I recently read an article on this blog by Jason Amunwa where he talks about treating your content like a startup.
This is something I’ve always been sure to do, and intend on doing it for my new book too.
But that’s a product I intend to sell. Oftentimes we neglect the content that takes care of our marketing goals by confining it to a limited framework.
When you treat your content as a product, instead of “just” a piece of content, you give it the attention and worth it deserves.
And just like products, the user experience of your content matters just as much as the value you deliver within it.
According to a web design study by ResearchGate, 94% of participants rejected a site because of design related issues or poor design overall.
So while the information and value you deliver in your content is what will determine its utility, design and overall UX is still as important as ever.
In this article, I’m going to share 7 UX principles you should apply to your content so it’s not just valuable, but an absolute delight to experience.
These principles will help you to improve the conversion rate, shareability and time spent with your content.
UX Principle #1: Start above the fold
Header images that stretch along the top of blog posts may look pretty, but from a user experience perspective it’s a pain.
Peep Laja of ConversionXL has observed that content placed above the fold gets 80% of our attention:
When using a huge header image, the only real piece of content is the headline. Now, as you’ve already used this to drive the visitor to the content in the first place, they know what the headline is.
You’re isolating the information that they already know in prime attention-grabbing space. What they need to know next is what they can expect from your content. They need to be hooked in.
When you fill above-the-fold space like this, people have to work to learn more about your content. Most people won’t, and you’ll likely suffer from an unnecessarily high bounce rate because of it.
Compare these two blog post layouts. Which of them engages you with their content the most?
500 Startups always delivers great value, but they may be losing readers because of this large header image. Whereas Brian Dean’s blog post on the right gets straight to it. There’s very little friction when beginning the content.
This might also cause an SEO problem, meaning that a full-screen header image has far-reaching consequences beyond user experience.
Consider creating smaller images that serves the content, not the other way around. I’ve started doing this with my blog, removing full-width images from the experience. It’s so much easier to start diving into my content now:
There is still opportunity to generate conversions above the fold. Experiment by using a Welcome Mat, or full widthcall-to-action that isn’t intrusive to the flow of content.
UX Principle #2: Make the aesthetics digestible
By digestible, I mean getting out of the way of the reader.
Take a look at the basic elements of this blog post by Neil Patel:
It has a clear font size, colour that contrasts against the background and a width that makes it easy to flow through the content.
If you’re using a dark background with light font (or, dare I say it, a dark background with a dark font) you might want to consider inverting them over.
You’ll also want to keep an eye on the width of the content. Pages that have text that stretch across the page are super hard to read, and becomes a tedious flow as the reader tries to go from one line to another.
As a result, they’ll likely just bounce before getting in to the rest of your content.
Take an audit of the typography and layout of the content on your content. Is it difficult to flow through? Are the words hard to read?
Try optimizing the digestibility of your content using these tips:
- Use a dark font on a light background. Black or dark grey on white is a safe bet.
- Experiment with different font sizes. I go for 18px in my own blog.
- It’s also worth testing the line height of your paragraphs. This will vary, but I set a line-height of 35px for an 18px font size.
- Don’t make things too wide. If your blog has a sidebar, try make your content 2/3’s of the usable area, saving 1/3 for the sidebar.
As always, experiment with these and be sure to test using a tool like Optimizely. This article from Smashing Magazine also highlights the importance of balancing font size and line height (especially in a responsive design driven world.)
The key is to make the experience your content provides an easy one. Do this and you’ll soon see average read length and overall engagement increase.
UX Principle #3: Create scannable content
For at least the first 3 or 4 paragraphs, you should make your content concise enough to get the picture quickly.
Principle #2 above will contribute towards this, but the usage of certain elements in your content will allow people to scan quickly.
Jakob Nielson once analysed a study on how people use the web. He found that we spend only 4.4 seconds for every 100 words of content on the web, and that the average user typically reads 28% of the content before they devote their time on the rest.
