However, writing an article that informs, educates, and inspires is simply not enough. Just as important as what you produce, is how that work is subsequently presented.
An old adage states that you should never judge a book by its cover, but we have all—at one time or another—been guilty of being enticed by a product because of how it looks. Humans are visual creatures, so it’s hardly a surprise that when something is pleasing to the eye, we find it more alluring. That’s why we put such emphasis on visual hierarchy in everything we produce.
And that’s why you should, too.
What does “visual hierarchy” mean?
Visual hierarchy is how you use the design elements at your disposal—everything from typography to color, layout to white space—to influence your audience and get them to engage with what you have created. By assigning different characteristics to different elements, you can influence what your audience will perceive as being the most relevant snippets of information, and what they should be focusing on.
By arranging web pages in this way, you can—to a certain degree—dictate how an individual will consume your content, enabling you to grow the number of people seeing your key messages. And, when users are easily able to acknowledge what you are saying and why they should take note, they will be far more likely to commit to a purchase.
Visuals are essential when it comes to grabbing and retaining attention, so incorporating them into every piece of content you create—be it an article, infographic, or web page—is crucial. In fact, one of AdRoll’s clients managed to increase online sales by a whopping 35.6% by enhancing the visual hierarchy across their website.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the four principles of visual hierarchy that you should be using to make your website as valuable a sales tool as possible.
The four principles
1. People scan pages according to two main patterns
Most of us have short attention spans. Researchers have suggested that a human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish, so grabbing someone’s attention as quickly as possible is key. There are two main ways that users scan web pages—the Z-shaped pattern and the F-shaped pattern—and appreciating how these can work to your advantage will help make your website far more effective.
When content is based around visuals rather than writing, people tend to scan from left to right, then back to the left, and again to the right. This pattern resembles a “Z,” hence the name. However, while this is similar to how one would read a piece of written content, the user tends to pause and focus on the corners of a page if it contains visual elements. Make the most of this approach by putting the aspects you wish to draw attention to—a checkout button, for example—at the corners of your page. Take a look at the Myprotein landing page to see an example of this being done particularly well.
People tend to use this approach when a page is text heavy. Instead of reading every word, many will scan down the left side of a page and only read sections that stand out. They will then read from left to right, creating a shape similar to the letter “F.” So, if you’re writing a long-form blog post, make sure that you have keywords on the left, and break up the text with tempting subheads that encourage users to read further. Make paragraphs short and trim the fat.
2. When it comes to visuals, bigger equals better
Size matters and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells you differently. The bigger your design element, the more likely it is to grab your audience’s attention. So, if you have something important you’re trying to communicate, it makes sense for it to take up more space on a page than something less essential. This principle works in terms of both imagery and text. Fashion designers, for example, tend to use an attractive visual of clothing, then show the price, then display other details such as materials used and delivery time. Adidas is especially good at showcasing its products through strong visuals that take up the vast majority of a page, while also ensuring all valuable information is clearly visible.
3. People like colour
It may sound like an obvious point, but people really do engage with color. Bright colors stand out, so if you want to highlight a particular section, you can easily draw the eye by using vibrant green or red. In fact, research has found that using red buttons on a website can increase conversions by a massive 34%. Many websites use this principle, but the Leesa website is a particularly strong example. By using muted blues and a lot of white space, the bright green calls to action (CTAs) jump out. This contrast ensures that no visitor will be able to overlook the CTA button, which is likely to increase the number of clicks.
4. The right font gets attention
Just as using the right colour at the right time can increase conversions, so too can employing a variety of fonts. Your eye will always be drawn to those that stand out from their surroundings, and using a range of font styles and typefaces is a subtle way of getting people to look at a particular part of a page. Clothing websites are especially adept at doing this. The example below, taken from the TJ Maxx website, stylishly combines colour and font to accentuate its focus on sales and savings, while surrounding these messages with products designed to look trendy and high-end.
The bottom line
When creating an article or web page, always keep in mind the key elements you wish the viewer to engage with. Most people tend to only glance at web pages; once they see something that grabs them, they’ll click on it, so ensure the aspects you want them to engage with are the ones they’ll naturally be drawn to.
A helping hand
When designing or rebranding a website, gather input and feedback from as many people as possible. Graphic and web designers can only do so much; at the end of the day, the consumer’s opinions are the most valid.
Or, if you’re trying to improve your online ads, why not look into running some dynamic ads, which have been proven to have a 2x higher click-through rate (CTR) and 50% lower cost per acquisition (CPA) than static ads?
No matter the route you choose, remember that getting your visual hierarchy right should be at the top of your agenda. Keep trying different approaches to see what works best, and always keep your audience in mind. At the end of the day, you want the customer experience to be as valuable as possible because that will drive sales and encourage loyalty.