So, you’ve invested in content marketing, and hopefully, you’re seeing results. As we all know, good content marketing starts with writing. Without it, designers would have nothing to work from. Maybe you’re at the stage in your content strategy that you’re only working with a writer and not a designer or maybe you have a team of creatives getting your brand out there. Either way, if your written content isn’t visually appealing and using design principles to increase readability, you’re losing money.
Content marketing is still outperforming all other types of marketing in terms of ROI, so tapping into your customers’ brains through timeless design standards will increase profits and make for a better experience with your brand. You may already know that search engines like Google prefer well-organized, long-form content. The former is where better layouts can increase your standing on Google and with your customers.
Long content is necessary for good SEO these days. Thin content that is short on word counts and shareability doesn’t cut it anymore. But how do you guide readers through 1,500-word posts and keep them engaged? Especially when most readers tend to skim online content rather than read every word. Tapping into your customers’ brains through timeless design standards will help good written content dazzle your readers, and it will make your content perform better.
Why Words and Images Should Work Together
The relationship between image and text is the foundation on which good graphic design is built. Designers have known this since the days of clay tablets and hieroglyphs, but writers and content marketers have been slow to the game.
[bctt tweet=”In marketing, your writing is only as good as it looks.” username=”@DebBoldNorse”]
For instance, have you ever tried to read a webpage that had white letters on a black background or a blog post with bright banners, ads and menus on both sides, and all the text in a tiny little typeface? We all have, and we all probably navigated away as fast as we could. So, you should pay just as much attention to photo placement, photo quality, layout and color schemes as you do to your writing. Customers will stay on your pages longer, increase engagement, and trust that your products are current and on trend.
Use Neuroscience for a Better Layout
Fear not, this isn’t a treatise interactive design and information architecture. There are actually some easy ways that you can organize and streamline your content for better UX on a simple WordPress post (Yes, I do think content is UX–and I’m not alone). As with all things in content marketing, it starts with thinking about the buyer. You have to know how customers read your content in order to write posts, descriptions, newsletters, etc.
Because UX is such a hot topic these days, there is an abundance of data from studies that examine the unconscious habits of online readers. Through eye-tracking studies, Nielson Norman Group pointed out that site visitors read content in an “F” shaped pattern (“Z” is a thing too). That study came out over ten years ago, but many businesses still don’t follow the advice.
The main takeaway in terms of layout should be that customers are skimming your content, not necessarily reading it thoroughly. This means that it should be organized by topic and have pull quotes, photos, and other elements that direct a reader’s attention through a reading experience. And Google will reward you for the effort since their search engine favors well-organized content.
A similar eye-tracking study looked at the layouts of webpages arranged in vertical and horizontal patterns. Although grouping images and descriptions in horizontal patterns looks clean and modern, readers actually tend to scroll down a page. If you want people to read your words, you have to put them in the right places on a page, or at least use arrows to point them in the right direction.
If you’re paying for high-quality writing and strategy (and you should be), you can increase your ROI by fine-tuning the design elements on your content–and color is perhaps the easiest and most important one to fix. While there are studies that point to the best colors for male and female customers and even more studies (be careful–they’re not all scientific) that tell you which colors to use based on their value statements about your brand, staying fresh and readable should always be on your list of objectives.
Let’s start with fresh. You don’t want to give the impression that your products and services are outdated–that’s one of the reasons you’re using online content. So if you’re posting blogs about why your company matters in today’s marketplace and you’re using a color palette better suited for 1994, your design is actually working against your written content. That’s literally the opposite of what you want, right?
The easiest way to see what colors matter now is to check out Pantone. There’s a reason that fashion designers and major retailers use it as their go-to index for color.
Now for readable. No one can concentrate on the brilliant words in your blog post if their eyes are being assaulted by bright colors that take up a lot of real estate. It’s not so much the color itself, but how much you use it.
T-Mobile’s website is a perfect example. Their brand color (for better or worse) is a particularly eye-jarring hot pink. But it’s used sparingly on their homepage. And when you do see it in a large block of color, it’s actually muted to a deeper shade closer to maroon, which looks an awful lot like Baton Rouge from the Pantone’s 2017 Moody Blooms palette. It’s not the same shade of hot pink from 10 years ago. The site offers a great example of how to make hot, exciting colors work and look new and fresh.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
The artistic and emotional power of photography should be a compliment to compelling writing, but it’s often underused in online commercial content. For photos, the most important thing is resolution. It doesn’t matter how good your photos are. If they’re pixelated or hard to see, site visitors will get nothing from them. And using low-resolution photos is a good way to make your content look outdated and (again) undermine the relevancy of your writing.
Stock photos are easy, but they may not be your friend. Studies have shown that generic stock photos are a turnoff for readers, who often ignore them. Another problem with many stock photos is that they don’t effectively convey mood or emotion. They’re sterile. If your product brings joy to your customers, it’s more powerful to show your audience rather than tell them. [bctt tweet=”Don’t explain how life-changing your services are with powerful language and vivid examples, then pair that with a boring stock photo. ” username=”@DebBoldNorse”]There are good stock photos out there–you just have to look for them.
Photo placement is an effective strategy for guiding readers through your content experience. You can use it to break up text and even to shorten the appearance of text on a page. Most experts agree that a photo on the right-hand side of an opening paragraph shortens lines of text and makes them easier to digest for online readers.
Basically, if a single photo is the only element in your post that isn’t text–especially if that photo is a generic stock photo as the main image on a blog post because WordPress makes that easy–look for ways to get more visually interesting. Google prefers longer content for SEO, and readers need short breaks for their eyes; visual elements (like great photos) help them feel more invested and connected to your content.
Responsive Design is the Only Design
This one should go without saying. If you take the trouble to make your content read well and look good, please make sure it’s mobile-friendly. It’s frustrating to find a great post or newsletter and not be able to read it on the go (and data demonstrates that’s how many of us consume content).
Using smart design elements lets your audience read and enjoy the content you’re creating online.
Being thoughtful about the visual components of a reader’s experience takes written content to the next level.
Whether it’s a Facebook ad, long-form blog post, newsletter or landing page, customers will engage with content that is easy to look at and well-organized.
Good content targets readers and skimmers. Without good layouts and design elements, the long posts Google loves can get boring for customers, so SEO and user reading habits need to be taken into account.
Are you ready to take your content to the next level?