People sometimes approach me asking why their website’s copywriting doesn’t convert more sales. They’re nervous, and rightfully so. After all, who wants to be told that their site needs a complete copywriting overhaul that could cost them thousands of dollars?
Some of my clients seem surprised when I tell them that their copy can be drastically improved, not by editing the words, but by changing elements of their website design. In fact… many times, it’s not the copy that’s the problem at all. Here’s why.
When you’re deep in the throes of web design, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture – the message on the page and where it’s going to lead your customer next. From a copywriting perspective, this can be frustrating. You’ve got a firm grip on the powerful words that can mean huge sales conversions. However, because of poor design elements, those words are fighting with the graphics to be noticed… and losing the battle.
Copy and design are meant to complement each other and work together to make an impact. I’ll give you a quick example. Which do you think will attract more attention – a headline that’s typed in the same size text and weight as your supporting paragraphs? Or one that is designed in a slightly larger, bold, sans-serif block letter font? What about placing a pleasing photo next to the headline and introductory paragraph?
These are design aspects for sure, and yet their application can make a drastic difference in your copy getting read and appreciated, instead of merely glossed over on the way to more interesting places.
Below you’ll find six elements of website design that can dilute what would have been an otherwise powerful message – and how to correct such issues.
1. Poor use of space.
Imagine you’re a web surfer, arriving at a company’s website for the first time. It’s unfamiliar territory. Wouldn’t you want an instant explanation of what this place is and why you’d want to be here… without having to click, scroll, squint and scan? And yet so many sites greet new arrivals with mesmerizing yet pointless graphic elements; or worse, blank space! It’s like flinging your front door open to a visitor and pelting them with handfuls of confetti… or worse, ducking and hiding, so they’re standing there puzzled, looking at nobody. This is why most web marketing experts advise: always put the most important information above the scroll, starting at the very top.
Another crime that’s frequently committed by amateur designers: leaving “holes” or empty pockets of space on the page. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you get rid of white space entirely. Websites are meant to be designed like magazine pages – in columns. Each column should be well-balanced with a combination of white space, graphic and text elements. A good designer will know how to make the best use of the available area without leaving the viewer feeling claustrophobic and confused. It has a lot to do with balance, symmetry, and proportion. The “feng shui” of good web design, you could say.
If your web visitors are falling through the “holes” left behind by an amateur designer, you can have those weak spots patched and spackled without having to part with major cash for a site redesign. Moving items from here to there on an HTML-designed site can be a fairly non-complicated process to someone who has sufficient experience.
2. Clashing type treatments.
When you work alongside of knowledgeable graphic designers, you frequently see something called font families being used in corporate marketing materials. This is where the designer chooses one font (two at the most), and no more than two colors, for the basic type treatment.
Let’s say the general color selection is pink, and the font choice is something curvy like Trebuchet, because you’ll be marketing to a female audience. The designer would then select a larger sized, deeper pink, and bolder version of Trebuchet, to use for all headlines. Next, he might design the subheadline font to be a mid-range shade of that same pink, and perhaps italic to help differentiate from headlines.
Finally, he’d choose the normal weight of that same Trebuchet font, let’s say in gray, for body copy text that’s easy to read. If there were areas within the body copy that he’d want to play up, maybe a pink to match the subhead, and a bold treatment for emphasis. For a website, you’d then create style sheets that allow you to quickly pre-select your chosen type treatments each time you publish a new page of content. This way, everything “matches” and follow the same format consistently.
This overall type design strategy has the effect of guiding the reader along from headline to headline, subhead to subhead. It also encourages them to click the links, which stand out. Unfortunately, many “lesser” designers get a little over-eager and select too many fonts, colors, styles. The reader finds himself overwhelmed and unable to concentrate or absorb the information. The result is loss of continuity, loss of interest… and loss of what would have been a potential new customer.
If your site shouts its many messages in multiple colors and loud fonts, it may be worth springing for the addition of style sheets. For a large site with many pages, the initial setup *may* rack up a decent bill. However, once it’s all in proper working order, you will be able to make global design changes on a whim, in seconds.
For example, if you wanted to change every single headline in the entire site to any color and style you’d like, you could do that with virtually NO hassle… and then change them right back to the original. With style sheets, you’ll have much better page rank with Google and it will be worth every penny of your investment.
