What A Website Says Is More Important Than How It Looks
Learn how to build a website that guide users towards a desired action and which tools can save you time and money.
Years ago, when the internet in general was a lot more new, a researcher named Jakob Nielsen conducted a study on how people read text content on the web. This was back in 1997.
Nielsen and his colleagues found that 79% of users scan any new page they come across. This and other research led to today’s “scannable” web content formats, which make extensive use of headings and subheadings, highlight key words and phrases, and otherwise make it easy for the reader to gather a basic “outline” of the piece at a glance.
This early research was important, and has had a long-lasting impact on how copy and content for digital platforms are written. But unfortunately, Nielsen’s research has also been misunderstood by many people.
This has led to an unfortunate urban myth: “No one reads copy,” and other variants implying that people don’t actually read the text they’re presented with on the web.
This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Copy and content matter to people, and if you don’t think they’re reading the words on your website, you’re very mistaken indeed.
Sleek, intuitive web design is important, but text is just as much — if not more — of a factor when it comes to creating a good user experience that keeps visitors coming back.
Website Owners Neglect What’s Really Important
The common misconception that people simply don’t read has misled many web entrepreneurs, digital marketers, and web designers to ignore the actual content of what’s said on a page. Unfortunately, this works to everyone’s disadvantage.
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money focusing on the wrong things.
Style Over Substance
In popular consciousness, the visual and aesthetic appeal of a website has become a sort of currency for the concept of what a good website is.
Everyone’s always focusing on making their site look good, with contemporary design aesthetics, pleasing color schemes, and ample whitespace. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to sell something, your customers are almost always more interested in what you say than how you look.
If you’re a plumbing repair service, a gorgeous website says little, on its own, about how well you can fix a leaking water heater or unclog a sink. Design, images, and layouts alone won’t sell a product or a service for you. You need persuasive copy, too.
Your website is a sales script, first and foremost. You need to hook people into reading, not just glancing at a nice layout and graphics.
A Stunningly Designed Website Without Good Copy is a Missed Opportunity
No matter how great your site looks, if the copy is lame, it’s a massive missed opportunity. Hooking people into reading your site is the equivalent of getting past a gatekeeper on a cold call, or striking up a conversation with someone powerful at an industry network event.
It’s your big “in.” It’s that important first step — the most important step — in the process of turning a cold lead into a sale.
You need a great sales pitch, and that’s a job for copy, not design.
Tips for Readability: Bringing People In With Scannable Content
Nielsen’s research into consumer behavior was, and still is, important. It’s been backed up by numerous subsequent studies that examine how people interact with content on a screen.
The problem is that it’s misinterpreted. People do read, and words are the most important thing on your site. But, with that said, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of “scannability.” The organization of words on a website needs to be different from what you’d see on a printed page.
Break Up Text into Sections Whenever You Can
Readable web content has a clear outline structure to it. It’s not because people only skim the page. They skim first to assess if the page contains the information they’re looking for. If it does, then they’ll read it more closely.
Use subheadings when you can, and keep your paragraphs short. In print, paragraphs are several sentences long. But on a web page, it’s easier to read if each paragraph is just a couple of sentences. People don’t mind scrolling down on a page, as long as the information is “drip-fed” to them.
Walls of text turn people off.
Create Long, Information-Rich Subheadings
We’ve mentioned that you should divide up each page’s content into subsections, marked with H2 headers. These headers should be long enough and informative enough to give the reader a clear idea of what information that section contains.
Using plenty of long headings makes your page much 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”
Keep Column Widths Relatively Narrow
The last thing anyone wants to do on a website is scroll horizontally. We mentioned that vertical scrolling is fine. But scrolling sideways is a no-go.
Slimmer columns of text are easier to read. While you don’t want to take that idea too far, with needle-thin columns and too much whitespace, thin columns reduce the number of “saccades” — unconscious eye movements from one side to the other — that someone has to make in order to read the text.
This improves readability. A good rule of thumb is to keep your text around 60 characters wide.
Split Up Content (Beyond Just Subheadings)
Along with ample use of subheadings, there are other devices you can use to keep content broken up into manageable chunks.
Quotes in large text — including “click to tweet” buttons that let someone share a quote from the article — are a great way to do this. You can also use images to create divisions between sections of text.
Hire a Professional Copywriter
Chances are, you’ve outsourced parts of your website to other people, like web developers and graphic designers. Unless writing is your strong suit, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to write the copy for your site.
At Heue, we offer copywriting as a service. We’ll handle the entire process of planning and creating copy and content for your site, placing this crucial aspect of your sales process into the hands of experienced professionals.
Outsourcing your copy gives you one less thing to worry about. Feel free to contact us any time to find out more about working with us to create smart copy that sells.