On top of this, he found that people spend some of their time on a web page getting to know page layout, navigation and paying attention to the images.
Infographics have become very popular for this reason. They’re super easy to scan through and get an overview of the topic.
So, using images that back-up your content while grabbing attention and enticing the reader to continue will help to improve average time spent on the page.
You should also break up your copy with subheadings. This is basic stuff, but as the quality of content increases so does its size.
Therefore, if you’re breaking your content up into sections, consider using further subheadings with H3 tags & images that grab attention and contribute to the educational experience of the content.
Check out this infographic from Salesforce to get some inspiration for the framework of your own blog posts:
UX Principle #4: Be empathic to your audience
Having empathy for your ideal customer is probably the most important soft skill you can have as a marketer.
It’s also a principle that many designers and UX professionals live by. They know that their thoughts on an experience could be completely different to how their audience will experience it.
This quote from Paul Olyslager sums it up perfectly:
Empathy – the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person – is one of the many ‘soft’ skills a great UX designer should possess. Empathizing with users leads to a genuine understanding of how to solve their problem and ultimately building better products.
Having empathy is simply the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You’re able to see problems and challenges from the perspective of your target customer and audience.
Although there’s no cookie-cutter way to develop this skill, there are ways you can help get yourself on the right track.
The first is by picking up the phone and talking to your customers.
It’s an activity that many marketers shy away from, but is still super important. Customer development isn’t exclusive to product design.
Saying that, you can still get quantitative feedback by sending out an email simply asking how you can make the blog better. You can do this in the form of a simple email or give them a link to a survey.
A data-driven way to see if your content experience is resonating is by using analytics. Measure the average time on a given page and bounce rate for a given piece of content before and after you make key UX changes.
You can use heatmap technology, or content analytics tools like those included in SumoMe to better understand which part of your content people are being drawn to.
UX Principle #5: Create a loyal audience by conditioning them
This is one of the most powerful UX principles that product designers use to hook new users into their products.
Conditioning in the UX sense is based upon rewards and punishments. Now, most people believe that rewards are “things”. Winning an iPhone or downloading an eBook, for example.
But this simply isn’t the case. Rewards and punishments are feelings. They’re based upon the way a certain action makes us feel.
Imagine receiving two letters in the post. One is from an old friend who lives far away, and tells of their stories and how much they miss you. The other one is a notice from a debt collection agency.
Two different messages, same medium. The outcome? One fills you with joy and the other with dread. You’d love to receive more of the former, but wish the latter would just go away.
When it comes to UX, this kind of conditioning is created with feedback loops. The model looks like this:
Motivation -> Action -> Feedback -> Motivation
Let’s say you find a hilarious gif on Reddit, like this one that captures the look of betrayal by basketball:
It makes you laugh (an emotional response) and you think of sharing it with your friends on Facebook.
You post it to Facebook, which is the action. You then check back to see how many likes and comments you get from it, which is feedback.
A positive emotional reward was given and now you have motivation to do it again.
You can do this with your content.
Let’s say a company like Tableau wanted to create a resource for retail brands on how to harness big data to make better marketing decisions. Their target audience in this case would be those in marketing roles within those retail organisations.
There are two possible ways they can do this.
The first is to create an eBook. This eBook would be split by chapters and goes into great depth on the “what” and “why”, while touching a little bit on the “how”. It leads to a call-to-action to try out their software, guiding them down their funnel.
Someone downloading and reading this might feel smarter, which is a strong enough emotion to elicit, but it might not inspire much action to guide that reader further down the funnel. At least not for a large proportion of the readers.
The second form it can take is in the form of a course, drip-fed over time. Each lesson would go into depth on the “what” and “why” again, but also give specific actions for them to take.
Then, you could add a mechanism so that they can only pass on to the next lesson once they’ve marked those actions as complete.
