Most website content sucks. Here’s how to make sure yours doesn’t.

Most website content sucks.
Here’s how to make sure yours doesn’t.

A tiny goldfish might look at your web content longer than your customers.Most website content sucks

Say what? Yes, studies show that the average reader has a shorter attention span than a standard goldfish.

We typically can focus without distraction for a mere 8 seconds; that’s one second less than Mr. Bubbles.

This means that first impressions of your business’ online presence are more important these days than ever before.

Is your content Hot or Not?

Anyone old enough to remember the #1 superficial dating site of the early 2000’s called Hot or Not? (Later reincarnated as Tinder)

Before any real content about a candidate was revealed, date seekers were simply shown the profile pic of a potential match and enticed to either click the “hot” button or the “not” button.Most website content sucks

That split-second, shallow-minded click would determine if any additional time was spent on the hottie (or nottie).

If the first impression showed them to be a hottie, you could then read their full profile and infer character traits.

This brings us back to customers.

In a busy world, customers (and potential customers) want to see the goods up front.

They want to see if something on your site is worth their time. If it passes what I call the first “sniff test” then they will meander around on your site.

The sniff test is all they need.

Aside from user-accessibility features and site navigation strategies to garner more sustained attention, I know that site visitors are looking for good content.

What makes good content that will pass this sniff test you speak of, Laura?

My method for keeping eyes on your content is two-fold. Both are equally important.

Aesthetic design & appealing content.

Smart academics from Kent State University published this 13-page article in the Elsevier journal Information Processing and Management.

Their research explains how aesthetically-pleasing website design affects perceived credibility.

In short, they found that it is critical to present information in such a way that it does not produce a negative visceral judgment.

This snap judgment can shoo off viewers before they’ve even had a chance to engage the content at a cognitive level.

You have great content, a stellar business model, a life-changing product for customers.

Curious how to suck in an online audience and keep them poking around on your site beyond 8 seconds?

Stay with me.

Sniff test part #1: Is she pretty?

Just like with Hot or Not, your customers land on your site and before they decide if they would ever “do the tango” with your company, they want to see that you meet their basic trust criteria.

Here are a few of the typical design expectations that swarm through visitors’ heads.

Fonts matter. Did you know that fonts can create a first impression as to the personality of your business. For example, this study revealed that users found fonts like Times New Romans and Arial to be more practical, stable, and formal. Script fonts (think Comic Sans) were interpreted as youthful, casual, and modern. If you’re a banking institution with a long proud heritage, your readers are likely expecting a more serious font in your communications. On the other hand, if you are in the bubble tea business, your audience is probably anticipating a more whimsical font on your site and in your social media posts. Be sure to tailor your fonts to match the expectations of your viewers.

Colors matter. The psychology of color in marketing has been a fashionable debate for decades. Forbes neatly summarizes the feelings evoked by various colors in this article. Besides evoking emotion, colors on your site affect readability. Aim for high contrast of colors (think, light font on a dark background) to aid users in the ease of reading your text. Overall, I agree with Help Scout writer Gregory Ciotti that color affects how we view a business/brand and shouldn’t be used haphazardly.

Images matter. Perhaps nothing in design can make or break user trust quite like images. Let’s face it, when given the choice between reading walls of text or looking at a picture—we all opt for the picture. In fact, Kissmetrics reveals that on average, captions under images are read 300% more than the body copy itself. A good picture will attract your reader, and once you have their attention they are very likely to read the caption. Whether your visuals are photos, videos, infographics, or whatev—the bottom line is that your readers expect to see them. Give them nothing but words to read, decipher, interpret, and you’ll not only disappoint them, but you will surely lose their trust, their attention, and ultimately their business.

Most website content sucks

People are already hard-wired to look for these features.

Add in Instagram and Pinterest and your audience is more visually driven than ever before.

Is all this hype about form just hype?

The research doesn’t lie. Most website content sucks.

Audiences really do glance around your stuff looking for specific features before they waste additional time.

In fact, 3M (yes, the tape guys) teamed with University of Minnesota researchers to explore how visuals affect persuasiveness.

Not surprisingly, they found that presentations that used visual aids were 43% more persuasive than presentations without.

They also found that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

Here is an example:

Most website content sucks





First impressions are 94% design related. Using eye-tracking software, Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers found that visuals (logo, main image, navigation bar, etc.) played the biggest role in influencing website visitors.

So, let’s just make our content pretty and forget about quality content? Nonsense.

Keep reading to learn sniff test point #2 to ensure you hook readers with quality content.

Sniff test part #2: She’s pretty but is she smart?

Just like the saying about putting lipstick on a pig…modern audiences aren’t fooled long by pretty design alone.

Customers are looking for the complete package.

#a pretty head(line)

So how do we create quality content while being mindful of the repugnant “wall of text”??Most website content sucks

Did you know that 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy…

but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest?

There’s a learnable craft to writing headlines, so don’t worry if you’re not a word nerd like me.

Follow influencer Neil Patel’s formula for: how to write a stunning headline.

#provide answers

Turn window shoppers into paying customers by creating content that answers their questions.

Anticipate their questions.

This is key to making customer converts.

#make it effortless

While you answer their questions, make sure your content is easy to read.

Make it effortless.

Sure, you want to make sure your grammar and syntax would make your high school English teacher proud.

But more importantly, your content needs to be easily understood by newbies to your site.

I believe the best way to achieve this is by using more visuals, less words.

#less words

Less words??!!

Here’s a dirty secret – I have a degree in English composition. I like words.

But in reality, I know that 65% of the population learns visually.

Customers will scan for visuals that are easy to digest before they will engage with sentences, let alone paragraphs.

Since decoding an image is less work than decoding text, even teachers are finding that it is easier to convey complex information & concepts if they use graphic organizers instead of text alone.

Visual aids are also being stressed more and more at the post-secondary school level.

A head university professor of linguistics is even stressing the use of visual aids for technical reports and articles.

He stresses that you should consider using a graphic if:

  • you are using too many words to explain something
  • you are presenting trends or a lot of numerical data
  • you are doing a comparison over many categories.

Does your website copy discuss a complicated process that might better be digested from a visual aid?

Could a pie chart (or some other type of chart) better convey what your 500-word flyer is trying to say?

Since we know that most people are visual learners, we can tailor the way we talk about our products or services using visuals more than dense text.

#crisp clean cotton copy

If you’re writing for the web or social media, there are many books out on the market to help you write better copy for today’s digital audience.

You could even hire a copywriter.

But if you’re like us and more keen to the DIY content creation, try subscribing to a copywriting feed like for proven hacks to writing better copy.

Nab more free content-creation hacks from us on Instagram and Facebook.

So, most website content sucks. But yours doesn’t have to.

Try my sniff test tactics out on your own website.

See if it just doesn’t keep them goldfish swimming around a bit longer.

Let me know what you think. Will you be making any changes to your website? Do you think I missed anything? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook.


Laura Hsu

Laura Hsu

Laura Hsu is the design & customer experience expert at Communication Hackers. With a natural eye for design, Laura excels at advising businesses on the juncture of design and messaging. She is also a natural teacher who loves to explain the why, what, and how of complicated things in a simplified way.
Laura Hsu
By | 2018-06-18T14:43:34+00:00 May 31st, 2017|Website Optimization|

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