Before a website can convert traffic into prospects or customers, visitors have to read the content. Most of the time, they don’t.
According to UX expert Jakob Nielsen, the average Web page visit lasts less than a minute, and the average visitor reads only a quarter of the text on a page.
In my experience managing content for website design projects, companies spend a lot of time figuring out how to pack tons of information into their sites, but not nearly enough time figuring out how to get visitors to read it—and act on it.
If nobody is reading your website content, your site needs improvement in one or more content-specific and general website design areas. This article covers five of the most important ways you can make your content more readable… so this isn’t how your readers perceive your website content:
1. Pop-up Ads = High Bounce Rate
Using pop-up ads is like dropping an enormous boulder between the reader and the page he or she is attempting to read. Pop-ups are the ultimate online distraction and frequently cause visitors to immediately bounce.
But do pop-up ads work? Anecdotal reports like this one from Maura D’Andrea suggest they do.
On the other hand, analysis from Marketing Profs (which amusingly kicks off with a particularly obnoxious pop-up) tells us that pop-ups are bad in theory and universally loathed. This detailed analysis from Inc. suggests pop-ups sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.
Clearly, mileage varies with pop-ups. If yours are converting well and have no perceptible downside, keep using them. If, on the other hand, you’re not sure about the value of your pop-ups, here are a few recommendations:
- Replace pop-ups with well-designed conversion elements properly placed on the Web page.
- Display pop-ups once every 15 to 30 days. This technique prevents ads from irritating regular visitors.
- Delay the display of the pop-up for 30 to 60 seconds, giving visitors time to become interested in what they are reading.
- Make sure the pop-up is relevant to the page content. Irrelevant ads confuse as well as annoy visitors and increase the odds of an immediate bounce.
- Be certain the content on a pop-up page is remarkable. Visitors are more likely to forgive the use of a pop-up if the information on the page is extremely useful.
Even Marketing Profs Is Conflicted About Pop-ups
2. No Responsive Web Design = Lost Sales
Responsive design enables websites to adjust automatically for optimal display on desktop monitors, tablets and smartphones. In February, 2014, for the first time, smartphones and tablets were used more than PCs to access the Internet. Does anybody doubt mobile devices will leave PCs in the dust in the years to come?
Today, websites and blogs must be as readable on a smartphone as they are on a desktop—period. According to a recent Aberdeen Group study, websites with responsive design experienced a 10.9% increase in visitor-to-buyer conversion rates year-over-year, compared to only 2.7% for non-responsive sites. And, according to Google, a mobile-friendly site makes users 67% more likely to buy a product or use a service.
To understand the importance of responsive design, think about restaurants. How often do you find yourself looking for a restaurant on your smartphone and being frustrated because you can’t find the link to make a reservation, or are forced to pinch and zoom to read the menu because it displays in a virtually unusable PDF format?
Restaurants with non-responsive sites are losing customers by the plateful—and your business is too, or will be. To view a site that uses responsive design well, look at Outback Steakhouse on your smartphone. The navigation is simple, and the menu is easy to read. No zooming or pinching or squinting required.
As a side note, Outback’s menu features enormous images, which are far more appetizing than the plain text that viewers usually see on a PDF menu.
Here are a few important content-related recommendations for building a responsive site:
- Keep navigation simple and prominent.
- Replace PDFs with HTML pages. Don’t be the company that spends a ton of money creating lavish, downloadable PDF brochures that are barely readable on mobile devices.
- Strip out pages from the mobile version that people are unlikely to view on a smartphone, such as technical product detail pages and investor/stockholder data pages.
- Keep body text even simpler and more compact than what was normal for the old desktop-only days. More on this shortly.
3. Slow Loading Time = Visitors Gone Forever
Thanks in part to our smartphone addiction, attention spans are shorter than ever. Slow Web page loading time is a statistically recognized conversion killer—people are not going to wait around to read your content, no matter how good it is.
In studies by Akamai and Gomez, researchers found that people expect a Web page to load in two seconds or less. A whopping 88% of visitors subjected to slow loading times are unlikely to return to the site.
The Daily Egg recently addressed the loading time issue extremely well. Here is a quick list of recommended fixes; get the details here.
- Minimize HTTP requests.
- Reduce server response time.
- Enable compression.
- Enable browser caching.
- Minify resources.
- Optimize images.
- Optimize CSS delivery.
- Prioritize above-the-fold content.
- Reduce site plugins.
- Reduce redirects.
In the interest of time, I won’t cover the same ground; however, recognize that loading time is a key point because it is a huge culprit in preventing people from reading your content.
If you are not yet sufficiently concerned about your page-loading speed, be aware that Google is now considering site speed in its search algorithm. While the algorithmic change has little immediate impact on SEO, the impact is sure to grow.
