to Content Design
How to make your content marketing shine (and improve ROI) with best practices from experience design research
Why is design important to your content?
While we haven’t done an official survey, we’re willing to bet that every single marketer out there would love it if their content looked better – be that blog posts, ebooks, landing pages, or anything in between.
Well-designed content isn’t just about your marketing – it matters for your business as a whole. If you haven’t thought much about it before, here are a few stats that might just help get you on the content design bandwagon.
Content design matters for your company’s reputation
A whopping 75% of people surveyed for the Stanford Web Credibility Guidelines admit to judging a company’s credibility on its website design (and yes, that includes content).
Content design matters for engagement
(AKA getting people to read the content you put so much work into writing):
When given only 15 minutes to consume content, 66% of users would rather look at something beautifully designed, than simple and plain.
Content design matters in terms of business results
Okay, so now that we agree good content design is critical, let’s talk about how you actually do it well. There are lots of resources out there with content marketing best practices, but most of them focus on strategy and distribution rather than the actual on-page experience for readers. That’s a job for the designers, right?
But we know it’s not feasible for most marketing teams to have a designer work on every single post before it gets published. Luckily, there are some simple design principles (backed by data) that anyone can use to amplify their content experience.
Good content design matters for business
The Stanford Web Credibility Guidelines show that 75% of people surveyed admit to judging a company’s credibility on its website design (and yes, that includes content).
Our team of content design experts has combed through 750+ pages featuring research and insights from the best in the industry to bring you this complete, step-by-step guide to creating well-designed content. Think of it as the bible of building a better reading experience for your users.
We’ll give a quick overview on this page, along with plenty of opportunities to dig deeper into areas you know you could improve. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed figuring out how to make your content better, reach out to us for a FREE 3-Step Content Makeover where we’ll evaluate your existing content, let you know how you’re doing and suggest improvements based on the research. You’ll walk away with actionable tips and useful resources to uncover the hidden potential of your content and improve your business KPIs.
Get your own copy of the “Ultimate Guide to Content Design That Converts” to reference later or share with your colleagues, to convince them of the value of great content design.
When a reader lands on your page, you have mere seconds to convince them that your page is valuable to them. If they don’t think you’re providing what they’re looking for, they’ll quickly move on to another resource.
To help them, you want to do everything you can to catch their eye with interesting and relevant information and show off exactly what they’re going to get from reading your page. By putting a little extra thought into the structure and navigation options on your page, you can make it easier for them to do that quick appraisal, and understand the incredible value you’re about to provide.
“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.”
— Nielsen Norman Group
Time on page
Customer service inquiries
We’re sorry to break it to you, but very few people who land on your content will carefully read every single word (specifically, only 16%). Instead, 79% of website visitors scan each new page to see what’s relevant to them.
Thoughtful content structure or layout can motivate audiences to read further, scroll deeper, make more sense of what they’re engaging with, and quickly find what they’re looking for.
On the flip side, poor content structure typically leaves users frustrated, with 38% admitting they’ll stop engaging if an article is unattractive in its layout. So you need to put some thought into this area.
Quick Tips for Better Content Structure
Create a predictable layout
Your content structure isn’t the place to get super innovative. Instead, make scanning easier by using layout elements that people are used to seeing on the web – like headers and subheaders in distinct and larger fonts – that break the content into clear blocks of information.
Break content into small paragraphs
The last thing you want is for a reader’s eyes to glaze over as they try to wade through a wall of text. It’s better to provide information in smaller paragraphs, that each contain a single idea – this makes it easier for that scanner to read and understand your content.
Add elements that stand out within text
Adding elements like sidebars, pull quotes, and even bulleted lists to your layout, helps you guide the eye to the most interesting and relevant information about the topic at hand.
Especially for longer-form posts, a good structure isn’t enough – you need to make it easier for your reader to navigate to the content they’re looking for, without endlessly scrolling.
For instance, users only engage an average of 2 minutes with longer documents like ebooks and whitepapers. With helpful navigation, you can allow the reader to make the most of that time and leave with the information they need (plus a positive opinion of your brand).
Quick Tips for Better Content Navigation
Use anchor links to help a user jump around the page
Did you know you can create hyperlinks to different places on your content? These are called anchor links and for example they can allow you to create a table of contents at the top of long pieces of content, that take users directly to specific sections.
Make every bit of text searchable
Readers in search of something specific, will often turn to the good old Command-F or Control-F function to search for keywords on a page, so make sure all your text – including things like pull quotes and tables – is searchable, rather than static images.
Provide additional info where appropriate
Be considerate and help your reader navigate to additional content throughout the piece. For example, you could add “read more” links that direct users to other related content on your site, or use pop-up footnotes to give definitions or context without cluttering up the article.
