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In college, I attended a course called Visual Rhetoric, a broad term which has been at times used to describe the location and arrangement of images or typography with the goal to persuade. A website is a visual interaction: it appeals to the audience using visual elements, it uses fonts to clearly deliver text, it is mindful of location, it uses color and contrast to its advantages. In the world of e-commerce, a website appeals to the audience to take action. In fact, throughout today’s post, I’ll be using a term widely known as “call to action” to describe a visual element that does just that: drives the customer or viewer to take action. Whether it’s to view a special sale category or learn about a new event, the way we present a call to action is important in getting results.
As much as images and beautiful sweeping carousels are important, it is text that will deliver your message to both customers and search engines. And the number one rule of text is legibility. When choosing a font, pick one that is easy on the eyes, avoid extremely thick or extremely thin strokes. Think about readability and legibility: readability is how easily you read the words, especially during long passages of text, while legibility is how well you see the individual letters. Consider uniformity — the spacing between letters, (known as kerning) is important, especially when using long passages of text.
The term “above the fold” has, in my opinion, become outdated, much like the original medium it spawned from, the archaic dinosaur fondly remembered by the name of “newspaper.” With the demise of newspapers, I believe above the fold is considerably less important, especially given that we’re living in the age of multi-screen monitors, mobile devices, and tablets. When all your viewers are using different screens, your fold will be different for everyone. What to do? Rest assured that all will be well, as long as you remember to clearly arrange the elements on your site so that what is important to both you and your customers can be easily found. Consider the order of elements instead. Focus less on being above the fold, but rather prioritizing elements to lead your customers to what is most important. Let what is on the top of your site entice your readers to go further below or further in, rather than trying to squeeze everything above an imaginary line. I’m a sucker for a rhyme, and Jessica Brown says in this era of mobile and tablet screens, customers will and are willing to “Scroll to see the whole”.
Overstock.com isn’t afraid to fill their below-the-fold area with lots of great category options. It tries instead to anticipate what many of its shoppers might need and look for.
Consider both Microsoft and Apple’s current homepages: notice that their newest product is front and center. If one thing is clear, it is focus. Location and size should dictate what is most important to your brand at all times, but don’t forget to clearly highlight other areas that might be important to past customers or other types of customer personas, and use appropriate calls to action for them.
Color and contrast can be used to clearly define areas. I am particularly fond of Lowe’s fun use of color (as well as negative space) to separate out categories of note and to advertise its latest promotion.
Woot has a green theme, but for the call to action, they chose yellow. It pairs with green, but contrasts well.
Color and contrast can also be used to persuade. Check out REI’s most recent use of red with their end-of-season clearance sale. It shows a sense of finality and urgency. Calls to action are clearly used below.
To summarize, remember to think about your font choice and choose something readable and legible above all else. Be mindful of the location of elements and prioritizing their order. Don’t worry so much about what’s above the fold; with mobile and tablet screens being used more and more, what’s key is visually highlighting what is most important to both you and your customer’s different personas by properly ordering the elements on the page. Use color and contrast in your calls to action to drive the customer to particular sections of your site: either to the most profitable products or the most popular, best selling categories. Let the visual elements of your website work for you and speak to your audience and customers. Before you know it, you’ll have a thriving e-commerce website that serves your product and persuades shoppers to convert.
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