AWAI Insider Success Strategy …
Stop Screaming! Use Simple Design to Lead Your Reader Directly to the Sale

Have you ever seen a flier, a Web landing page, or some other advertisement where everything on the page is screaming at you so loudly that you didn’t know where to start reading?

You probably didn’t spend much time trying to figure out where to go before you gave up and trashed it.

You can avoid this by creating a reading “path” for your reader to follow. A well-constructed path feels so easy and natural your reader won’t even realize you’re intentionally leading him along.

Successful reading paths get their power to guide the reader by using this specific design hierarchy …

  1. Big, bold headlines. The headline carries 80% of the responsibility for the sale. So you want to spend a good deal of time designing it for maximum impact. This means using big, bold letters at least 3 times larger than the body copy. Use bold colors too. Stay away from light colors – especially pastels. (They’re not good for readability.

    Break long headlines into easy-to-read chunks with line breaks. And put plenty of white space around them to tell the reader “I’m important, read me first!” Sans serif typefaces like Helvetica, Myriad, or Arial work great for headlines. They look clean and easily readable in large sizes.

  2. The “neck” … I mean deck. This is the sub-headline that comes right underneath the headline and before the “Dear Reader” part of the sales letter. The deck helps readers move from the headline into the body copy. It is generally used to explain the headline further and give readers an additional push into the rest of the letter. Think of it as the neck that connects the headline to the body copy.

    The deck will be noticeably smaller than the headline, but quite a bit larger than the body copy. If you have a 36-point headline and 12-point body copy, figure 22- to 24-point type for the deck. You can either use the same font you used for the headline or the font you’ll use in the body copy. Don’t use a third font, as too many fonts will look confusing and amateurish. However, you can use a lighter weight font than you used for the headline: For example, Arial Bold instead of Arial Black.

  3. Subheads. Subheads are used to break up the body copy and keep the page interesting. I use the same color in subheads that I used in the headline, as opposed to using black. Colored subheads draw attention and help hold the reader in the sales message. The headline, deck, and subheads together tell the sales story well enough that a reader could make a decision to buy if that’s all they read (which is what many people do). Folks who want more info will then go back and read the body copy.
  4. Body copy. This is the main sales message – the body of your letter – and it needs to be very readable. In print copy, serif type – such as Times Roman or Georgia – is easier to read than sans serif (Arial or Verdana). But the opposite is true on the Web. Make sure the font is large enough – 11 or 12 points in most cases, and 13 or 14 points for older readers. Never go below 10 points. That’s too small for easy reading.
  5. Sidebars, bursts, and pull-quotes. Place sidebars, bursts, pull-quotes, and other attention grabbers throughout the piece to pull readers’ attention to important information. These give readers a little surprise, and hold their interest much better than pages of text with a few subheads here and there.

And, finally … Help your reader turn the page. Never end a right-hand page on a complete sentence. Break the sentence so your reader is forced to turn the page to continue.

And to further encourage him to turn the page, add “Over please,” or something similar, at the bottom of every odd-numbered page. Even though this may seem unnecessary (who doesn’t know to turn the page?), testing has proven it keeps readers from using the end of the page as an excuse to bail out of the message.

This hierarchy should be used in every sales piece you write and/or design – fliers, posters, letters, buck slips, lift notes, postcards, magalogs, and even orders forms – to make reading (and making the sale) much easier.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: March 10, 2008

2 Responses to “AWAI Insider Success Strategy … Stop Screaming! Use Simple Design to Lead Your Reader Directly to the Sale”

  1. Great, easy to understand tips that I found to be very useful and I'll use. Must read article for writers just starting out.

    David AdameMay 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

  2. This was very useful whether just writing copy or designing. I use Ariel a lot in my own work, but used to use Times New Roman, especially for hard copy. Thanks for the idea to 'turn the page!' I agree with David who read it 2 years ago. There are many of these must reads for beginners that I think I must take advantage of as I continue to learn this business.

    Eliz77December 9, 2013 at 8:16 am


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