Looks Aren’t Everything: Why Your Content Trumps Design

by Bjion Henry

As marketing professionals, we understand the value of an engaging and attractive website. In fact, many would argue that a website is now critical to the success of a business.

A website builds credibility, makes a first impression and acts as the first port of call for the 88% of consumers who research product information before making an online purchase.

Unfortunately, many digital marketers fail to strike the balance between content and design. Here’s a closer look at why, what the impacts are and how you can refocus on great content.

The Research That Shaped Web Copy

Back in 1997, Jakob Nielsen conducted a study to find out more about how we interact with text on the web. This research was conducted a couple of years before the term Web 2.0 was first uttered and we witnessed an immense explosion in user-generated content.

Nielsen and his team found that 79% of users scan any new page that they come across. The research also discovered that users would quickly breeze through text, with only 16% of users reading word-by-word.

This research helped to shape the web as we know it today: early marketers and businesses placed a huge emphasis upon scanability, while heading tags emerged as a key tool to help webmasters neatly separate and organise their content. Brevity emerged as a key feature of the online experience. 

But these findings also led some digital marketers astray.

content or design

How Nielsen’s Findings Were Misinterpreted

Some marketers were quick to misinterpret Nielsen’s findings. Rather than understanding the importance of scannability and quality, they created the urban myth that “no one reads copy.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Users do absolutely interact with web copy in a variety of ways and it can spell the difference between a marketer accomplishing and falling short of their digital marketing objectives.

Statistics show that 74% of web users pay attention to the quality of spelling and grammar on company websites, while 59% of people would avoid doing business with a company that made obvious mistakes in those areas.

The corrosive urban myth about copy being ignored persists today and it is harming the quality of websites. Copy is often slapped together in no time at all, acting as placeholder text to populate beautiful designs. Blog posts are written by inexperienced copywriters working for content farms. Brands fail to make the appropriate investments in their copy.

copywriting branding

A Web Focused on Form Over Function

Because many businesses fail to see the value of copy, they orient their investment towards the visual aspect of their website. This area is absolutely critical of course, but it can’t be the only focus because it means that websites place form over function.

This is becoming increasingly common, too, because it’s easier than ever before to create a stunning website. There are countless WordPress themes out there, while WYSIWYG website builders improve by the day.

Copywriting is still difficult, though.

This means that the modern web offers hollow experiences and it is becoming increasingly difficult for customers to access the quality content that they are looking for.

Tips To Create Scannable Copy

There is an opportunity here, though. If a website offers clear and engaging copy, it will stand out from the crowd and help digital marketers to achieve success.

Here’s a look at just a few simple techniques that can be used to refocus on what’s really important and give visitors the scannable copy that they desire.

facebook audiences guide

Break Up Text

Walls of text turn people away.

You should use headings and subheadings to help your readers scan through your text and find what they’re looking for. Meanwhile, your paragraphs should be short and to the point.

Use Long Subheadings

Don’t be scared to write long and informative headers.

Many websites write poor headers that fail to excite and inform the reader. The objective of headers is to give the reader an idea of what they are going to read, making it easier to scan.

For example, instead of using these headings — “Follower Engagement,” “Customer Engagement,” and ‘User-Friendly Design” — try these variants:

  • “Follower Engagement: From Follower to Friend”
  • “Customer Engagement: We Don’t Post, We Interact”
  • “User-Friendly Design: Easy On the Eye, Even Easier to Use”

nike copywriting ad

Check out the way that Nike manages to share information and create a story using subheadings alone.

Divide Your Content Even Further

You can use a range of techniques to break up your copy and make it easy to read.

Here is a look at just some of the techniques that you can use:

  • Quotes that stand apart from the text
  • Images that drive home key messages
  • Bullet points and numbered lists
  • “Click to Tweet” buttons
  • Stylised sections of text

Each of these techniques will help you to build intrigue and make your copy easy to digest.

Blend Form and Function

Your designs shouldn’t just look beautiful – they should help to make reading easier.

Think about how your designs accommodate for narrow columns, for example. Usability research shows that readers prefer narrow columns, given that vertical scrolling is a common habit when browsing on mobile devices.

apple ad copy

Look at how Apple uses its Mac Pro landing page to blend together stunning imagery with inspiring and informative copy.

Use Free Editing Apps

Hemingway App is a really great tool. It helps you to make sure your writing is bold and clear by highlighting lengthy and complex sentences. The online editor is free to use and it gives a readability grade to guide your writing.

If you use WordPress, you should also consider using the Yoast SEO plugin. It helps with the technical optimisation of your copy, giving you every SEO advantage possible.

Hire a Professional Copywriter

The best copywriters have a passion for their work and understand how to craft scannable copy that engages your readers. If you are in the process of launching your website or writing content, you should be sure to consult with a professional.

When it comes to choosing a copywriter, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a copywriter who has a rich portfolio and proven experience in your area.
  • Feel free to ask your copywriter for testimonials.
  • Create a clear brief that covers your objectives and the scope of the project.
  • Consult with the copywriter to discuss your brief and gauge their suitability.

facebook audiences ebook

Delight Your Users with Clear Copy

Don’t fall victim to the misconceptions around Nielsen’s research. Design is just one part of the story. –

Do your best to stick to the fundamentals of scannable copy: break up your text, keep things short and focus on readability. If you can offer clear and engaging copy, you’ll give yourself a vast competitive edge and really engage your users!

We hope that this piece has helped you to understand the importance and value of scannable web copy. If you do ever need some advice or additional help, reach out to us at Heue Digital.

Bjion is a digital marketer with experience in design, branding, search and social media. He started as a design freelancer working with brands such as Thomas Cook and Churchill, where thereafter he launched fashion brand marketed through social media. He then went on to work for Google in their paid-search/AdWords department. He now runs a digital marketing agency which focuses on helping tech brands reach and engage more customers.

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