Making your content accessible and easy to read
While content structure and navigation support high-level comprehension of content, you also want to make it easy for your user when they’re reading the actual text on the page.
Things like fonts that are hard to read, or text that runs off the side of the screen on mobile devices, can take away from the legibility of your content and make a user leave your site in a hurry. In fact, 73% of users say it’s important to their reading experience that the content displays well on the device they’re using.
In other words, when your content is designed so it’s easy and enjoyable to read, it’s more likely that more of it is read. By paying attention to your typography and mobile optimization, you can ensure any reader, on any device, has a great experience.
Positive feelings about your brand
The font styles, sizes, and spacing you choose shouldn’t just be about brand recognition – they should also be working to ensure an enjoyable reading experience for every user.
And yet, complaints about fonts that are too small, have poor contrast against the background, or are just plain bad commonly come up in usability studies.
On the flip side, typography that is optimized can improve the reading experience, even helping them read it faster (aka allowing them to consume more of it in the limited time they spend on your site). Not only that, it can actually influence the user’s perception of the content, their emotional response to it, and how much they trust it (while, as a side benefit, boosting brand memorability).
Quick Tips for Better Content Typography
Make it big enough to read on any screen
A common rule of thumb is that no web font should be below 16 pixels in size. Giving the user control to scale the font up or down without affecting page design, can also help users adjust the text to their reading needs.
Give your text some space to breathe
You’ll also want to pay attention to things like column width and space between lines of text to improve readability. Best practices here include lines that are around 66 characters across and spacing between lines that is 1.618 taller than the font size.
Use different weights and styles to differentiate text
Just like larger headers can help users scan your content, using typographical features within your text like bold typefaces, different colors, highlights, or underlines can help users scan through individual paragraphs.
By 2025, it’s expected that almost three quarters of internet users are expected to access the web (and your content) solely by their smartphones, so if you’re not paying attention to the reading experience on mobile devices, you’re going to be disappointing a lot of people.
As a user, there’s nothing worse than text that’s tiny to read on mobile (because it’s still scaling as if it was on desktop), paragraphs that run off the side of the screen, or features like pop-ups or gallery displays that get in the way or just don’t work at all. In fact, 40% of users named poor mobile design as the #1 reason they’d leave a site and go to a competitor’s, and 57% say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site.
The bad news is that most websites don’t automatically look great on mobile. You’ve got to specifically make sure your content design looks good on every sized screen. One way to do this is through what’s called responsive design, where a site is coded to scale down to work on any screen. Increasingly, people are starting to use mobile first design, prioritizing making sure their site is impeccable on mobile and then figuring out how to scale it up to work for desktop users.
Quick Tips for Mobile Optimization of Content
Keep your font sizes
All those headers and other text distinctions you worked so hard on? Make sure they translate to mobile, too. You still want users to be able to scan, even on a smaller screen.
Make sure your multimedia works
Check any images, animations, charts, tables, and other embeds to make sure they’re easily viewable on mobile and they don’t take up the whole screen or get cut off.
Don’t forget the need for speed
If a website takes too long to load, audiences will bounce, and this is an especially common problem on mobile websites. Test your mobile loading times and talk to your engineers about how you can speed them up.
Making your content engaging
Someone’s landed on your content, scanned and decided to stick around, actually read and found value in something , and now you need to get them to engage more deeply by reading further or maybe even converting.
While content engagement and conversions don’t always go hand in hand, they are certainly buddies, and are the ultimate ROI powerhouse when it comes to content marketing. The more a user digs into your content, the greater trust and positive brand association you’re building with them. The more they like and trust you, the more likely they are to dig around your site or come back to you for help in the future. And ultimately, the more likely they are to listen when you try to make a sale. This is what content marketing is all about – and when done well, it can provide conversion rates 6x higher than other digital marketing methods.
Succeeding with engagement and conversion isn’t just about the content itself, it’s about the design, too. By maximizing your use of visuals & animation you can draw users deeper and deeper into your content, and by making sure your CTAs stand out you can turn that into a conversion.
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Visuals & Animation
The old saying goes “a picture says 1,000 words” but we think it should be updated to something like “a picture breaks up 1,000 words to make it a more engaging read.”
Yes, visuals in your content – including photos, charts, illustrations, icons, animation, and even videos – can help explain a concept more quickly than text. But they also break up blocks of text, give the user an extra incentive to keep scrolling, and generally make the reading experience more enjoyable. All that adds up to higher engagement: articles containing relevant images get 94% more views than those without and stories with an image every 75-100 words get twice as many shares across social media. Animation and interactive content can take it a step further – catching the eye with movement or getting the reader more involved with the content.
