Embrace the (white) space

Apple's homepage for the iPad

Apple's designs feature lots of restful white space

I was collaborating with a designer on a particularly tricky product page recently. We had wrestled with text length and treatment in the hero image, trying to find a balance between saying what we needed to say (content strategy) and a compelling visual (design) and an easy, intuitive path for the reader (user experience). Needless to say, there was plenty of back and forth.

Finally, we wrangled that section into submission and the designer began working on the rest of the page — a simple, streamlined summary of product benefits. About an hour later, I got an email:

“Hey, there’s a lot of blank space left on items 3 and 4. Can you pad it out with some extra copy?”

Oy.

If there’s one drum I’m constantly pounding, it’s this: Write what you need — and no more. No padding. No filler. No extra words just to take up space. Trust me on this — your audience doesn’t need the extra verbiage. Just tell them what they  need to know, and move on.

And if that leaves some white space on a page? So be it. Believe it or not, the reader’s eye might actually welcome the rest. Think I’m just a cranky writer with no flair for design? Well, think again, smartypants; Web designers have long known that white space can be a secret weapon.

For example, the Web Design Ledger opines: “There are a number of elements that make up a great web design, but probably one of the most overlooked and underutilized is whitespace. Every design has whitespace, but the problem is that not every design has enough.” (Whitespace: The Underutilized Design Element)

Mark Boulton of A List Apart notes: “Designers use whitespace to create a feeling of sophistication and elegance for upscale brands. Coupled with a sensitive use of typography and photography, generous whitespace is seen all over luxury markets.” (Whitespace)

And from I’d Rather Be Writing, this gem: “White space also has an interesting paradox surrounding it: The absence of graphics and text plays a significant role in increasing comprehension of the text and of focusing attention on graphics. The absence of content is what draws the eye towards content.” (The Paradox of White Space: Some Research and Examples of White Space in Web Design)

To all of these folks I say, amen. It’s time to embrace the space.

(And by the way, in the example above, the design director agreed with me — no padding necessary. And we ended up having a happy page with plenty of relaxing white space.)

Before you jump on the social-media bandwagon, read this

If I had a nickel for every time a client said, with gleaming eyes, “Well, we need a Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/ presence and a blog, right?” I’d be a wealthy gal. Okay, maybe not, but I’d definitely have a lot more nickels.

Seems like everyone is hopping aboard that social-media bandwagon these days. And there’s definitely a place for it — IF, and it’s a big IF, it’s done as part of a thoughtful content strategy and not simply as a “me too!” afterthought.

But it’s not the magic bullet so many marketing folks think it is. If you don’t put in the time and effort in being responsive, interesting, relevant, you’re not going to see much come out of it. In fact, notes Tom Pisello, “the ROI Guy,” basic content marketing is more effective than social media and blogs. He draws that conclusion after reviewing a MarketingSherpa and IDG survey. According to Pisello:

Social Media and blog content lag considerably behind other marketing tools, particularly promotional and education content, tutorials / demos, competitive comparisons and buying guides, free research reports and peer best practice / benchmarking tools.

Those other tools are the items most likely to result in clicks. News articles (so dear to my heart as a former journalist!) and interactive peer-comparison tools are also pretty effective, according to the survey. Bringing up the bottom of the barrel? Blogs and social media, respectively.

Something to think about — and some potential ammunition the next time someone tells you they absolutely, positively feel the need to tweet.

Read the full post: Basic Content Marketing Trumps Social Media and Blogs

Why you need a content strategist (and what one does)

A fairy godmother

A content strategist is like a fairy godmother to your content.

In a nutshell, the title of this post sums up both my short and in-depth pitches to potential clients. The tricky part is, it’s often very challenging to distill the whole “what does a content strategist do” into a nice little elevator speech.

Most of the time, I try some variation of “Think of it like an editor in chief for your Web site. It’s someone to take charge of your content and your planning, work with your branding/marketing/advertising teams, and the top dog of quality control.”

Sometimes it works. Sometimes people want more details. And it’s those details that often make eyes glaze over.

So I was thrilled to find an outstanding blog post from Paul Boag that quite simply answers the question: What is a content strategist, and what do they do? My favorite bit:

A content strategist looks after everything on your website that communicates with your audience.

And my second-favorite bit:

I am the ambassador for your poor, maligned content. Content has for too long been the ragged step-sister in the web fairytale. I am her fairy godmother and I’m here to ensure we all live happily ever after.

Cheers to a great post! Read it  yourself and come away enlightened.