So not only do they feel smarter, but empowered too. You’ve helped them to develop a skill instead of just giving them knowledge.
The feeling of empowerment, and the emotion from creating something and seeing results (whether that’s painting a portrait or setting up a metrics tracker in Excel) is far stronger than just making someone feel smarter.
I’ve experienced this first hand. After reading all the articles and guides in the world on starting a business, it was Noah Kagan’s “How To Make A $1,000 A Month Business” course that actually got me to take action.
The result? Pre-sales and a product. Now I listen to Noah and follow him closely, and will likely invest in him again.
Another great example is Programming For Marketers by Nat Eliason and Justin Mares. Again, they could have put all this in a long blog post or eBook, but instead they used an email course as the format, and it’s worked very well.
These are some very specific examples, but with a bit of creativity you can come up with some great ways to turn your content into habits that converts a first-time visitor into a loyal one.
UX Principle #6: Unique & separate mobile experiences
As a marketer, I’m tired of articles I often see where “responsive design” is still listed as something to bear in mind in 2016.
This has been old news for some time.
Our understanding of responsive design is greater than it was a couple of years ago. It’s time we pushed the envelope.
The standard way of optimizing design for mobile is to ensure all the elements of a web page would fit into mobile. Oftentimes we remove or change certain elements for the mobile experience, but that’s it.
What I’m suggesting is crafting a completely separate mobile experience altogether.
Say you have a SlideShare style presentation. On desktop devices, we would simply click UI elements (left and right) in order to navigate between slides.
On mobile however, this act of tapping on buttons can be tedious. Especially if these buttons are tiny due to lack of proper conversion from desktop to mobile.
One could look at the current behaviour of mobile users and craft a totally new experience for them based on this. With apps like Tinder becoming ever more popular we’re being conditioned to swipe our screens to move within the experience.
So, creating a mobile experience where users could swipe between slides would be well worth testing.
Your content now lives within the context of a mobile world. When a user comes across content that uses mechanics they’re familiar with, they’re going to be pretty delighted.
As a result, you’re likely to see an increase in engagement and social sharing. You’re taking incredibly valuable content and wrapping it around the mobile experience.
Open up your analytics platform and look at your most popular pieces of content. How do you think you could make this not just mobile-friendly, but also a delight? How can you convince that 30% to 50% of visitors using mobile devices to stick around longer?
UX Principle #7: Take small incremental steps towards innovation
Following basic design principles is great. Keeping to familiar patterns is important, but sometimes it’s worth considering being creative and building a memorable experience.
The content marketing world is a noisy one. That’s why we’re having to step up our game at an even more rapid pace.
It started with 10x and cornerstone content, but soon we’re going to have to step it up an even higher notch.
One way to do this is in the experience we wrap our content up in.
Gifographics is a subtle way of this being done. It’s simply taking the infographic format and making it animated. This appropriately meta gifographic from SEO Expert Pageoutlines the differences:
Going one step further, you can always give interactive content a go. These are fully-immersive experiences where your audience must get involved in the content to get through it.
You could also borrow a leaf from the side project marketing book and create useful tools and resources under a different banner or brand name.
For example, I recently created a free course called 7 Day Content Marketing. This is a 7 day course that drips each lesson via email. It has its own branding and domain name to position it as a truly standalone piece of content.
I could have taken the same content and put it in a free eBook, but this wouldn’t cut through the noise.
Instead, I made it a free product that stands alone from anything else I create. This creates a very specific, distraction free experience and boosts the perceived value of the free content significantly.
UX is a skill that more marketers should be learning. Many of us stop at basic web design practices and don’t take this further.
If you’re looking for some key principles to add to your content marketing, these 7 should be a good start. There’s a lot of resources out there to get started, and YouTube is the perfect search engine to look for them.
It’s all about expanding your idea of what content is. Content that simply provides information won’t do anymore. We need to raise the bar and wrap it in an immersive experience.
How are you apply user experience to your content marketing?