10 Content Design Mistakes That Hurt Engagement—and How to Fix Them Fast

Illustration symbolizing content engagement and enhanced content UX, depicting eyes, hands, letter and numbers.

Sure, part of creating content is about attracting people to your site with a juicy story or helpful piece of information. But once they’ve landed on your page, don’t you want them to actually read the content you’ve worked so hard to create—and maybe even doing something more valuable on your site like subscribing or purchasing your product?

Too many content teams spend so much time focusing on SEO optimization or coming up with a click-worthy headline so people will land on their page, that they forget to optimize the reading experience to keep folks around. These common design mistakes hurt engagement and conversions, causing people to leave your page before they can get to the good stuff. But with some simple fixes, sticking around, scrolling more, reading deeper, and maybe even converting.


You’re Using a Cover Image That Doesn’t Set the Right Impression

One website with a page-wide header and one with a smaller header to showcase the importance of content design.

…or worse, not using one at all. The top of your page—the space ‘above the fold, ’ if you will—is a reader’s first impression of your article. Do you want that first impression to be a dull, outdated stock image that doesn’t connect to the content at hand, or worse, a boring block of text?

It’s not just to make your article look nice—it’s proven to increase engagement as well. Researchers D Lagun and M Lalmas at the ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining shared that they found “users tend to stay almost twice as long at the first screen when the article starts with an image, compared to articles without an image on top.”

In other words? You can nearly double your engagement simply by choosing a relevant and visually engaging cover image. In a world where bad stock photography is taking over the internet, you have to be picky and make sure someone with a good eye is choosing your media, but it is possible and worth investing time into.

You Don’t Have Enough Other Visuals

One website with a page-wide header and one with a smaller header to showcase the importance of content design.

If you’re just using an image at the top of your article, it’s not good enough. Too few visual elements is another surefire way to lose readers to that ‘block of text’ syndrome.

Researchers at BuzzSumo—a company with tools for researching and monitoring the popularity of content—studied over one million articles and found that articles with visuals every 75-100 words received twice as many social shares as those with fewer. (And if folks like your article enough to share, they’re probably pretty engaged.)

Mix it up to keep your reader from starting to tune out the images—for instance, include some small graphics to illustrate a bulleted list in one section, than an immersive, full-width image to drive home a big point later down the page.

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Include some small graphics to illustrate a bulleted list in one section, than an immersive, full-width image to drive home a big point later down the page.

Plus, Buffer shared that the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it does text, so what better way to keep scanners engaged than peppering your article with relevant imagery?


Learn more about all the best practices for using visuals to improve engagement.

The front cover of the book "Using Visuals & Imagery to Improve Content Engagement"


There’s No Logical Structure to Help People Scan

One website with a page-wide header and one with a smaller header to showcase the importance of content design.

Yes, we would all love it if everyone read every single word of our articles. But that’s just not the reality. The Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) — world leaders in research-based user experience design — observed more than 300 people use hundreds of different websites, and found that most people scan content and make quick appraisals before reading — or moving to the next best thing. Specifically, “In sometimes less than a second, a user can complete an initial appraisal of a page, estimating the nature, quality, importance, and potential value to them.”

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Make it easy for readers to quickly scan through and see the value they’ll get out of the article so they want to stick around and learn more, or easily find what they’re looking for so they’ll be inspired to engage more deeply.

If your article has no hierarchy, no headings, or a confusing layout that’s inconsistent throughout the article, you’re basically burying the lead. Make it easy for readers to quickly scan through and see the value they’ll get out of the article so they want to stick around and learn more, or easily find what they’re looking for so they’ll be inspired to engage more deeply.

All Your Text is Formatted the Same

One website with a page-wide header and one with a smaller header to showcase the importance of content design.

Similarly, if all your body text is just one big block of words, readers’ eyes are going to start to cross, fast. Not enough publications think of creative ways to break up the body of their article, and it causes readers to give up on digging through the text to find the information they’re looking for.

Images, of course, are a huge way to break up text, but you can also break up your copy by formatting certain blocks of text in a way that makes them stand out or more easily readable.

Pull quotes, for instance, are popular for a reason. Using pull quotes throughout your article helps attract the eye and show off some of the most compelling bits of content, making your reader want to dig in more.

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Using pull quotes throughout your article helps attract the eye and show off some of the most compelling bits of content, making your reader want to dig in more.

