Breathing Lessons

This is a small thought. But worth thinking about.

Have you seen the fairly recent ads and billboards for the new Volkswagon Bug? Did you notice all that white space? Of course, the new ads are just neat copies of the original ads for the original bug done way back when. But I still like them.

I love that white space. I love the fact that the image and the words are surrounded by acres of silent, passive nothing.

White space is something you’ll see used by direct marketers offline as well, from time to time. You’ll find letters, ads and mailings with short paragraphs and double spacing in between them.

White space is a scary thing to pay for in any medium. But personally, I think it’s a good buy.

When a prospect or customer sees white space, you’re giving them a break. You’re giving them a moment of silence in a busy environment. You’re taking the pressure off and saying, “Hey, take a moment. Rest your eyeballs. We’re not pushing.”

And white space does more than rest the eyeballs, it also rests the brain. It separates one thought or idea from the next. It gives people a moment of thinking-time between each point you’re trying to make.

So what’s this got to do with writing words that sell online?

Well, online we don’t tend to leave too much white space lying around. We’re “painting on a small canvas” anyway, and we’re loath to leave any space on that screen unfilled. After all, if we can’t get it all on one page, that means an extra click. And as we keep telling ourselves, extra clicks are bad things.

But I’d love to test this.

I’d love to set up an A/B split test to see what would happen.

On version A I’d cram as much into the one page as possible – as is the common practice.

On version B I’d spread the same amount of information, with the same text and images, across three of four pages.

Working against me would be the fact that I’m asking the visitor to click two or three more times. Working for me, I think, would be the fact that I’m taking the pressure off. With all that extra white space, our visitors would be able to relax into the experience a little more. And I think that would make them feel good about being at our site.

If it turned out that you could, indeed, add in an extra click or two, for the sake of cramming a little less information into your visitors’ minds on each page, here’s what I’d do.

I’d use white space as a competitive tool.

When you look at the dominant players online, the portals and their followers, their pages are typically very heavy on text. I think there may be a weakness here — and a competitive opportunity for everyone else.

You might think that the big guys would already have tested this every which way. But I bet they haven’t.

If you find yourself with a little extra white space to work with, does this effect the way you write? I think so. I think you would begin to write in a slightly more relaxed way. You’d use your words to signal to the reader that the pressure has been taken down a few notches.

You’d write to the space.

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