In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve stopped writing about permission marketing. I have nothing against permission marketing, of which I am a great fan, and am very pleased when I see it being practiced. But for some time now I’ve wanted to start writing about a subject that I know best: writing online.
It’s a big subject that doesn’t get anything close to the attention or investment it deserves.
This first article tries to make a very simple point indeed: Sometimes words alone, one after the other, are your best choice for getting the job done right.
Reading this article should be simple. You start at the top left and just keeping swinging those eyeballs from left to right until you’re done.
That’s the way we learned to read. When text is formatted this way, it makes life very simple for the reader. It makes life simple for me, too. Because I know the sequence in which you’re going to read this article, if I have an idea or theme I want to build along the way, I’m pretty much in control.
The same goes for a text-based email newsletter. Start at the top, skip the ads, and keep reading. If you know the newsletter well, and it’s broken into distinct sections, you might jump directly to the section that interests you most. But once you’re there, you read that text in sequence. Just keep those eyeballs swinging. The same applies for a text-based web page.
Sequential text laid out in a column is the best way to impart information when it’s important that you control the order of information delivery.
Keep that in mind when you put together those HTML emails or web pages with multiple headings, different column widths, and graphics. As soon as you do that, you lose control over the sequence in which the text is read.
Multiple, fragmented points of visual interest scatter the visitor’s attention.
This can work well if you’re designing a catalog or brochure. It can also work well for the online equivalents. If you want to build a page or an HTML email that shows a variety of items your visitors can browse in any sequence, that’s fine.
But if you want to lead your visitors or readers in a particular direction, go with the traditional, single-column text approach.
Examples of where you should go with “Just the text, ma’am” would be:
- The sign-up or registration pages on your site
- An email introducing a new product or service
- An email that welcomes a new customer or subscriber
- At any point during the transaction process
- During searches
Keep the process linear, and don’t build in design distractions that take the user off that simple pathway.
This also applies when you are trying to persuade, particularly if the product or service isn’t drop-dead simple. Using words to sell, a.k.a copywriting, usually works best when you control how the pitch unfolds.
In short, figure out the purpose of a page or email before determining what it will look like. And then match the look to the purpose.
This may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but there are lots of pages and emails flying around in glorious “overdesign” that would work much better if each was a simple, single column of text.
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