3. Over or under-use of bold or italics.
Any experienced web marketer will tell you that bolded subtitles help to break up what’s on the page and offer multiple focal points that encourage the eyes to continue traveling downward. But the idea of course, is to be subtle. Many new web business owners tend to bold every single word or line that they consider important. When eager egos are involved, that can end up being more than half of the words on the page, which is too much!
Try to limit the use of bold – apply to headlines and subheads only. You can also bold or italicize links and “a few important words,” if you must. Whatever you do, be tasteful about it. I’ve found with my own marketing that too-bold, too-big and too-bright adds “visual noise” which can be a real turnoff to your readers. If you can get a copywriter or VA who knows how to open web pages, make small changes, and republish in HTML, you’ve got maybe a couple hours’ of low-cost labor ahead of you, and that’s it.
4. Absence of graphic memory triggers.
The world of graphic design may have an official name for what I’m about to describe. I call it a “graphic memory trigger” for lack of a better term. This is when you take a call-to-action that you’d like to appear on each page of your site (for example, “Sign up for our newsletter!”) and turn it into a graphic. You’d need to open a graphic design program such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or Fireworks, and create an image file that coordinates with your site and the rest of your marketing collateral. Select a visual that helps your visitor make a quick mental association.
Why bother spending time and/or money on the little things, like graphic details that enhance your copy? Because it’s these details that can keep visitors tuned in with what you have going on instead of drifting away to shop with the competition.
Graphics and copy work on a near-subconscious level, providing sensory stimulus which prompts specific and intended behavior. So if you’re not great with graphics, which you certainly aren’t expected to be, invest in a professional. Work together to develop visuals that add punch to your copy and help get your website visitors to do what you want. This is a job that can probably be turned around in just a couple of days, maybe a week or more if your site is a heavyweight.
5. Poorly categorized, illogical page navigation.
I don’t know about you, but nothing frustrates me more than clicking, thinking I’ll be landing on one page, and then ending up somewhere totally unexpected. It’s like following a map of directions that send you to New Jersey when you’re trying to get to Washington, DC!
There are a couple of fairly simple elements which should be a part of every single web page you build: a link to the previous page where you came from, and a link to the next page where you’d like the visitor to end up. Typically, if this is a business website, then the destination page (from say, an article) would be a product page where they’d be able to place an order.
If it’s a static page, and you’d like your visitor to get in touch by filling out a form, then there should be a link at the bottom of the first page, which leads to the Contact page and electronic form. Seems easy enough, and yet so many designers fail to add these critical details. When you ask why people don’t sign up, this is why!
For the main navigation pages, choose general topic categories that can be expanded upon in the future. For example, most people opt to feature an “About” page in their navigation. Logically, it follows that the “About” page would have an introduction to your company. Later, if you wanted to expand this section, you could sub-navigate the “About” section into pages such as Company Philosophy, Company History, and Bio (if you plan to showcase the CEO).
Unfortunately, changing the page structure of your site is considered a “major” improvement and may also make a bit of a dent in your pocketbook – at least this month. But once you’ve got a good, expandable navigation nailed down, you can keep adding page after page without having to worry if your visitors are getting lost in the labyrinth. And that’s really worth the temporary expense if you’re serious about getting the most revenue out of your website marketing.
Most people think of type treatment, graphics, navigation and “directionals” as design, and not copywriting elements. However, copy and design share a codependent relationship. Each requires support from the other in order to perform to its highest potential.
If these aspects are poorly coordinated, you end up with copy that doesn’t support the goal of “where to go next,” navigation that misdirects your reader, redundant pages that convey the same ideas multiple times, and a website that sends folks clicking in circles, not ever reaching that final destination – your eagerly awaiting email inbox or electronic order form.
And that’s the very reason why your beautifully designed and impactfully written site may not be reaching the sales goal you’ve been hoping for. So if your site doesn’t match up, is it all for naught? Of course not. With a few small tweaks on every page and a good search optimization plan, you might just get your website up to speed and in the running for Page 1 positioning on Google.
Ready to put your website to the test? Call on Wordfeeder.com to critique the functionality of your website copy, navigation and design. Contact us schedule your website review for the upcoming month!