Putting X On Your Map: How To Think Like a Creative Strategist & Get Greater Response To Your Online Offering

By Dan Ray, Web Media & Design Manager, Ray|Collective, Inc.

clip_image002[6]Before the Internet, ad agencies were staffed with the brightest creative minds and rarest designers in the world. Their strategy was straightforward:

Interrupt them: make people stop and look at you. Designs and concepts had to be compelling, attractive and hit the mark.

Seed thought: get them thinking in a certain direction. You’re the only solution to a problem you make them realize they have.

And finally – evoke action: they take the final step and spend money on the product or service.

These designers set out to lead their clients to fame and fortune – and they did.

The fundamentals of this strategy should be the same for web sites, landing pages, banners and emails. But blossoming technology has grabbed the spotlight. Suddenly, you can captain your own ship having never sailed before. So the world has taken to the seas with reckless abandon, forgetting that navigator who once steered their ship to grand treasures.

Yet the treasure is still there, largely unfound. Ships circle it, awash in the sea. Most hit bottom before ever making it ashore.

Ready to put an “X” back on your map?

The Situation

Today, virtually anyone with a computer can design web pages and put an offering online. And with analytics and optimization tools, site managers with little creative background can readily test and change elements to see what’s working best. Everyone’s already read dozens of optimization tips and seen articles like “How to Maximize Conversions and Sales”.

Testing assets to see what works best is smart. But most are actually choosing between the lesser of two evils…instead of the better of two greats.

You can pit a 1982 Chevy against a 1982 Ford – and one will cross the finish line first. Marketers stamp “success” on the winner and take it live. But do you really want to drive either of these cars? And is this really the best vehicle to spend countless dollars tuning or driving traffic to?

Meanwhile, there is a sea of proven creative strategy just sitting there, waiting to be used. It can be like rocket fuel for your conversion numbers. You’ll stand out in the crowd. You’ve heard it before – you only get one chance to make a first impression.

You may not be a creative designer and copywriter with 20 years of experience behind them – but that doesn’t mean you can’t think like one.

Strong First Impression

It’s common knowledge you have about seven seconds to capture a surfer during their initial scan. But it’s what happens before those seven that are even more important.

With only a fleeting glance, 100% of your surfers are making a subconscious decision about your online offering before reading a single word on the screen. This is before any best practice tactics you’ve read about even have a chance to gain effect.

A strong visual first impression builds instant trust and carries surfers confidently into those precious first seconds as they do their scan. It’s like a train – everybody gets on. After all, they are now looking at your page. But a majority will get off at the first stop. Your job is to carry them all the way to your final destination.

Be Memorable

Consider their world – a surfer’s brain is subconsciously recalling the countless websites, emails, advertisements and marketing messages they’ve seen in the last few years, days – or even hours – and is recalling the best and worst. There is robust commonality online. To generate action, it’s time to be interesting again.

The “hero” shot is the main image supporting the page. It’s called the “hero” because it saves the day. When describing a page after viewing it, most surfers actually describe the hero shot, not the site itself. Thus, all eyes are on it. So if you do nothing else, make sure your hero shot is right.

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They Will Benefit From Something Great

A big mistake many make is simply describing your business or service and listing out bullet points about all its greatness. You’re telling them all about you.

Instead – it’s got to be all about them. You need to describe how they’ll feel and paint a picture of who they’ll become after interacting with you

In the simplest of examples, you’d show a picture of a happy person and say “Feel like this.” This is in stark contrast to using the same picture and saying “our great product does all these great things”.

Use Graphics Wisely

Many fear that anything beyond bland text and a submit button will compete for the surfer’s attention. This can’t happen if you don’t have their attention to start with.

Bright design is not frivolous decoration. It’s a strategic play where every element is used expressly to reach a goal. It seeds direction and begins to lead the surfer the second they arrive.

An image of a big, orange spring would look curious in any setting. Precisely. If accompanied by copy like “Give your business some BOUNCE” – suddenly – things begin to come together for the surfer. You’ve interrupted them with a curious graphic, and tied it into the goal of the site with a strong headline.

Yet if you used the same spring graphic with no obvious reference as to why it was there, that’s a big disconnect – and a sure miss.

Lead Them Carefully Towards the Primary Goal

You’ve propped up a box with a stick, tied a string to it and put a carrot underneath. When the rabbit comes along, you’ll pull the string.

Don’t lead them away from that box. Lead them straight to it.

This is your primary flow. It’s an abstract path between the point at which they enter the site and when they reach the goal you’ve defined.

