Great design goes a long way to achieve the result that marketers’ dreams are made of: High-converting websites. Unfortunately, many designers go over the edge and create visual user interfaces which are not always beneficial to the websites purpose. In this article, we will explore some of the more seldom-heeded design best practices which ensure that the copy-writing and the visual design of the website can go hand-in-hand and serve the website owner’s purpose.
The knowledge presented in this article was researched, compiled and authored by Joe Görbert from BrainHive, your friendly business planning and digital marketing service consultancy. The know-how presented herein springs from about six years of involvement with the subject and draws from many grade-A sources in the web, including Copybloggers, Damn Fine Words, Quicksprout and informationhighwayman.com.
You might be also interested in our other article with other advanced tech / general tips on boosting your website conversion!
1. Don’t Divert Attention Between Visually Equal-Weighted CTAs (Calls-to-Action)
One of the biggest faults in the springy, quirky, often animated design (also think parallax scrolling) which is seen in today’s day is that the viewing, reading and clicking paths of the users are not taken into sufficient consideration. It could happen for example that the prime call to action is lost among a heap of colorful or sensational imagery, and so how is the user supposed to do what he is supposed to do?
A clear corporate identity color spectrum and a style guide can go a long way to create design which both feels harmonic and representative and that leaves enough “room on the stage” for you to present the main call to action in all the limelight that it deserves. When copywriting the actual caption on the button or the surrounding elements (arrows, boxed content, PS-text etc.), make sure that the copy is not smothered but easy to read, above the fold and compellingly formulated. Extra credit goes to the call to action that makes a reference to a prominent visual accentuation displayed close by the call to action.
If there is more than one call to action, make sure that the secondary and tertiary calls to action are positioned, colored and sized in such a way that they are still visible but obviously not as prominent as the prime call to action. At any given point, your design must make it clear where the user ought to go next. Anything but, and the website carries a risk of losing conversion because users lose focus and become disengaged along the way.
2. Make the Header Stand Out (and Then Make it Stand Out Some More)
In the same spirit as in the previous recommendation, headers are of chief importance to hook the reader once your captivating visual design has got that essential first good impression and the user likes the experience. While a beautiful visual element can have as much or more stopping power as a very targeted and powerfully worded headline, it will always be a piece of text which actually captures the visitors attention and can direct this attention into the desired direction.
Your design and the use of visual elements must serve the purpose of focusing reader’s attention on powerful headlines. Apart from the very obvious aspects concerning font size, font style and color, definitely note that pictures can play an important role in making or breaking a successful outcome in this regard. Studies have shown for example that if the headline is depicted with a person looking at it or pointing towards it, that this headline will garner more attention.
If the human shown in the picture is looking at the user or is looking elsewhere, the picture stands a high chance of smothering the headline, taking focus away from it. These are psychological effects limiting the use of imagery to decorate and complement copywriting. Watch for those unexpected adverse results, if you can, for example via split-testing landing page versions.
When in doubt, less is more: Minimalistic and copywriting-focused websites have – across a host of very different industries – performed excellently. It stands to reason that if the traffic is targeted enough, a single, well placed piece of copy will get the job done in the quickest and easiest way and any visual element, including the much-fabled video, can only detract from that.
3. Voice & Persona in Design
Good design will be forever a walk on the tightrope between giving the sensation of newness and uniqueness which is attractive and giving the sensation of recognition and utility which is comfortable. Depending on which target audience you are looking to talk to, these aspects are not weighted evenly. But no matter what target group you’re talking to today, they will usually be able to recognize the universal symbols, such as the gear(s) for the settings overview. You must have a VERY good reason if you’re planning to defect from the commonly accepted universal iconographic language on the web. In 99,9% of cases, the professional advice would be to just not.
Now if the copywriting is very provocative and direct, more flamboyant colors and accompanying imagery is warranted. On the other hand, if the copywriting is all about building trust or if you’re looking to up- or cross-sell to people who are already your clients, a marketing piece that comes across as too flashy could lose you conversions. Likewise, if there is something off in the regard of the perception of the brand (brand reputation) versus the copywriting and design employed, chances are the piece will likewise fail or yield underperformance.
In today’s time, there is a lot of stock iconography available to suit any fancy. Investing into a good library of icons big and small can help to keep the visual voice, one graphic mold throughout the website. Playing around with the color saturations, brightness and contrast of an image can help you more easily blend the desired image into the content and the rest of the design. In the end, the most important factor from a design perspective is the overall look and feel which underscores the brand and does not interfere with the copy or the user journey premeditated by the marketing tactician in charge.
4. Certificates, Guarantees, Cred-Logos & Badges
To boost the credibility of the copywriting it has become a fashion to either include the grayed-out logos of happy clients or representative partners, guarantee badges and other types of – often stylized – certificate-like visual elements. These elements should be thrown in if adequate, but they should not be placed to prominently, because that could leave prospective clients with the impression that you’re trying too hard and that maybe something is off.
If you can, try out forms of testimonials which are not so often used, such as infographic-testimonials (which contain figures of results achieved for the client), fully illustrated case studies or video/audio testimonials. Order your testimonials hierarchically/complementary from most to least powerful or from their angles on the user experience described. The way to do that is to look at importance / relevance of the client, addressing of most important objections to the sale and completeness of the testimonial in terms of wording, client details and absence or presence of an accompanying “happy client” picture.
Conclusion: Make Design Count for Copy, not Vice-Versa
It has often surprised me how many of the most successful web projects on the internet get by on very minimalistic design. None of the successful ones though will be weak in the copywriting, because for a successful website the power of lead generation, sales and visitor retention must enjoy prime consideration. For these things to happen, design can be no more than complementary. The heavy lifting is always done by words.
Too many designers will when in doubt follow the herd and not invest enough own thought into how best serve their client’s purpose. Often-seen flaws such as substandard background-font color matches (also in contact forms!), unclear web orientation / navigation or smothering image content are the price that website owners pay for these erroneous judgments, often as a dead-weight cost on conversions.
Be the smarter designer- and talk with the copywriter or set your mind into your client’s customer head. This way, you are sure to produce the most appropriate design for the specific offer presented.
About the Author
Joe Görbert runs a business plan writing service (www.brainhive.de) and a digital marketing agency (www.brainhive-ethical-marketing). While these days he is chiefly occupied with administrative tasks and strategy, he still keeps a close eye on copy-writing and design work delivered by his agency. A “form-to-follow-function” design mindset and ROI-targets in the back of his head, he makes sure his advice always hits the mark.