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.
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.
For a positive example, take a look at Smashing Magazine. As the world’s leading site for designers, it’s a great benchmark:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
The second firm’s design features a close-up photo of the staff:
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!
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