Is content presentation more important than content itself?
In a word: Absolutely.
Yes, you’ve heard the “(Quality) Content is King” argument for years, and I’d never deny that that having quality, original, must-read content is essential to any content strategy.
But the visual presentation is your first impression with the Web visitor: it’s what makes the visitor decide whether or not to consume the content in the first place.
If your content looks boring, time-consuming, salesy, or unprofessional, your visitor will click out of your content before reading the first paragraph.
Fact: We All Judge Books By Their Covers
We also judge online content a whole lot faster than we do books. You only have a few precious seconds to grab your audience’s attention before they close your website or head back to the SERPs.
Your content presentation is the clinching factor that holds an audience’s attention long enough for you to grab them with your actual content. It doesn’t matter how mind-blowingly original or well-crafted your content is: if your audience doesn’t stick around to consume it, why bother creating it?
Content Is Becoming More Visual Every Day
Gone are the days when users are satisfied with a mere blog post or status post. Infographics, video and infovideo creation has skyrocketed. Web design has exploded, evolving from pure function into a new art form.
Facebook transformed their text-friendly Wall into a more image-friendly Timeline. Brands are no longer expected to merely tweet or post status updates; they’re expected to maintain visual pinboards on Pinterest, post pictures on Instagram, and reblog images on Tumblr.
But creating more visual content makes sense: why tell a consumer about your brand when you can show them? Why merely talk about a subject when you can illustrate it?
It’s the best form of multi-tasking there is: while visitors are reading your content, they’re taking in the images, the typography, the styling, the Web design. They’ll leave your site knowing about you, not just your topic.
Search & Social Benefits Of Good Content Presentation
Looks aren’t just essential for content consumption: they’re also beneficial to your brand’s SEO and social strategies, too.
1. Increasing Your SERP Click-Through Rate.
Google Instant Preview offers users a quick look at the page they’re about to click on. If they’re debating between the top 3 rankings and yours delivers an instant visual punch, they’re more likely to click on yours. The more professional or eye-catching your design, the higher your CTR will be if the searcher has Google’s preview feature enabled.
2. Lowering Bounce Rates.
Again, your site design and layout is the first impression your site makes. Arriving at an overly salesy, intimidating, or text-heavy landing page is the equivalent of turning down a dark alley: your visitors want to get out there as soon as possible. Pull them in with your visuals and they won’t feel the urge to flee.
3. More Visuals = More Shares = More Links.
We like to share things we haven’t seen before. Unique presentation and eye-catching visuals make us want to share content with others. It’s why infographics get hundreds more shares than a well-written article with the same data. It’s why a funny comic can get a thousand shares before a funny blog post gets ten. And more shares aren’t just good for your social presence: they boost your links, too.
4. Boost Your Credibility.
In an age of a blogosphere oversaturated with would-be Julie & Julias and Perez Hiltons, anyone can be a blogger. Let’s face it: anyone can write an article and get it posted on the Internet.
Your content presentation is what makes you stand out from the amateurs: you’ve hired a graphic designer, a Web designer, or a videographer. You’ve made a clear and conscious effort to look professional. And the more credible you look, the more people will want to read and share your content.
5. Social Network Previews Attract More Interest.
Both Facebook and Google+ have emphasized visuals in recent redesigns, and Pinterest’s visual-based sharing system needs no introduction. Preview images on social network shares help a user decide whether or not to click the link. The more interesting the image, the more likely they’ll click.
6 Sites That Nail Content Presentation
- Evan You’s Take on Internet Censorship. Open with a great punch and keep the interesting data coming. This site breaks up data into an extremely readable, compelling argument — and the ending call-to-action is a great final touch.
- Cracked.com. Cracked.com is often cited as a great example of linkbait, but the site also deserves props for its strategic formatting. Customized headers and must-read titles grab a reader’s attention immediately. A Cracked.com article rarely goes six lines without including an eye-catching image, so readers aren’t intimidated by the post’s length. Witty captions and frequent page breaks keep readers hooked: one Cracked.com article becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eleven..and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour reading articles on Cracked.
- How to Hack Your Brain. The page doesn’t look like any health article you’ve ever seen before. It looks new, fresh, young, and a far cry from academic sleep articles, but it’s still packed with information. A unique layout, large fonts, and constant images turn this “sleep hack” into certifiable share bait.
- SmashingMagazine.com. It should come as no surprise that Smashing Magazine, a Web design and development magazine, makes this list. Yet the site is a killer example of what readers want from a digital magazine or blog: it’s friendly, yet professional; it’s easy-to-read, but doesn’t skimp on creativity; and it’s packed with information, yet looks uncluttered on the screen.
- The Oatmeal. Sick of seeing the Oatmeal on content lists yet? Get used to it. Both content-wise and design-wise, creator Matthew Inman nails it. His recent piece on Nikola Tesla packed a miniature biography (and Edison-bashing controversy) into one entertaining and incredibly sharable piece of content.
- Brain Pickings. In addition to curating some of the most gorgeous visual content on the Web, Maria Popova’s brainchild is a visual feast for the eyes in itself. With large, high-quality images, highlighted quotes, and an elegant design, Brain Pickings serves as a stunning virtual display case for the curated content it showcases.
Before You Create the Content, Ask Yourself These Questions
Ask yourself: How will this content be presented?
Outline the presentation before you create the content. Ask yourself what’ll make it unique, readable, or compelling. Ask yourself what you can do to grab your visitors’ attention as soon as they land on your site.
Ask yourself: what can we do that they haven’t seen before?
There are too many visual possibilities out there for you to limit yourselves to the same old text-and-subheadings song and dance. If you want to get noticed — really noticed — you’ll have to invest in your presentation just as heavily as you do your content.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.