What road signs can teach us about web design and inbound marketing

Lessons On Professional Graphic Design: The Open Road

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I was on a road trip recently, and part of the route took us along one of America’s busiest billboard highways. I’m talking about I-75 in southern Georgia. Although I would prefer to see many fewer billboards on our roadways, there’s a lot we can learn about website design, SEO and inbound marketing from this giant-sized portfolio of product and service advertising.

The strongest parallel between road signs and web design is the short time cycle you have to capture interest and convey your message.

While traffic to websites typically is driven by social media, advertising and promotion, e-mail, blogging or direct links, road signs are more interruptive in nature. Road signs are seen only by those traveling from point A to B, and they are placed along your route in the hope they will catch your interest. This is why the design of road signs is so important to their effectiveness.

It’s no different with graphic + website design and messaging. You have to be concise, clear and engaging. In addition, the success with online prospecting and lead generation depends on having your content in sync with where the “buyer” is in their journey for your product or service. Even when you’re simply branding, the principles of great graphic design and messaging are critical to success.

A few ideas to consider:

Be Clear About Whether Your Information is Service-oriented or a Helpful Tip

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The sign above on the left is clearly services-oriented, while the sign on the right a helpful tip.

Website content should generally be services-oriented, and your blog activity should be help and tip-oriented. Best practices suggests that advertising and promotion, blogs, webinars, presentations and other search indexed content help you get found and will drive traffic to your site, while the website should answer questions about how your service or product fills a need and allow ordering if appropriate.

TIP: Keeping service-oriented content on your website, and helpful tip-oriented content in blogs, white papers, webinars, presentations, etc. will increase your click-through rate and engagement.

Understand Where Your Buyer is in The Learning or Buying Process

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While the offer in the sign above may be enticing, the design assumes that the price trumps the more important issue of the land parcel’s location.

With road signs, best practices suggests that more brand and institutional-oriented information will be further from exits, in between destinations, and the more specific offer and benefit information closer to the exits.

TIP: Make sure your content is keyed to your prospect or leads’ concerns and in the buying process. If they’re early in the buying process, they are more likely looking for general information about your product or service, perhaps a webinar or slideshare presentation. When they are further along in the buying process, they’re going to be interested in pricing, demonstrations and evaluations or consultations that help them make a final decision.

Use Creativity and Great Design to Stand Out. Don’t be Overly Clever

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In the road sign realm, it’s important to be brief, because you have less than 10 seconds to get your message across. With web, capturing attention also has to be done quickly. Extra time is only earned when a visitor decides to “read more”. The sign above on the right is very clever in how they refer to a piece of land literally under the sign. At the same time, it requires some mental processing to understand the benefit.

With the growth of smartphone usage, if you imagine the phone screen as a billboard, you will quickly understand the importance of brevity and clarity.

TIP: Be clever and memorable, but not so clever that no one “gets it” right away.

Keep Your Messaging Simple and Benefits Oriented

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Due to the cost of road sign ad space, there’s a tendency to try and shoehorn in every message one can fit. Unfortunately, as you can see above on the right, the sign is actually too busy looking to be read. There is too much information, both visually and textually.

On the other hand, the McDonald’s sign on the right is simple and clear, but also clever in the way it calls attention to late night hours. The design succeeds because of the scale of the photography, clever headline, and color contrast. Note how the added panel with exit information does not interfere with the primary message.

TIP: Make sure that your text and graphics are simple and clear and that your website or blog is device-responsive. When using illustration or photography, keep a clear separation between the main subject of the image and the background.

Keep Your Message Up to Date and Relevant

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Non-electronic road signs generally use large format inkjet for reproduction. In the case above, the use of lesser quality UV inks and substrates can result in quickly faded or weather-beaten signs. Not only is the sign hard to read, there’s a question raised as to whether they are still in existence.

Not keeping your press release listings or blog current is the same thing as a faded or weathered sign. An older blog post may be valuable, but having only a few current posts or a press release that is 6 months old can create a negative impression in the visitor’s mind.

TIP: Keep your blog and press releases current. If you are too busy, consider hiring a professional inbound marketing consultant to help you produce and manage the content on your website and blog.

Summary

Well thought out design and website messaging starts by focusing on the needs and wants of the “buyer” rather than the product or service.

Great design and clever content ideas fail when improperly focused on the needs of your audience. Proper targeting starts with a thorough understanding of the profile of your “ideal customer”. Creating buyer personas will help ensure that your design and messaging responds to the needs of the marketplace and will ultimately help you achieve your business goals. You can learn more about buyer personas by downloading the guide below.
About the author: Tom Weinkle is a founder and partner of Vortex Communications, a graphic and website design firm who offers graphic and WordPress web design, build, troubleshooting and training services along with search optimization, social media and inbound marketing services. Based in Miami, Florida, Tom has over 25 years of experience in visual communications for the healthcare, medical, law, accounting, software, financial services and banking industries.

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