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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007 at 10:29 am

Color Me Bad? or ‘How Not to Waste Your Time’

By Bryan Eisenberg
February 27th, 2007

Over at MarketingSherpa, my good friend Anne Holland expresses the challenges she’s facing choosing colors for her redesign. I can empathize for sure. It’s one of the reasons I suggest to first design and show design in gray scale; color is an emotionally laden language most of us don’t speak well, yet we understand it at gut level. Anne says:

If you’ve ever had to choose site colors, you’ll understand completely. The three biggest problems:

(1) Everything’s really subjective. What a color “means” can be personal or cultural, but it’s not the same for everyone…

(2) Everything looks slightly different on differing computers. Non-dithering hues notwithstanding, most people’s screens look a little different…

(3) There’s virtually no data on marketing and color.

I know because I checked our site’s new Research Database, which has more than 1,800 records, for stats on color. Very little came up.

Turns out, you can find loads of articles on the Web about color choices. However, most are based on hearsay instead of lab tests, cultural associations and/or broad generalizations that don’t help much when you’ve got a palate of hundreds of hues to choose from.

My next step was to check out our Case Study Library with nearly 750 Case Studies. Did anyone test color choices?

Well, yes, they did. However, results were disheartening to a marketer stuck in a design meeting. Aside from the twin factors of legibility and good taste (based on target demographic), color tests were *never* a big factor in improving conversion rates.

What does matter in a website designed to sell? Here are some of the basics we’ve discovered throughout our research and conversion optimization tests:

  • Professional appearance that takes the best principles for design and adapts them to the online environment
  • Relatively uncluttered, streamlined design
  • They load pretty fast
  • Color blocks rather than patterns
  • Good use of white space
  • More text than graphic images (for the most part)
  • Visual groupings of similar information
  • Scannable and skimmable presentation of information
  • Functions and elements located where visitors generally expect to find them (or made otherwise prominent)
  • Qualification schemes that quickly help the visitor identify what she’s looking for supported with links that take her directly there

Websites designed to sell are conversion-oriented and task or process-conscious and don’t hide behind unnecessary visual drama. Sure, deeper in the process, some sites throw in a glitzy feature (like a rotating view of a product), but you shouldn’t rely on glitz to reach the goal. Color still matters. Color is an emotional tie to your branding and, of course, you want to avoid colors that have no contrast and be careful how you use red/green buttons because of color blindness issues.Oh, and you should consider changing your colors if your site looks like this.

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Comments (3)

  1. I hear a lot about making your text scannable but have not seen any examples (much less good examples) based on testing, as to how best to do that. WHY? Seem like someone could say, based on our testing an item page in this general format gets excellent conversion and is highly scanable for the reader…..

    I would love someone to help me with some examples on this one.

  2. I agree with you.

  3. colors are very hard to get right mainly because people like what they like and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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