10 Content design mistakes that lower engagement — and how to fix them
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 do something more valuable on your site... like subscribing or purchasing your product?
Too many content teams spend 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, you can get them to stick around, scroll more, read deeper, and maybe even convert.
You’re using a cover image that doesn’t create the right impression
…or worse, not using one at all. The top of your page – the space ‘above the fold ’ – 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 Do you want that first impression to be a dull, outdated stock image that doesn’t connect to the content, or worse, a boring block of text?
A cover image isn't just there to make your article look nice – it’s also proven to increase engagement. 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 – it’s worth the time investment – so make sure someone with a good eye is choosing your media.
You Don’t Have Enough Other Visuals
If you’re only 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. (If they like your article enough to share, they’re probably pretty engaged.)
Mix it up to keep your reader from starting to tune out your images – 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.
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?
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.
There’s no logical structure to help people scan
Yes, we’d 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.”
If your article has no hierarchy, no headings, or a confusing inconsistent layout, you’re basically burying the lead. Make it easy for readers to quickly scan through your article and see the value they’ll get, so they want to stick around and learn more, or easily find what they’re looking for and be inspired to engage more deeply.
Make it easy for readers to quickly scan through your article and see the value they’ll get, so they want to stick around and learn more, or easily find what they’re looking for and be inspired to engage more deeply.
All your text is formatted the same
Similarly, if all your body text is just one big block of words, your readers’ eyes are going to haze over, really 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 easy to read.
Pull quotes 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 more deeply into your article.
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.”
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 more deeply into your article.
Data gets lost in the text
If your data is getting lost in your articles, you’re also likely losing your readers too.
NN/g found that your eyes often scan for (whether consciously or unconsciously) numbers. Whether it’s because you're looking for information, or simply because the shape of numerals stands out in text, they've been shown to draw the eye and keep your readers engaged.
So lean into that fact and create visual elements from the data in your article. This will not only help to break up your text, but also highlight some of the information that’s most likely to catch your 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.
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 do a similar job.
Data visualizations are a powerful way to draw readers in and quickly convey information.
You aren’t using smart enough visuals
Keep your imagery extra engaging by using media that readers can 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 directly in the article – so your readers 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.
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 longer.
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).
The page isn’t dynamic as you scroll
What’s another way to keep readers moving through your article? Have the article move while they scroll.
This is definitely a pro tip, but including features like parallax scrolling or animations as you move down the page can catch your reader's attention as they move through your 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 it’s 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.
Including features like parallax scrolling or animations as you move down the page can catch your reader's attention as they move through your article.
Want to check your own work?
Get a free extended checklist to see if you’re taking advantage of all the best practices that increase engagement.
You aren’t summarizing your work
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 readers skip your introduction and conclusion to head straight to the meat of your content, so whatever you write 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. So, 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 and inspire them to convert.
Keep it snappy and focus on telling the user what they’ll find on the page and why they should care.
CTAs are getting lost
Of course, the ultimate goal is to get your reader to take some kind of action – like reading another article, subscribing, or even purchasing one of your products. While you can gain reader trust and interest through content, you also need to guide them towards the action you’re hoping they’ll take, by including call-to-actions (CTAs).
Many content designers don’t want to be too salesy, so they try to keep the CTAs subtle, by making them look natural within the content or placing them at the bottom. But if an article is full of eye-catching images, animations, pull-quotes, data visualizations, and more, a subtle CTA is going to get overlooked.
While you may want your CTAs to 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.”
You’ll also ideally want to put the CTAsat a place within the content where the reader 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.
Text-based CTAs within blog posts convert better.
All your hard work falls apart on mobile
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 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, buttons are tiny and get lost, 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.
Therefore it’s important to put your designer to work (or get a tool that automatically creates beautiful mobile layouts) and double check everything on your phone!
Double check everything on your mobile phone!
Yes, all this can feel like a lot of work, but these simple design changes don’t have to take a lot of time and have a huge impact! Best of all, Setka makes them easy to implement – with tools optimized for improving your levels of engagement.
Want to improve your content experience even more? Read our full Ultimate Guide to Content Design that Converts, with advice for making your content easier to understand, easier to read, more engaging, and a better representation of your brand.
Use this checklist below to see how well your content is encouraging engagement. Or, let us do the work for you by reaching out for a FREE 3-Step Content Makeover from Setka – it includes a content design review, scorecard of your content and action steps for optimizing every part of your content – to more deeply engage your readers (and get better ROI).Get a FREE Content Makeover
Content Engagement Scoring Checklist
Content has regular visual elements
Help to main interest by including a photo, illustration, visualized data, or other visual elements every 75-100 words.
Animated elements appear throughout the piece Make your page even more interesting to scroll down, by including small animations or parallax scrolling.
Page has a cover image
Make sure it’s relevant to the content and visually engaging – to catch the eye when a reader lands on your page.
CTAs are placed thoughtfully
Catch the reader when they’re most engaged and likely to convert, and don’t forget to make use of the margins, in-line CTAs, and CTAs at the end of your content.
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, and to engage more deeply.
IMMERSIVE, FULL-WIDTH IMAGES ARE USED WHEN APPROPRIATE
Include images of different sizes to keep your readers from zoning them out – including full-width styling for your most powerful imagery.
EMBEDS ARE INCLUDED WHERE APPROPRIATE
Things like embedding a social media post rather than inserting a screenshot, improves interactivity.
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.
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 does.
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.
BULLETED LISTS ARE USED AS NEEDED
Users love bullet points because it breaks up the page and makes information easy to scan and understand.
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.
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.
BUTTONS, LINKS, AND CTAs REMAIN CLEAR AND EASILY NOTICEABLE ON MOBILE
Double check that your CTAs don’t get lost on tiny phone screens!
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).
EMBEDS DISPLAY CORRECTLY ON MOBILE
Make sure your embeds look good and keep interactive elements on mobile.
- Design & UX in Design & UX
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