Monday, December 10, 2007

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Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

The great debate: how much copy you should have on your site, particularly on the home page?

Do you subscribe to the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words--and therefore images, not a lot of text, should be the main thrust of your home page? Or do words have more power to capture a visitor's attention and compel them to buy--meaning you should aim for powerful copy?

As a graphic designer, my natural inclination is to create graphically-rich, light text websites. Since I'm focused on what a site looks like visually, I like using impressive images, bold splashes of color all over the page, and not very much copy. The end result is an attractive, visually-appealing site, with very few words.

However, I've learned that I have to balance this inclination with a cold hard reality: what appeals to me as a designer is not necessarily the same as what visitors need.

The main problem with websites that don't have any copy is that they fail to quickly and effectively communicate the three points that all commercial websites must get across: You must explain what your company does, what the benefits are of using your product or service, and why prospective customers should purchase from you.

These important pieces of information can only be conveyed vaguely, if at all, through images. While pictures are often very useful in reinforcing a message, it's difficult to succinctly drive home these important points solely through images.

On your website, visitors want specifics, and they want them quickly. They want you to tell them exactly what you can do for them, and they want to know right now. You must specifically state what you do and explain how your product or service is going to make your customers' lives better. You have to spell out why people should buy from you versus your competitors.

Particularly on a home page, you must catch a visitor's attention and give them a reason to stay on your site. If you don't do this immediately, they'll be gone.

For this purpose, words are far more effective than images. In almost all cases, pictures cannot communicate the message nearly as specifically or quickly as well-chosen words can.

It's important to remember that the web revolves around information. People use the web to find out what they need to know, to be informed on topics that are important to them. That almost always means they are looking for text. They want explanations, answers, reasons, and motivation.

I firmly believe that pictures and images enhance a website, but they should be used to provide a tasteful, professional frame for your copy, not replace it.

It is true that web users are notorious for having short attention spans and not wanting to read large amounts of copy. However, the problem is that most of the copy on websites today is vague and not enticing. It's focused on the company rather than the customer. So it should be no surprise that visitors avoid reading it.

The solution does not lie in eliminating text-based communication; it means we have to work harder to capture interest with copy. People DO read copy that catches their attention.

If visitors are met with paragraphs that are focused on them, that are rich with benefits, and that are formatted in easy-to-read chunks, they are much more likely to be drawn in and to act on your offer.

Don't focus strictly on graphics. Go for copy.

There are 605.6 million people online. Can they find your business? Jamie Kiley creates powerful and engaging websites that make sure YOUR company gets noticed. Visit http://www.kianta.comfor a free quote.
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