In other words, when a guy comes into the showroom and heads straight towards that new car, don’t interrupt him and ask him if he wants to go out for a hot dog.

Your art and copy should be focused on making that primary flow act like a waterslide that carries the surfer to exactly where you want them.

Fonts Are Art

Fonts are a lifesaver. With a single click, you can change the entire look and feel of portions of your design. You still want to use normal web fonts for bulks of real text, but for other graphical elements, moving away from Arial is mandatory.

There are a zillion fonts, so it’s guaranteed there is one that’s perfect for you – if you can find it. Thankfully font-search websites are well organized.

The font style itself has “tone”. It may be fun or professional, whimsical or edgy. With the right font, you can take a lackluster design and drastically change its appeal – just like that. Take time searching for and finding the right font – it’s worth it.

Your Headline is Key

The most important copy element is the main headline. If someone has just a few seconds to glance at your page – this is the single message you want them to take away.

Most find it very hard to write headlines largely because they want to say too much. Or, their product or service is far too complex to talk about it in just a handful of words. But a headline is actually a teaser – short and sweet, it’s telling them “hey, invest just a little more time here”. When you get that commitment, you now have the opportunity to tell them more.

Think Like An Aircraft Designer

Aircraft need to be lightweight or else they can’t fly. Designers work incessantly to shave weight wherever possible. At the same time, this must be balanced against performance and safety.

Your web assets should do the same. Ask yourself, “is that image, single word or bank of copy really needed to accomplish my goal?”

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Shave weight any place you can. But beware of oversimplification – if you go too far, the surfer won’t get the point.

Have Confidence

“Clean design” means less words, sharp graphics and more whitespace. This allows for precise focus on the goal.

But at the same time, it says something about you and your company: you have confidence. You don’t need to take your homepage and pack it full with every tidbit you can imagine, including a huge version of your logo. You’re not Crazy-Harry’s Used Cars. That’s all about him. Harry is desperate. That’s not a good adjective.

Instead, those with a cool confidence don’t appear desperate. Everyone wants to earn money. But a confident site doesn’t appear to beg for it.

They Aren’t The First

Show them how your site isn’t some dark, unexplored recess. Many others have come here before them and had a pleasant experience. It’s a party and they are invited, and all the other guests have already arrived.

Boldly showcase a strong, concise testimonial. Include copy about your volumes of satisfied customers. If you have neither, talk about the popularity of your industry overall – it will get applied to you.

While this may seem obvious, it’s important that these elements are elevated and even boldly in focus within your main message and primary flow. These are strong elements – don’t bury them down the page as bullet points. You might even choose to use them as a main headline: “Thousands of Americans just like you have improved their life with our widgets. It’s your turn.”

CREATIVE EXERCISE: You’ve seen the “submit a caption for this photo” contests. But without that photo to inspire your wit in writing – you’ve got a blank page.

Think of a single word that generally describes your business, purpose, site or offering. For example: “smart”. Then visit a stock photo site and search for that word. Begin scrolling through the results for a quality shot that feels right or even just captures your attention. Now you have an interesting stock photo, plus it already generally matches your theme or purpose.


Next, picture the single word “smart” nearby or over a part of that same image. This is your anchor word. Finally, you begin to embellish your anchor word and turn it into a headline: “Be smart.” “Smart is good.” “Tomorrow you’re smarter.”

You’ll only have one primary headline. But this exercise can also spawn additional copy that can be very useful elsewhere.


Remember, your goal is not to describe yourself or your business. You need to describe how they’ll feel after interacting with you.

Subtle Influence = Stronger Results

Creative design is a powerful tool. The web is a game of numbers. Raw traffic is converted into paying customers.

The rate at which this happens is up to you.

What would even a 1-3% increase in response mean to you? For some, that could be pennies. For others, it means a big raise or a new house.

Creative is much more than “what looks good”. It’s is an exercise in psychology where colors and words blend to ignite that curious spirit in surfers, setting off the opening stride of the buying experience. It makes them feel good before they read a single word. It gently takes their hand, leads them past key messages and educates. It preemptively answers their questions – then quietly ushers them to take the action you define.

When you hit that sweet spot, you clear a little spot on the shelf in their head and put your business on it.

About Dan Ray

Dan is Principal and Lead Designer at ray|collective, a performance web marketing design firm in Atlanta. Dan worked at several ground-breaking ad agencies in the 90s prior to starting his shop, which today services B2C and B2B clients, marketing firms and some of the biggest brands in the world.

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