Designed to Sell 1

“Seeing comes before words.” – John Berger

Design to Sell

Clear communication is critical to persuasion. Design communicates visually and impacts us in ways that words alone never can.  Good design is intentional. It’s organized, clear and motivating. You need to clearly communicate to increase engagement. Confused or frustrated users lose interest; when people feel lost or overwhelmed, you’ve lost them.

People are visual creatures with lazy minds. Dense blocks of text intimidate. Discordant design unnerves. Confusion and frustration equal failure.

When you organize your pages to be logical, clear, usable and accessible, you increase confidence and conversions. People have a tendency to attribute value based on context. Great design makes people more receptive because it subliminally communicates quality, trust, and professionalism. Great design gives your message more impact.

There are many psychology experiments demonstrate this:  A master violinist playing a Stradivarius is ignored because he’s performing in a subway. Discount wines taste better when dressed up with an expensive label. Just believing a wine to be more expensive makes it taste better.

You can elevate your brand image, decrease bounce rates and increase conversions by using design to enhance your message.

Keep it Simple

What doesn’t add, detracts. Your job is to help your prospective buyer understand your message by being as clear as possible.  You can start by eliminating distractions. Simplified layouts decrease distraction and anxiety.

Navigation bars should be where they’re expected, on top. On sales pages, try eliminating them. The more options people have, the less likely they are to make a decision.   For example, a “squeeze page” is designed to get visitors to give  their email addresses for an offer (like free reports, coupons, event tickets).  Generally, it’s best to have no extraneous information or navigation on a squeeze page. Visitors can either fill out the form or leave.

Be Boring

Clever layouts with unconventional navigation can interfere with your message. They make it hard to concentrate. Remove any distractions that steal focus from the most important part of your pages.

Clear Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is the order in which the mind perceives what it sees. This order is created by the visual contrast between objects. Things with the highest contrast to their surroundings are noticed first.

Size Matters

Bigger objects demand bigger attention. Headlines get noticed before copy. Bigger buttons get more clicks than little ones. If something is a big deal, make it big.


Objects that contrast with their surroundings are easier to see, read and they draw more attention. When one of those things is not like the others, it stands out. Contrast colors, brightness, sizes, and shapes to draw the eye to important elements.


Colors can be used to highlight and organize content. Colors can bring emotion and personality. Color can soothe your eyes, or raise your blood pressure. Use tint and tone to direct attention and make important content easier to read.


Persuasion is sequential. Your sales message has an ideal order. For example, you may want to highlight the buyer’s problem first, then show your solution, then establish your value, answer objections, show your regular price and the finally, reveal your sale price. In a multi-column layout, the order of your sales pitch depends on where the eye lands. It’s hard to control the narrative. That’s why single columns are preferred for sales pages. A single column lets you guide readers from top to bottom. As readers scroll down they’ll read your message in the right order.


Selective repetition is a powerful way to draw attention and signify meaning. Repetitive elements create consistency. Repeating a call to action improves conversion rates. If you repeat the same message in visually different ways, it gets even more attention. For example, an “add to cart” button should be presented at least three times in a long sales letter. Place it on top for people who are ready to buy … at the bottom where there’s nothing more to say … and in the middle for those indecisive buyers who go back and forth.  Place your opt-in offer on every blog page; sidebar, footer, and mid-post. Reinforce by repetition.


The position of one element to another suggests meaning. We see grouped items as more alike than ones further apart, so use that to your advantage. Keep similar links organized together. Organize content with visual logic.


Where you place things on a page matters. Users expect to find certain types of information in certain places. You look for shopping carts in the upper right section. You look for phone numbers in the header. You expect to find a physical address in the footer. Don’t make it hard on yourself and the visitor. Make it easy for people to use your page and you’ll get more page views and more time on page.


Less is more. An uncluttered website is more attractive and easier to navigate. It reduces anxiety and increases attention. More white space, less stuff.


Style, reflected in the overall impact choices of layout, typeface, background colors, texture and images, can transform a page. Style speaks to your buyer and tells the story of your brand. It can excite, motivate and increase conversions. Or, the opposite. Dazzling eye-candy makes an impact – but it may or may not increase conversions. It a fine balance between reliable and dull, surprising and unnerving.  Too little style, you’re boring. Too much, you confuse.

Choices, Choices.

We like choice. Choice is good. If three choices are good, thirty must be better. right? Not always. Sometimes too many choices scare off buyers. Intimidated by the possibility of making a bad choice, faced with too many choices, they feel overwhelmed and do nothing. We want to make the best choice, or at least not the worst one. 1 out of 3 is easy. Picking the best out of 30? Unreasonable. Instead of choosing, we procrastinate or search for another, easier way.

Visually simplify your offers. Make  choosing between “Good, Better and Best”  easy to understand with graphics to help compare and contrast choices.

Keep It Organized

Put things where they can be found, and where they will be expected. For example, have your phone number visible, right away. Don’t make people search for contact information. Confusion decreases confidence, which kills conversions.

Be Consistent

Keep the look and feel of your marketing collateral consistent. Your magazine ads should have the same look and feel as your website. It helps people concentrate. Changing style wildly between web pages surprises and distracts. It causes confusion. Give your visitors more confidence when they land on your shopping cart or opt-in page by maintaining a consistent style.