Bullet points are another good example of how you can format content to make it ideal for engagement. As NN/g explains, “A few tiny dots attract the eye and can make a complex concept understandable. Readers perceive the bullets as shortcuts to succinct, high-priority content. It’s not surprising that, in usability studies, we observe readers gravitate towards bulleted lists with fervor.”

Data Gets Lost in the Text

One website with a page-wide header and one with a smaller header to showcase the importance of content design.

If your data is getting lost in the articles you’re writing, you’re likely to lose readers faster, too.

NN/g found that, one of the things that the eye often scans for (whether consciously or unconsciously) is numbers. Whether it’s because the reader is looking for information or simply because the shape of numerals stands out in text, they can draw the eye and keep a reader engaged.

So lean into that fact and create visual elements from the data in your article. This will not only further help break up your text, but also highlight some of the information that is most likely to catch the reader’s eye. If you have the datasets and design team to support it, data visualizations are a powerful way to draw readers in and quickly convey information.

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Data visualizations are a powerful way to draw readers in and quickly convey information.

If you don’t have the time for something that sophisticated, simply pulling out a data highlight (basically a piece of data stylized as its own content block in a larger font, kind of like a pull quote), can get the job done.

You Aren’t Using Smart Enough Visuals

One regular webpage and one with interactive elements, illustrating the impact of content design and interactive blog elements.

Keep your imagery extra engaging by using media they can actually interact with. Embedded multimedia is a powerful way to make your page more dynamic.

For instance, instead of using a screenshot of a social media post, embed it so folks can interact directly with the content of the post as part of your article. Instead of inserting a table, graph, or chart as an image, create them directly within your content so they’re searchable and perhaps even interactive (like a data visualization where people can insert different numbers to see how it affects the charts).

Comparison blocks are another way to add some interactivity to your information. When you’re comparing two things (like sharing the pros, cons, and specs of two different tech devices), lay them out in parallel columns rather than scattering them in uneven blocks so users can quickly and easily understand the difference.

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Сreate table, graph, or chart directly within your content so they’re searchable and perhaps even interactive (like a data visualization where people can insert different numbers to see how it affects the charts).

One report by DemandGen found that 91% of buyers are looking for more visual and interactive content. By getting creative in how you deliver that, you’re likely to stand out from the crowd and get readers to stick around more.

The Page Isn’t Dynamic as You Scroll

One static webpage and one with parallax movements illustrating the impact of interactive blog elements and content design.

Another way to keep readers moving through the article? Have the article actually move while they scroll.

This is more of a pro tip than a full on mistake, but including features like parallax scrolling or animations as you move down the page can be a way to catch attention as a reader moves through the article.

According to Katie Sherwin at NN/g, “The velocity of motion is a preattentive trait: an object that moves at different speed than everything else in a scene stands out like a cheetah sprinting through open grasslands; people will notice it without making any explicit effort to search for it.”

That said, you do have to be cautious with features like this—if not implemented correctly, they can cause usability issues. But added into your content with care, they can really help draw a reader through the content.

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Including features like parallax scrolling or animations as you move down the page can be a way to catch attention as a reader moves through the article.


Want to check your own work?

Download a free extended checklist to see if you’re taking advantage of all the best practices that increase engagement.

Illustartion of hand with a pen filling the check boxes


You Aren’t Summarizing Your Work

One webpage with plain text compared to a webpage with a clear table of contents showing the impact of good content design.

Engagement isn’t just about the visuals and formatting—the content itself should be at the core. And skipping out on content basics, like thoughtful introductory and conclusion copy, can really prevent readers from deciding they want to dig deeper into your page.

Yes, a lot of folks will skip your introduction and conclusion to head straight to the meat of your content, so it shouldn’t be super long or full of fluff. But it still serves a purpose. NN/g explains, “Intro text has a valid role in that it helps set the context for content and thus answer the question: What’s the page about?” Furthermore, they found that people tend to stop reading and go back to scanning if the first paragraph doesn’t give them much information. Keep it snappy and focus on telling the user what they’ll find on the page and why they should care.

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Keep it snappy and focus on telling the user what they’ll find on the page and why they should care.

Similarly, a conclusion is an opportunity to remind readers about key points that were covered, which could inspire them to either go back and read more deeply about a concept they didn’t explore—or could remind them how much your content has helped them out and inspire them to convert.

CTAs Are Getting Lost

One webpage with only text and one with a clear CTA illustrating the importance of content design for content engagement.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to get your reader to something else, like reading another article, subscribing, or even purchasing one of your products. While you can gain reader trust and interest through content, you need to guide them along to the action you’re hoping they’ll take with CTAs.

