Visual cues in digital marketing entice users to click on items and make decisions. If your content is not visually optimized, you are wasting money.
Whether you sell software or razors, your business is solving people’s problems. Your digital marketing efforts are no different. A brand’s website or ads should be optimized in a way that helps potential customers find solutions to their problems quickly. Visual cues make this possible.
This guide explores what visual cues are, the power that simple images can often have to reinforce your branding message, and which visual cues you can use to maximize the impact of your marketing materials. As this article details, there is a strategy for choosing and implementing specific cues for each brand and the call to action that you want the consumer to respond to.
What are visual cues in digital marketing?
Visual cues are design elements on web pages, ads, and other digital marketing channels that help people understand information quickly. These little details come prepackaged with expectations, functioning as a kind of mental shortcut for users.
Visual cues are essential for delivering a seamless user experience (UX). UX design is the process of creating a product, such as a web page, that is easy for users to navigate and helps them solve problems faster. Visual cues help UX design achieve these goals.
Visual prompts are especially important online, where users are constantly faced with advertisements, graphics, and text competing for their attention. Signals reduce clutter on a page or ad while communicating important information.
The most effective types of visual cues
Visual prompts come in many forms, from obvious symbols (like arrows) to the specific selection of colors that dominate your brand. Since your business homepage is often a person’s first exposure to your brand, visual cues like these can ensure that visitors browse the site and come away with a good understanding of what you are doing. or your product have to offer.
Perhaps the simplest visual prompt is the Humble Arrow. An arrow is an obvious, yet unobtrusive, way of showing readers exactly where their attention should be focused.
An arrow is so effective in directing readers’ attention, a CXL experience found it to outperform three other types of visual cues in driving conversions.
Nutshell uses a looping arrow to highlight the free trial button at the top of its home page.
The arrow adds a bit more attention and a clear call to action, so there is no question about where visitors should click.
Arrows can also indicate where you can find additional information without cluttering the page with more text boxes.
Instapage, a landing page platform, prompts readers to learn more about the software’s many features using subtle arrows.
If you want to give readers an extra push to keep scrolling, use an arrow to direct them further down the page.
Marie Forleo, an entrepreneur, uses a down arrow to keep visitors scrolling for more content.
The arrow tells visitors that content continues below the waterline, reducing the likelihood of the page closing completely.
Photos of people
Humans are naturally drawn to the faces of others, making portraits a natural visual cue. Portraits can grab the reader’s attention and, depending on the emotion displayed by the subject of the portrait, make the reader feel a certain way.
A photo of a subject looking towards the text on the page can help direct the reader’s attention. The gaze of the subject of the portrait also reinforces the importance of the text.
Melyssa Griffin, an online business coach, uses this visual prompt to encourage visitors to sign up for a free workbook, which then places them on her mailing list.
While photos of people can be effective for a personality-driven brand, think twice before using them as visual cues for a product. When a photo of a person does nothing to convey information about the product, conversion rates go down.
Minimal and accented text
Nothing is more off-putting to a site visitor than a wall of text. The succinct, bold headers are easier to focus on and leave plenty of room for the call-to-action button to shine, which is what you ultimately want potential customers to click.
Trello, a popular project management tool, keeps the design of its homepage as clean as possible. Most of the text is reserved for a header and subheader that quickly indicates Trello’s unique selling proposition.
There is also no menu link to distract visitors, so there is less opportunity for them to wander away. In fact, the only navigation option immediately available is an invitation to register. Without excessive clutter, visitors can easily focus on the green enrollment button above the fold and the small white button in the upper right corner.
Neil patel, a marketing expert, takes a similar approach on his website.
The title is prominent and does not have to compete with menu links or images to grab the visitor’s attention. There’s a lot of wiggle room for the bright orange button, which helps grab potential leads for Patel’s business.
There is a whole field of study devoted to investigating the role that colors play in our perceptions, our emotions and even our physical senses, such as taste. Known as color psychology, designers and marketers often rely on it to make decisions about a brand’s color palette.
