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In the B2B market, an efficient PPC campaign needs to capture and motivate prospects throughout the decision-making and sales cycles; while always understanding that intent and CTR are not always uniquely matched with either the research or buying phase.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Text vs Graphical Links

Do people respond to visual elements or textual elements?

For a long time this question has been at the root of a considerable amount of Internet Research, particularly in SEM and SEO. Sometimes we get confused by the fact that in our work environment there are two separate users; namely, the computer and the person using the computer. We tend to ignore the computer, calling it an intermediary, and yet we tend to focus, by majority, on how the computer interacts with a website and not necessarily how the person interacts with the website. It isn't so much ironic as it is a red herring.

The fact of the matter is that computers see numbers and text - nothing else. Pictures are really just a series of numbers with tags to a computer or spider - in other words, graphics are a complex representation of a mathematical formula. (I wonder if Van Gogh or Monet would be impressed with this modern day view.) But to people, pictures create an emotional connection; pictures give way to resonance with a memory; pictures speak a thousand words...

E-commerce knows the value of a picture and a graphical link - when was the last time you were on Amazon and there wasn't a at the very least a picture of the book that you were trying to order. It is a way of putting a tangible inference on bits and bytes. In fact, a University of Maryland study in 2000 showed that there was a 700% increase in page views and subsequent conversions when a graphical link was used over text; or a 200% increase if both were used in an e-commerce environment. While a new study by Silverpop Systems Inc found that the average click rate for B2C e-mails with lifestyle photography was 6.3% and 5.4% without it.

Sure this is in an environment of e-commerce and direct marketing - but can the results be universally applied?

Our own research into SERP (search engine results page) interaction has shown that the visual element of text is what attracts fixations, whether that be hit bolding or resonance with a user's semantic map - the ultimate truth was that a word can act as an anchor point for a user interaction. However, the scan time is a matter of 100ths of seconds - too short to actually read and make a cognitive association, but slow enough to make a cognitive interaction with a visual element. It seems weird, but the user actually sees a picture of the word in that time frame (sort of the way all of those late night infomercials tell you that you can become a speed reader) and doesn't honestly read it. It's a stretch, but it does reinforce the power of visual elements.

If this is the case, why are most B2B websites designed to look like traditional print collateral, laden with text after text, too long, too many words, and very few images?

Understandably it is difficult to capture the promise of a fully integrated EDI solution in 8x10 glossy, but there are ways to make an emotional connection with a user through imagery in a B2B environment. In fact, when Habeas redesigned its homepage to include the image of a satisfied marketing director, page views increased 240%. Why? Because users resonated - they wanted to be satisfied marketers.

Google (pressured by AOL?) and Yahoo! have both been experimenting with graphic ads, whether it be putting them into their respective sponsored search platforms or designing new engines (like Google Base) to meet that opportunity. The fact of the matter is that SEARCH has become the front page for B2B websites, and if marketers and SEM firms alike do not start thinking about the end user and making emotional connections within a prospect/product relationship, B2B will lose. Innovation is the key to online success - taking advantage of those opportunities in the pipeline - the ones that your industry hasn't leveraged yet. For sponsored B2B, the next big thing will be an age old e-commerce practice, connecting brand/product with a graphical representation, because people make purchasing decisions; people are influencers; and people look at your ads, listings, and websites.

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