Quick Tips for Using Visuals in Content
Be thoughtful about stock imagery
While stock imagery can be an affordable way to add visuals, there’s also a lot of bad imagery out there that won’t align with your brand, or make it look outdated. Choose your imagery carefully to feel modern and brand appropriate, and, when possible commission custom photographs or illustrations instead.
Get creative with what can be visual
Having trouble thinking of imagery to illustrate your ideas? Sometimes text can be made more visual – to break up your piece. For instance, data points or pull quotes can stand out almost like an image if they’re designed using a different or larger font, bold color, or eye-catching background.
Mix it up for visual interest
Use different image types, sizes, and placement on the page to keep your reader from starting to tune out the visuals. For instance, include some small graphics to illustrate a bulleted list in one section, then an immersive, full-width image to drive home a big point later down the page.
Most marketers don’t just create valuable content out of the goodness of their hearts – we’re guessing you ultimately would love readers to do something even more valuable on your site, like subscribing, reaching out for more info, or even purchasing your product.
Again, content marketing can provide improved conversion rates compared to brands that don’t use content, but not if you don’t guide your users to do what you want them to do. That’s why getting your CTAs right is so important. Otherwise, you’re doing lots of hard work for nothing.
Quick Tips for Better CTAs in Your Content
Catch them when they’re most invested
The best place to put your CTAs is right after your reader feels like you’ve helped them. While placing one at the end is always a good idea, also think about sprinkling them throughout an article, after particularly valuable pieces of information.
Make sure they don’t get lost
Sure, you don’t want to be overly salesy, but you also don’t want your CTAs to be so natural looking that the reader overlooks them entirely. Feel free to mix text-based hyperlink CTAs with more obvious buttons for the ultimate strategy.
Don’t forget about mobile
Again, a lot of your readers will be on their phones, so make sure your CTAs are just as noticeable and easy to use on mobile.
Making your content stand out
Last but not least, you don’t just want your content to look good – you want it to feel distinct to your brand. (After all, there’s a lot of content marketing out there.) Your competitors might even be creating some of the same resources you’re building. When people are reading your content, you want it to stand out as the best and make sure they know it belongs to your brand.
Competition aside, designing content so it’s specific to you has clear business value. A consistent brand and content experience can drive a 23% increase in revenue – that’s right, just by streamlining your content design!
So, you’ll want to dig into your branding to make sure it’s on point, and then make sure you have a consistent style through every piece you publish.
Time on site
Worries that your competitors will beat you with content
We’re sure you know the value of a powerful brand. You or someone on your team has probably spent hours developing and defining every aspect of your brand. But so often, people forget to bring their visual brand into their content, opting instead for generic blog templates.
Instead, your brand ‘look and feel’ should show up at every turn, especially in your content marketing. After all, for many people this is the first introduction to your company. If, like 91% of B2B marketers, you’re using content to improve brand awareness, you’ll want to be sure your brand is evident. Even if it’s a longtime customer reading your blog, you want them to feel comfortable knowing this content is coming from a brand they trust.
Quick Tips for Better Content Branding
Create templates that are specific to your brand
Don’t just choose one of the templates that comes with your CMS. Instead, define all the things like fonts, colors (and more) that align with your brand. Whether you work with a designer to create templates you can use again and again, or you use a tool that gives you some visual control, layering your brand into your content design is paramount.
Define your style for imagery
Visuals are a strong element of brand identity, so defining how you handle visuals across all the content you publish, can really strengthen your brand. When one post has illustrations and the next is packed with stock imagery, it can feel a little scattered.
Don’t forget to brand the little things
Every little element in your content marketing should be branded, from the pull quotes and captions to icons and dividers. Don’t miss a detail – your brand will be stronger for it.
We’ve gone through a lot of different elements to think about. But, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind, is keeping your design consistent. It may sound boring, but in UI and UX circles consistency is consistently touted as a key design principle because it makes your content more intuitive and enjoyable to consume.
Consistency also makes your brand look more sophisticated – because your design isn’t all over the place.
So choose your design standards, layouts, and templates – and stick to them. This doesn’t mean you can never change your mind, but when you do, make it intentional rather than just because you forgot to use your style guide.
Quick Tips for More Consistent Content Style
Make a content style guide
Your brand probably has a style guide – your content should, too. By documenting your design guidelines for different elements, you make it easier for different people on the team to step in and help, without your content losing any consistency.
Use templates to make consistency easy
Better yet, build your design standards into your CMS to make it almost impossible to stray from the norm. Templates make it easy to stay consistent while actually lightening your workload.
4 content design principles for greater conversion
Content that is easy to understand and navigate
Content that is accessible and easy to read
Engagement and Conversion
Content that is interesting, engaging and provides clear opportunities for conversion
Content that has a unique and consistent style