B Y T O M T O R T O R I C I
Throughout my college years, I was fascinated by subjects like Communication Theory, Visual Perception and Classical Rhetoric. These days, I’m fascinated by how those principles apply to someone who’s just landed on a website.
But most of the insights I’ve gained about the digital marketing have come from paying attention to my attention when I myself am online. Where my eye goes. Where it doesn’t go. What I read. What I ignore. What draws me in. What sends me to the Back button.
One thing I’ve noticed is that just because a piece of content is there, it’s not necessarily going to be absorbed.
Or even read. Or even noticed. In fact, a disturbingly high percentage of website content out there is essentially invisible to the typical reader.
How could that possibly be?
When your web page springs first springs up in front of me, my eye concerns itself with whatever is near my center of vision.
That means it’s not focused on the periphery of the page. I don’t really notice the logo-tized company name in the extreme top left corner. Or any of those links all the way in the upper right. Or the call-to-action squeezed in at the very bottom.
It’s one thing if I’m specifically looking for something. But as a typical first-time visitor, I’m just kind of ‘scanning’ the page, reading what catches my eye, and skimming past the rest.
I assume that anything in a sidebar is of secondary importance, so unless its header message piques my interest, I may not even glance in that direction.
So for all intents and purposes, those carefully-prepared bits of content are invisible.
If you have a brief, prominent, centered headline, I can’t help but read it. But if the first word of text is all the way at the left edge of the page, there’s a decent chance my eye won’t even venture over to that peripheral area. It continues scanning down the center of the page – and you’ve just missed the chance to explain your product’s main benefit.
If the text font size is small, the possibility of me reading it drops even further. If there’s not enough line-spacing between the lines of text, my eyes are seriously glazing over. If the text occupies the full width of the page, you’ve simply made it too hard to read, so pardon me if I don’t read it.
You could promise a free $100 gift card in the middle of the third paragraph, and you wouldn’t have to worry about takers. Guess why.
Is your first sentence of text a vague and obvious statement? I’ll assume the rest of it is similar, as my eye wanders away.
If you have long paragraph after long paragraph of text without, say, bold section headers to break it up, my eye and mind most likely will agree to skip it. Sorry.
I do like that background image you chose for the Home page ‘Hero’ section. Unfortunately, it’s visually too busy to read the essential message you’ve dropped on top of it.
What if the text font is condensed, or the strokes of the letters are too thin, or if there’s not enough contrast with the background color? Invisible, invisible, invisible.
As a designer, I know it’s a challenge to simply get everything to fit on the page, in a way that makes it look good, clean, and professional.
But when aesthetic decisions impair easy readability – and by extension, our preciously brief opportunity to persuade – that kinda sorta goes against the whole purpose of having a company website. Right?
Before launching their new site, a web client may have to squint to proofread all that tiny, cramped, full-width text. But since they have a vested interest, they’ll get through it without complaint.
But if you want me, a casual web visitor, to dig in and read it, you’ll have to make those words compellingly visible. As in, the opposite of invisible.
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About the Author: Tom Tortorici is an Atlanta copywriter and web content writer who helps companies make a genuine connection with their audience. His classes and conference presentations have focused on how writing, strategy and design can work together to grab attention and interest even among readers with short attention spans. In addition to working directly with businesses, Tom regularly partners with web designers and marketing agencies.
Tom Tortorici Inc. | Tom@TomTortorici.com | 770-934-7861 | 3101 Rockaway Rd | Atlanta GA 30341