Make the things you want people to see and take action on easy to see. That’s obvious.


Buttons Get More Clicks. For some reason, people tend to click on buttons more often than text.  You should make your Call To Action clicks buttons. And not just any buttons …

Bigger Buttons

Bigger buttons get more clicks. How big is too big? Find out, test it. But make your CTA buttons larger than the rest. They’re easier to see and easier to click. And while  you’re at it – make your fill-in form areas bigger too. Nobody likes to squint.

Buttons With Benefits

Would you rather “submit” or “access now?” Do you prefer to “Click Here,” or to “Save Instantly”? Multiple split-tests show that buttons that announce a benefit tend do better at converting than bland buttons. Buttons are a good element in which to test different ways to phrase your calls to action.

Bad Buttons

Social buttons should not distract. It seems like everybody has a ton of social sharing buttons on their websites nowadays. Clients ask me to add Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest buttons to their sites all the time. I ask them, “Why? Do you want more tweets or more clients? More followers or more sales?” Yes, you want both – but do it wrong and you’ll get neither. When a prospective buyer comes to your site, your first goal should be to convert him to an actual buyer. Once he’s a buyer, turn him into a super-loyal, raving fan. Then, he’ll tweet and follow. Don’t bury your message with extraneous buttons.

Johnson Boxes and Copy Blocks

Every sales message has a handful of points that must be seen in order to persuade. In direct mail, critical text is sometimes placed in a “Johnson Box.”  A Johnson Box is a box commonly found at the top of direct mail letters, containing the key message of the letter. In addition to the P.S., the Johnson Box is one area that always wins a look. On the web, try making your key message stand out by placing it inside a  contrasting container. Make that block pop. Use an attention-getting colors and texture in the box background, add borders and drop shadow – make it grab the eye within the aesthetics of the page. Tacky gets attention, but it doesn’t always get trust.


Use clear typeface and title case. Headlines can be bold and red – like a tabloid, or more reserved like the New York Times. Which is better? It depends on your market. What attracts one person repels another.


Smart typography lends style and offers cues to readers.  A typeface can be stodgy and secure, light and whimsical or romantic. Keep typefaces consistent. More than three types of typeface on one page and your message goes from interesting to confounding. Simple sells. When you limit the number of typefaces you use – when you do use a different one, it will get attention. But if you have too many styles, readers won’t know where to look.

Clean, White and Printable

You’d be surprised at how many people will print out a web page as part of the buying process. Perhaps they want to read carefully when they’re away from a computer or they want to hand it to their boss or spouse. If you’re going for a black background because it looks good to you – realize it won’t look so good to people who bother printing it.

Clear Clutter

Every element of your page should contribute to improving the likelihood a visitor will complete the desired action. Take away anything that distracts the eye from the most important conversion elements.

Above the Scroll

Keep your mission critical elements “above the fold.” Magazine and newspaper writers keep the most important elements on the top of the front page, above where a reader would fold it in half. Web writers keep stuff where it can be seen – above where people have to scroll. People are lazy – we won’t scroll unless we’re interested. We won’t be interested until what we see above the scroll excites us. Keep important items up top.You can fit more persuasive copy into a page by shrinking your header graphics. I know, you love your logo – but it doesn’t have to take up valuable real estate. Shrink headers and give your headlines and graphics some elbow room.


Did you hear that green buy buttons get more clicks than red ones because red means “stop and green means “go”? Well, it’s not true. Sometimes one color out pulls the other, other times it’s the other way around. Test it.


Navigation should be intuitive, logical and simple. Visitors should grasp it immediately. You do this by sticking with convention. How do most quality sites deal with navigation? Header graphics are clickable, and bring readers back to the home page. Navigation is horizontal, just under the header graphic. Navigation text is clear, not cute. Go with normal with navigation, don’t reinvent. Only display links when you have to. Showing links to every page of your site is overwhelming. Just show them what most people need, most of the time.

Don’t Forget to Point

If you want people to see something, point at it. Use callouts and arrows to draw attention. You can also use elements in photographs, particularly photos of people, to direct the eye. Cast your model’s eyes toward an object and more people will look at it.


Don’t use Flash intros. These were big a few years back, so was the Macarena- but people have grown to hate them. Besides, Flash doesn’t work on a large number of handheld devices.

Use Real Text for SEO

HTML Text is ugly. Designers love to do text as images. It looks so much nicer, but search engines can’t readily read all images text as well as they do HTML text. For now, ugly wins. You can use some image text and supplement it with Alt Image tags. In fact, for the sake of the vision impaired, you must.


Keep them easy to read and easy to use. Only ask for the information you really need, because for every additional field of information you request, your conversion rate declines.

Need for Speed

A slow loading page hurts sales. First, the search engines don’t like them. Engines like giving users what they want, quickly. Second, people have little patience. In their minds, a company with a slow page is not a very good company. Don’t burden web browsers with Flash, large media files, and scripts.

Don’t Wow, Sell.

What looks good doesn’t always sell well, but what is designed well should.

Steve Snodgrass / Foter / CC BY