Looking down

Newspaper and magazine designers have known about this “trick” for years, yet websites often do not use it. The “trick” is to force your readers to certain parts of a page by using directional movement in pictures. So, when you look at the front page of a newspaper there will often be implied movement in the picture – the eyes of the person pictured looking towards the main headline, making you read it. Then there may be another image which effectively points towards the bottom right corner of the page, helping you want to turn the page. Most of the time, magazine and newspaper designers will choose images and place them on the page to help direct you to read certain things.

Online, however, many web pages have images which – for instance – “look out” to the side, making readers much less interested in what’s on offer. Those designers who have realised you can make people visit certain parts of the page appear to have chosen the use of arrows to do the job. Indeed, you can buy all sorts of “internet marketing graphics” in order help you have the correct website “furniture”. These include arrows pointing to the “buy now” button and boxes with pointed sides leading your readers in a certain direction.

But new research shows that these are much less useful than we might think. Researchers compared the use of arrows with pointed fingers and eyes looking in a certain direction. And, you guessed it, the arrows were much less powerful in forcing people to go in a particular direction than a pointed finger or eyes looking in a particular way.

This suggests that if your website uses arrows to signal where the “buy now” button is, or that your boxes have directional signs in them, you’re getting less success than if you use fingers and eyes.

It is a further signal to website owners that the more you “humanise” your website, the more engagement you get. Pictures of people are always more interesting to your visitors than pictures of things.

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