By Brad Shorr published August 28, 2012

How to Make Content Do a Better Job of Converting

© Straight North

© Straight North

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is an internet marketing discipline that focuses on creating a positive user experience that inspires conversion. When marketers think about CRO, their thoughts typically turn to details such as testing different button colors and placing offers in different areas of a web page.

In this post, I want to discuss a few content-oriented best practices that contribute to a positive user experience. While many of these practices are intuitive and frequently discussed, I never cease to be amazed by how often they are violated. They bear repeating, because they can make the difference between a page of content that turns a prospect into a customer, and one that sends the prospect into the arms of a competitor.

Font size

Which block of text is easier to read — the one on the left, or the one on the right? Confronting small text on a web page is so unpleasant that it alone may cause a user to click off, especially if the user is over 40 years old or is visually impaired. On the theory that it’s better to be safe than sorry, avoid small fonts for body text and navigation.

cmi-font-size.jpg

cmi-font-size.jpg

For a positive example, take a look at Smashing Magazine. As the world’s leading site for designers, it’s a great benchmark:

cmi-large-fonts-f

Few sites are as easy to read as this one. In contrast, let’s look at a negative example. For this one I’ll pick on myself — here is a screen shot of a site I recently launched, B2B Insights:

cmi-small-fonts-f

© Straight North

The text font is too small. Enlarging the font size is high on my list of site fixes, but because fonts on this WordPress theme are a bit tricky to change, I’m holding off. Still, since users have so much content to choose from on any theme under the sun, we should never put obstacles in our own way, especially on something this basic.

Font contrast

For body text, especially when it is lengthy or technical in nature, having the proper contrast is crucial. And, as the graphic below illustrates, dark text on a light background is much easier to read than the opposite.

cmi-font-contrast

© Straight North

During the planning stages of a website, team members who are not well versed in CRO or web typography best practices often gravitate to light-on-dark color schemes because they look “cool.”

The idea of wowing users with unreadable font treatments is a dubious conversion tactic at best. It is based on the assumption that users will be so impressed with your visual creativity that they won’t bother to read your content before signing on the dotted line. While this may be true in some select cases, for the most part, it is safer to assume business users are looking for information first, and entertainment second, if at all.

Visually oriented businesses such as advertising agencies and (ironically) graphic design firms are often guilty of this CRO error. What I usually suggest is to use highly readable fonts for the bulk of the site, and showcase creativity using other design elements such as the header, and in the portfolio section.

Bottom line: Please don’t make your great message hard to read:

© Straight North

© Straight North

Line breaks

© Straight North

© Straight North

Long paragraphs are visually intimidating and discourage reading. A good rule of thumb is to limit paragraphs to five lines or fewer, which can be challenging for content about a technical or complex idea. If a compromise is needed, start with shorter paragraphs that hit the high points, and place longer, more complex paragraphs below.

There are many other typographical practices that enhance readability, including using certain font styles and setting up proper line widths. However, by getting the big three correct — size, contrast and formatting — your content has a strong visual foundation.

Blog footers

Let’s shift gears and talk about an important area for content marketing — the blog footer. When a user has finished reading your awesome blog post, he or she is fully prepped to take action: to contact you, schedule a consultation, place an order, etc.

For guidance on how to put together an outstanding blog footer, we need look no further than right here, the Content Marketing Institute blog:

© Straight North

© Straight North

There are several appealing conversion activities in this blog’s footer:

  • A “soft” conversion text link that’s relevant to the post topic directly below the post
  • A “hard” conversion element encouraging email signup at the bottom
  • In between, links to additional relevant content, social media sites, and author-related pages.

From a content standpoint, the soft and hard conversion elements are well done. Text links are much less aggressive than designed forms (something to keep in mind for e-newsletters as well; template designs look like ads, whereas plain text emails look like personal communication).

For the hard conversion element, CMI does a nice job of compactly including social proof (25,000 peers), the always-alluring concept of FREE, and the promise of exclusive information. We would expect nothing less from a content marketing website!

Context and emotion

Recently I read somewhere that content is not king; instead context is king. This got me thinking that writers and editors really do need a voice in design decisions, or at the very least a clear understanding of the design strategy. Why? Because design has enormous impact on context, and vice-versa.

To illustrate, compare these personal injury law firm sites I found randomly on a Google search.

The first firm’s design features the Chicago skyline at night:

© Straight North

© Straight North

The second firm’s design features a close-up photo of the staff:

© Straight North

© Straight North

Without reading the content, which firm would you be more inclined to contact? For me, the site showing people is far more inviting. Images of people create an emotional connection, and emotional connections inspire action.

Think back to the CMI blog footer: joining 25,000 peers works emotionally on several levels. I don’t want to be left behind. I want to be part of the group. I don’t want anybody to outsmart me. I might lose a client if I don’t study up. These are all emotional reactions that make me want to subscribe.

In the same way, if I have a personal injury issue, it is probably something I don’t relish talking about with a complete stranger. When I’m given a look at the staff, they are no longer strangers. A big barrier to action has been torn down.

The larger lesson for content marketers is to weave emotion into the content. Business copywriting tends to be very clinical, very sterile, which is why many corporate sites leave users cold. To make content more persuasive:

  • Use a conversational tone.
  • Feature quotes from employees (with head shots).
  • Include personal information in corporate bios (e.g., hobbies).
  • Write from the user’s point of view: show that you feel their pain or value their gain.
  • Use humor (judiciously).
  • Ask questions.

What can you add to this list?

Finally, as you add emotional oomph to your content, be sure to circle back with your design team. If emotionally charged copy is framed in a sterile design, your web page will send mixed messages. Confusion and conversion don’t mix!

Need help finding which content marketing tactics will put your business on the path to greater success? Check out our guide toBuilding the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Execution Tactics.

Author: Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, an internet marketing agency headquartered in Chicago. He is an experienced content strategist, respected blogger, and SEO copywriter. Connect with him on Twitter @bradshorr.

Other posts by Brad Shorr

Join Over 150,000 of your Peers!

Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox and get CMI’s exclusive e-book Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program FREE!

  • http://twitter.com/heidithorne Heidi Thorne

    All great tips, Brad! Many of these tips become all the more important as one delves into the mobile website arena.

    • Brad Shorr

      Heidi, That is a really good point. The smaller the screen, the more an issue readability becomes. I’m getting more frustrated every day because so many websites are ignoring my needs on my iPhone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6846388 Mitchell Douglas Meyers

    I think font size is so overlooked. Many people might not even know how to zoom in on their browser window
    to view your font in a larger size and zooming also hurts overall
    experience. Also, many people fail to incorporate the “You May Also Like” footer. Great one!

    • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

      Thanks. I think you are right about people not using zoom on their browsers. Any time you’re relying on users to know technology, it becomes a crap shoot. :)

  • http://twitter.com/djhornsby djhornsby

    Thank you, Brad! This post could not have come along at a better time as we are in the midst of updating our blog. I love that this validates most of what I already knew. Thanks, again!

    • http://twitter.com/bradshorr bradshorr

      Hi Donna — I’m looking forward to seeing your updated blog. Glad this post helped.

  • http://barrettrossie.com/ Barrett Rossie

    I agree with Heidi — these are all great Brad. I wish developers, who are often creating websites for clients without in-house marketing professionals, would default to readable styles like the ones you outlined.

  • Carra

    Great tips Brad. Couldn’t agree more about font size, line breaks, and font contrast. While the actual content matters, it’s also important that people don’t ignore that aesthetics that make posts visually appealing. Whenever I see a post that has a bad font contrast I usually don’t even take the time to look at it. – Carra at Marketo