Text rules!

Remember the catchphrase of the ’92 Presidential campaign? Those four words – “It’s the economy, stupid!” – became the Democrats’ rallying cry and, many say, won Bill Clinton the Presidency.

I think about that phrase every time I visit an especially graphics-heavy website. You know the ones I’m talking about – Flash intro, pictures galore, and all the bells and whistles some hotshot programmer could squeeze onto a page.

It makes me want to scream: “It’s the content, stupid!”

I was starting to think I was alone in my protest … until I read about ongoing eye-tracking studies at the Poynter Institute. Lo and behold, they say the same thing I’ve said all along – that what you say (and how you say it) is more important to your website visitors than all those graphics.

Put another way, it’s the words that matter most. And they’ve got the scientific research to back it up.

(I love it when I’m right.)

According to ongoing eye-tracking studies at The Poynter Institute, words are what draw web visitors’ attention first – and foremost.

By tracking the eye movements of subjects in their lab, these researchers have found that:

* Dominant headlines in the upper right and (to a lesser extent) the upper left of the page draw the eye first.
* Unlike readers of print newspapers (studied in 1990), web visitors don’t look at the photos first. (This was the big surprise of this study, even to the researchers.)
* In terms of both the order viewed and the amount of time spent viewing, text is the dominant feature on the web.

(See http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/main.htm for more information.)

Now, I’m not advocating plain Jane websites. Although I am a writer and (naturally) biased towards words, I do have enough appreciation for good graphic design to know what a difference it can make.

But I also know that the #1 reason people go to the Internet is to find information. When visitors hit your website, they want to know who you are … what you’re about … and why they should do business with you.

That means your message has to be well written – punchy, appealing, customer-focused.

So why spend all that money on shiny new web design, only to have poorly-written web copy undermine it? Make your words count by putting some serious thought into what your website says. Not just what it looks like.

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