So many content designers don’t want to be too salesy, to try to keep the CTAs subtle, making them look natural within the content or placing them at the bottom. But in an article full of eye-catching images, animations, pull-quotes, data visualizations, and more, a subtle CTA is going to get overlooked.

While you still want to make CTAs feel natural, you also want them to be obvious. Hubspot has found that “text-based CTAs within blog posts convert better. Generally, this text CTA is within the top third of the post, and then accompanied by a separate CTA at the bottom. This pairing has dramatically increased conversions from blog content.”

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Text-based CTAs within blog posts convert better.

You’ll also ideally want to put these at a place in the content where the user is feeling the most engaged or getting the most value. For instance, maybe after you give a really good tip about CTAs, you invite users to enter their email to download a free tool to help their conversion rates.

All Your Hard Work Falls Apart on Mobile

One webpage that is not responsive and one that looks good on mobile, showing the importance of responsive content design.

Once you’ve made all the design changes to optimize your content pages for better engagement, you can’t forget to check whether it all works on mobile, too! Too many brands design a beautiful desktop website and then just hope for the best when it comes to mobile (or forget to check at all), leading to a mobile page where photos fly off the screen, where buttons turn out tiny and get lost, where embeds display incorrectly, and where the user overall has a less-than-ideal experience.

Adobe shares that 73% of users say it’s important to their reading experience that the content displays well on the device they’re using, and according to WARC, almost three quarters of internet users are expected to access the web (and your content) solely by their smartphones by 2025. So if you’re not focusing on improving the mobile experience, your engagement is likely to take a turn for the worst.

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Double check everything on your mobile phone!

So put your designer to work (or get a tool that automatically creates beautiful mobile layouts) and then double check everything on your phone!


It can feel like a lot, but these simple design changes don’t have to take a lot of time—and will have a huge impact! Best of all, Setka Editor makes them easy to implement with tools optimized for improving engagement.

Want to improve your content experience even more? Read our full guide to designing a great content experience, with advice for making your content easier to understand, easier to read, more engaging, and a better representation of your brand.

Checklist

Use this checklist to see how well your content is encouraging engagement—or let us do the work for you by reaching out for a FREE CONTENT EXPERIENCE DESIGN SCORECARD, which includes personalized action steps based on the data for optimizing every part of your content, meaning happier readers (and better ROI).

Illustartion of a Content Experience Scorecard example
  • Content has regular visual elements
    A photo, illustration, visualized data, or other visual element every 75-100 words helps maintain interest.
  • Page has a cover image
    Make sure it’s relevant to the content at hand and visually engaging to catch the eye when a reader lands on your page.
  • Content is laid out across a consistent grid
     Using a recognizable structure helps draw the reader’s eye through your content and makes it easier for them to find what they’re looking for to engage more deeply.
  • Embeds are included where appropriate              Things like embedding a social media post rather than putting a screenshot improves interactivity.
  • Pull quotes appear throughout the piece
    Pulling out your most interesting content in a different style draws the eye and breaks up the content almost like imagery.
  • Bulleted lists are used as needed
    Users love bullet points because it breaks up the page and makes information easy to scan and understand.
  • Data in your content is visualized
    The eye is automatically drawn towards numbers, so make yours even more engaging with graphs, stats pulled out in different styles, and more.
  • Tables are created directly within the grid
    Make sure your tables are searchable and always look good by building them directly on the page (instead of using a screenshot).
  • Animated elements appear throughout the piece Make your page even more interesting to scroll down with small animations or parallax scrolling.
  • CTAs are placed thoughtfully
    Catch the reader when they’re most engaged to convert them, and don’t forget to make use of the margins, in-line CTAs, and CTAs at the end of your content.
  • Immersive, full-width images are used when appropriate
    Include images of different sizes to keep users from zoning them out—including full-width styling for your most powerful imagery.
  • Comparison blocks are laid out in multiple, parallel columns
    Help your user get information quickly by laying out comparison blocks side by side rather than sporadically placed.
  • Introductory copy provides a brief summary of the content to come
    A snappy intro can draw the user in by quickly explaining what they’re going to get out of reading your piece.
  • Closing copy provides concluding thoughts and key takeaways
    Reminding a user what you’ve covered can encourage them to read more deeply or inspire them to convert.
  • Buttons, links, and CTAs remain clear and easily noticeable on mobile
    Double check that your CTAs don’t get lost on tiny phone screens!
  • Embeds display correctly on mobile
    Make sure your embeds look good and keep interactive elements on mobile.
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