4. Poor Display = Bored, Apathetic Visitors
If you want people to read your online content, what you say and how you say it are equally important. A lot of site owners get in their own way by rendering good, fundamental content unreadable by overcomplicating how it displays and how it is expressed. Here are recommendations to keep your content simple, clear and irresistibly readable.
Typographical Display Issues
- Keep the number of font sizes, styles and colors to a minimum.
- Select and test font sizes and line spacing for readability. (See the instructive Numara Software case study in this Daily Egg article.)
- Maintain high contrast with dark text on a light page background.
- Eliminate superfluous, distracting design elements. (This technique also improves page-loading time.)
- Consider the age and online experience of your audience when making creative decisions about typography. For example, an older audience appreciates larger fonts and greater contrast.
- Keep headlines and subheads short and hard-hitting. Compactness must be even tighter for mobile viewing. Think 50 characters or fewer.
- For desktop viewing in particular, avoid line widths that are overly narrow or overly wide. Font size and line height affect the calculations. Click here for an in-depth (and quite interesting) discussion of font settings.
- Utilize as much white space as possible: It is inviting and encourages visitors to read.
Learn how NOT to do it at The World’s Worst Website:
In contrast, see Apple, the Masters of White Space:
Bonus Tip. When creating a website, design and content frequently pull in opposite directions. Designers like to add visual complexity, and writers like to keep Web pages stone-tablet simple. Testing and maintaining a relentless focus on maximizing user experience best resolve these conflicts.
Content Style and Structure Issues
- Avoid industry jargon. It slows down readers, forces them to think and obscures your meaning.
- Avoid “gobbledygook”—i.e., meaningless business-speak. Gobbledygook makes your content boring and vague.
- Never use a big word when a little word will suffice do.
- Like the plague, avoid complex sentences with multiple points. One idea per sentence is the mid-max range.
- Keep paragraphs short. Five lines of text was a good benchmark in the old desktop-only days; today, think in terms of three or four.
- In addition to being compact, headlines and subheads should convey the value of the text that follows.
- Start body text with a high-level summary focused on your value proposition or key benefits. Add supporting text further down the page. This way, you maximize appeal to readers interested in a quick scan as well as those who want a fuller picture.
- Convey important ideas in image captions. Because the eye is drawn to imagery, people are very likely to read captions.
- Use testimonials to build interest and add credibility. Readers are more curious about what others say about your company than what you say.
- Generally, short copy is preferable for website content. However, long copy is effective for:
- Educational content aimed at a technical or sophisticated audience. (This blog is a perfect example.)
- Web pages and landing pages for products or services that are new to the market, complex and/or expensive.
Bonus Tip. I recently found this terrific article, 27 Copywriting Formulas That Grab Readers’ Attention. In it are all the blueprints you will ever need for structuring your story on a Web page.
Advertising Disguised as Content = Death
Perhaps because the Web is inundated with content, marketers are tempted more than ever to resort to trickery. Misrepresenting or over-hyping content occasionally works in the short run, but always fails in the long run.
A basic principle of conversion optimization is that users see exactly what they expect to see when they click on a link. This is exactly why tricky social media sharing tactics fail:
- Deceptive titles. For example, titles that look like articles but point to landing pages where you can download a report.
- Titles that over-promise and under-deliver. Visitors may read your article, but will go away feeling burned, never to return.
- “Informational” content that is really an infomercial for your products or services.
- Teaser text that merely serves as a landing page to get you to download or buy something.
- Pages of content that are packed with obtrusive conversion elements in the middle of the article text or sidebar(s).
Disguising advertising as content is not a new phenomenon created in social media—newspapers and magazines have been running ads formatted as news for more than a century.
Infomercials are nothing new.
Whether or not deceptive or semi-deceptive advertising works in print media, I would argue that the odds are stacked against it on the Web.
Social media sites, where much of today’s information-sharing occurs, place a high value on authenticity. In addition, today’s online users are sophisticated and experienced. If readers don’t get what they expect after clicking on a link, they will look elsewhere. They do not like to be manipulated and know when they are.
For this reason, I don’t see a bright future for native advertising, sponsored reviews and similar types of advertising disguised as content. As soon as readers—and the F.T.C.—catch on, game over.
If you want people to read your content, be authentic, brief, clear, relevant, useful, credible, scannable and pleasant to read. Once you’ve hit those marks, stop what you’re doing and push the “Publish” button.
If you want people to read your content and then convert, do all of the above, plus craft well-designed conversion elements and position them smartly on the page. The critical point here is to keep promotional content separate—visually and contextually—from informational content.
- What motivates you to read Website content?
- What motivates you to click off without reading Website content?
Don’t miss other great content marketing articles by Crazy Egg.