Consider these common color combinations before choosing a color palette for your brand:
- Red – Power, excitement, speed
- Rose – Sophistication, sincerity
- Violet – Luxury, ambition
- Yellow – Happiness, cheap
- Orange – Excitement, creativity
- Blue – Confidence, high quality
- Green – Fresh, environmentally friendly
- Brown – Robustness
- Black – Sophistication, dear
- White – Cleanliness, purity
Entrepreneur and public speaker, Dean graziosi, carries a blue color scheme not only on its website, but its entire brand as well. Note the blue caps on the first photo and the blue clothes on the second:
In color psychology, blue is considered a soothing color that conveys reliability and strength. It’s also thought to help people be more productive, which fits in with Graziosi’s business of turning people into entrepreneurs.
Don’t underestimate the power of a product image. A test from MarketingExperiments found that when the main homepage image changed from a person to a product image, conversion rates increased by almost 72%.
Leadpages, software that helps you create mobile and desktop landing pages, places an image of the product in action above the home page fold. This immediately tells visitors what the product is doing and encourages them to click the “Start Free Trial” button if they want similar results.
A few subtle shapes accentuate the images more, like the downward-facing triangle that catches the eye on the desktop landing page.
Choosing to show what Leadpages can do is particularly effective considering that many of the brand’s competitors have stuck with the original illustration design trend which has homogenized much of the branding in the SaaS industry.
Forms are common tools for collecting information about potential customers. A prominent area around the form both draws attention to it and gives it a tidy, wrapped look on the page.
Black Lives Matter’s home page is chock full of content, as there are a lot of updates they want to share on the move. To make their email signup form stand out, they wrapped it in a black box and accented it with a bright yellow button.
Of course, boxes aren’t just for long forms. They also work well for isolated fields.
Instacart, a grocery delivery service, offers users a single field to enter their postal code to get started with the service. To contrast the field against the background, it is surrounded by a simple, centered box.
Without a box encapsulating them, fields and forms would just as quickly disappear into the background. There would be nothing attracting visitors to them and a greater likelihood that they would never convert.
How to create a visual cue strategy for your site
It’s tempting to look for the visual prompts that look the best or have the most data, but the truth is that different visual cues will work best for different brands. Establishing a design strategy for your digital marketing channels requires careful evaluation and controlled testing.
Evaluate your brand
Think critically about what you want to communicate to potential customers about your brand. Are you a software vendor that promises ease of use and a nice interface? A whimsical hand-drawn arrow could be the right visual cue for your brand.
However, if your software is a people-centric HR solution, it may make more sense to design the page with portraits of people looking towards a call to action.
Consider whether posting a photo of the product will give visitors more information or if it is just a distraction. Having a clearly visible screenshot from a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Nutshell, for example, can be confusing for new visitors.
On the other hand, if you sell shaving products like Harry, a clear product line image communicates a lot with very little.
If you’re not sure what exactly you want to communicate the brand is still in the early stages of its formation, or if you want to change your name, take a look at this free association exercise of DeSantis Breindel, a brand development company. It can give you a better idea of how people perceive your brand versus how you would like to be seen. From there, you can make more informed design choices, such as your brand’s color scheme.
A / B test
A / B testing, or testing multiple versions of the same page or ad, is essential in determining which visual prompts work best for your brand.
To run an A / B test, simply create two or more versions of the page or ad with a single visual cue that varies with each version. Here is an example of the versions CXL does when testing their form:
CXL has tested these form variants with eye tracking technology, but you don’t have to fork out that kind of money to test your designs.
If you’re testing your homepage, simply display each version of the page for the same amount of time or until it’s seen by the same number of visitors. Next, analyze the conversion rate of each release to determine which signal is most effective in driving visitors to the call to action.
Are you running ads on a platform like Facebook? The Ads Manager allows you to break down test ad designs to determine performance based on cost per result or cost per conversion increase.
While CXL found that people spent the most time focusing on the hand-drawn arrow, every brand is different. The only way to determine what works for you is to test it.
Use a heat map tool
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, a heat map tool like Hotjar can show you where visitors click and what their scrolling behavior is. This can indicate whether or not your visual cues are working as expected.
While Hotjar doesn’t track eye movements, it can record site sessions so you can see what visitors are seeing. It can also show you where visitors drop off, which can be helpful in determining where visual cues should go.
Help potential customers get what they want
Visual cues help people quickly sift through information and steer them toward more things they want. The prompts you choose for your page and the design of your ads should be directed to your ideal customer and make it easier for them to find solutions to their problems.
By evaluating your brand, choosing visual prompts that match that branding image, and then testing to determine if those cues are effective, you can create a more seamless user experience with your site and ads.
Careful design means more people are drawn to your product, which helps you grow your business faster.