It’s one thing to write interesting content, and another to create content that looks interesting. This may not sound important, but on corporate websites, it is critical to create good-looking content that entices visitors to read it.
David Taber asked me recently about my philosophy on “decoration” graphics – is there a place for clip art that’s just there to make a page less boring?
I’m against including graphics in copy, unless a graphic specifically enhances or reinforces the copy.
When we’re working on a page with a client, it frequently looks boring, but that’s because we’re already familiar with the copy and we aren’t reading it. If we weren’t familiar with the copy, we’d interact with the page in a different manner – we’d be reading the copy, extracting information.
If copy is boring to an unfamiliar reader, no amount of graphics is going to save it. If copy looks boring to us, that’s because we’re familiar with what it says and aren’t really reading it.
David responded, “but some people just like decoration / something nice to look at. not everyone wants to read…”
If someone just looks at a page without trying to understand what it’s conveying, they may find it boring. But I don’t understand how an unrelated graphic is going to make the argument they already aren’t reading more compelling.
After further discussion, I may have come around a bit. People do like pretty pages, and unrelated graphics may enhance the overall feeling of a page.
The challenge is twofold. First, unrelated graphics cannot detract from the actual content of the page. Second, and more importantly, we must not focus on the non-related graphics at the expense of well-written and designed copy.
To reiterate: no amount of graphics will save poorly written copy.
I’ve come around a bit more, and now I’m facing the same direction I was at the start: unrelated graphics are bad.
After interviewing dozens of business people, however, I now know that pages that look boring are bad, regardless of content. This is a reality of business.
The initial decision to read a page
Corporate visitors will frequently scan a page to make an initial decision of whether the page is worth reading, before diving in. The following factors affect the decision (in no considered order):
- How interesting is the site in general?
- How long will this take me to read and understand?
- Will this content be worth the time it takes to read it?
- Did someone recommend that I read this?
- Does this contain critical information that I need?
All the brilliant content in the world won’t matter if the page doesn’t pass this all-important first step, particularly for a corporate site.
Why a corporate site is different than a news site
Good-looking content is not as important on “content” sites: news, editorial or personal sites, because while the actual visitors may be the same, their goals while visiting the site are substantially different.
Content site visitors are in for the long-haul, so to speak: they came to the site to read, have already mentally set aside time to do so, and will have a more generous time-value proportion. Corporate site visitors, on the other hand, are typically visiting while working, are pressed for time and aren’t interested in wading through to find a nugget of information.
Persuading corporate visitors to read
When our corporate clients see a page on their sites that is a bland sea of text, they recoil in fear, because they know that their visitors will simply click to the next page (or, worse, leave the site).
Their tendency is to want to insert some graphics to “liven things up.” This is the wrong strategy for two reasons: first, unrelated graphics are distracting and actually take away from the content and second, they mask the real problem – poorly written content.
A better solution is to rewrite the content to include:
- fewer words,
- more paragraphs,
- more headings and subheadings,
- bullet points and numbered lists, and
- emphasized (bold) important points.
This style of content will be less imposing and easily scanned. The important concepts and critical information will jump out.