorter headlines are better for conversions. John Foster, in his book Writing Skills for Public Relations, refers to a study by the New York University School of Retailing, which found headlines with 10 words or more and contained important information in them sold more merchandise than shorter headlines.

This leaves us with an important lesson: Don’t worry how long your headline is. As long it arouses a user’s curiosity, contains information the user did not know before and speaks to the user in his own language, the length of the headline is irrelevant. The Rolls Royce example has 18 words in the headline – not short by any stretch of the imagination.

2. Relevant Images

The days of stock images littering websites are long gone. Even stock photography websites these days offer images that look like they were shot expressly for your brand. Make sure the images you use across your website are beautiful, well shot and, most importantly, relevant to what is being said on the page. A great picture that has nothing to do with the page contents is a waste of critical website real estate –something you simply cannot afford. Using images of real employees, product shots and even videos works well to reflect authenticity and communicate your message to your users.

Image size is often a bone of contention between web designers and web developers. According to Justin Rondeau, larger images on webpages have been proven to give better conversion results vis-à-vis smaller images. An important thing to keep in mind with large images is to make sure they are responsive and work well across different screen sizes.

Try and include captions on as many images as possible. KISSmetrics shares that captions under images are read on average 300 percent more than the body copy. In keeping with the minimalist style of the site, Mailchimp uses a subtle and simple caption to explain the image on its homepage:send_better_email

So chances are, a user will look at the image, read the caption and skip the content entirely. This is why it is important to look at image captions the way you look at headlines. A good caption conveys the gist of the image and connects it to the rest of the body content in such a way that even if the reader does not read the entire copy on the page, he still leaves with the essence of your message in his head.

3. Web Design Guided By User Flows

Instead of designing each page in isolation, the best designers create user flows and design around what the user wants to do on your site. The idea is to map the user’s potential journey through your site to achieve the final goal – a purchase, subscription or a sign up form – and to design the site based on what the user would like to do next.

Morgan Brown talks about mapping users into conversion funnels based on the source they originated from. Two basic types of user flows are illustrated in the diagram below:user_flows

Your web design should aim to create a smooth flow from a search ad or an email newsletter to your home page or landing page. The look and feel of the source and destination pages should be coordinated, the web content should have the same tone and messaging, the call to action should match what the user expected to see when he or she clicked on the ad / email to arrive at your site.

Eye tracking studies reveal how users see and interact with your page. Some revelations from eye tracking studies can actually make you rethink conventional wisdom such as “Always put your CTA above the fold.”

According to eye tracking studies, CTA No. 2 located at the bottom of the page actually gets 39 percent more clicks than CTA No. 1, which is located in the middle of the page:cta

Applying eye tracking insights while creating user flows will help make your design more intuitive for users and improve the interaction between content and design on your pages.

It’s Your Turn

Don’t take what ‘seems’ right or what ‘looks good’ to be the final determinant of how your website should be set up. Do your research, don’t favor design over copy or vice versa out of pre-set prejudices. Test what combinations work best for you. It may seem like a lot of work, but the conversions your diligence will bring will make the effort completely worth it!

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The Author

Tracy Vides

Tracy Vides is a content marketer and social media consultant. She works with small businesses and startups to increase their visibility. Although new to the digital marketing scene, Tracy has started off well by building a good online reputation for herself, with posts featured on She Owns It, Business 2 Community and elsewhere. She is @TracyVides.
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