Give Them Words, Not Pictures

On May 23, Cliff Allen wrote a terrific article for ClickZ. His piece, Web Site Design: Are We Doing It Right? prompted me to look at the Poynter Institute eyetracking study. This me wonder whether Jakob Nielsen had any thought on the matter, which he did. Gerry McGovern had some good observations to share as well.

The long and the short of all this? Folks online are drawn more to text than they are to photos or other graphics.

Online, text works best. Images come second.

By contrast, when people read print publications, their eyes are more drawn to the pictures first.

The timing of this study couldn’t be better. In the area of e-commerce, I see more and more sites being drawn to the glamour of looking like beautiful print ads and catalogs.

The arguments can be pretty compelling. “Hey, let’s show a big photo of a happy family. That’s bound to sell more vitamins.”

In the print world, yes. But online? Probably not.

As dozens of people have already stated thousands of times, “It’s not the same online.” So, if you base your assumptions on your offline print experience, beware.

You can’t build the look of your site from the pages of a catalog. Nor can you build a catalog from the screens of your site. The web is not just another “medium” for the same old thinking. It’s not a medium at all. It’s an entirely different environment in which people move around in a whole different way.

With that said, nobody is suggesting that photographs and graphics be banned from all sites. In particular, if you’re selling stuff online, people do like to see what they’re buying.

However… if you actually want people to buy the stuff you’ve photographed… If you want them to come back If you want them to subscribe to your newsletter… If you want them to tell their friends what a great site you have… If you want a high lifetime value per customer…

If you want all these things, you may want to dump some of those glamorous, slow-loading pics.

And what’s a person to do with all that lovely white space that’s suddenly become available?

Well, text is best, so use it.

  • Help me find what I want whether it’s vitamins, an article or fifty tons of steel.

    The web is a horrible place for a “catalog” of any kind. I can flip through a two-hundred-page paper catalog in a few seconds and find what I want. I can’t flip through my computer screen. And, on most sites, clicking takes a lot longer. It’s a pain to find what I want.

    So use short text to help me and guide me.

  • Tell me enough so I can make an informed decision.

    You don’t want me to return that purchase do you? So give me enough information to make an informed purchase. Tell me what I need to know. Simply and clearly.

  • Make me feel I can trust you.

    Get permission. Have a short, credible privacy policy. Be honest and decent. Give me the information I need to make me feel comfortable about buying from you.

  • Talk to me like I’m a person you value.

    Write simply and clearly, without all the “selly” stuff. Speak to me in a simple tone that tells me you respect and value me. Do this on your site, in your newsletters and your emails.

Can writing achieve all this better than photos? Absolutely.

When it comes to building relationships, you’ll find that a well-chosen word or two is more powerful than a thousand pictures.

And, the better the relationship you have with me, the more likely I am to buy more and tell my friends what a great site you have.

Text is where your visitors look first. Make it count.

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jason johns
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