As a digital marketer, you know all about creating quality content to support your brand, products, and services.

But just as important as what content you create is how you present that content.

With it’s origins in Gestalt theory, visual hierarchy is a way of carefully allowing an audience to determine relative importance in their perception of visual elements and see them as a unified whole; a way of finding order amongst the chaos.

In other words, visual hierarchy is how you use the design elements at your disposal – everything from typography to color, layout to whitespace – to influence your audience and get them to connect to your most important messaging.

This is HUGELY important for digital marketers; when you’ve got your visual hierarchy down pat, you’re able to grab the attention of your website visitors, inspire them to take action, and drive conversions in the process (in fact, one company was able to increase their online sales by nearly 36%… just by improving their website’s visual hierarchy. Not too shabby!).

So in the spirit of improving conversions near and far, here are 5 principles of visual hierarchy in marketing that you can use today:


Principle #1: People Scan The Page In Very Specific Ways (And You Should Use It To Your Advantage)

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but very few people are going to read your entire website. We live in the age of the limited attention span, and very few people are going to read your site from top to bottom. They’re far more likely to scan the page to see if it’s something they’re interested in.

Luckily for you as a marketer, there are two ways that most website visitors scan content: F Patterns and Z Patterns.

F Patterns

If you’ve got a text heavy page, like a blog post, your visitors will likely scan the page in an F pattern. They’ll scan down the left side of the page (in search of interesting words or phrases, stop when they find something interesting, then read the content from left to right. This will create a shape similar to an “F” (hence the title).

How To Use F Patterns To Your Advantage

If you’ve got something important you want to say, make sure it’s aligned to the left so scanners pick up on it. You can also use bolded headlines and things like bullet points to break up the text and make it easier to scan.

Squarespace does a great job of leveraging the F Pattern by placing their navigation in the left sidebar – the first place people scan.


Z Patterns

If your content is more on the visual side, like a landing page or an ad, your visitors will likely scan in a Z Pattern. They’ll start by scanning the top of the page left to right (where they’re most likely to find important information), then cross the page at a diagonal to the opposite corner on the bottom of the page, where they’ll do another scan, making a pattern that resembles – you guessed it – a Z.

How To Use Z Patterns To Your Advantage

If you want to make the Z Pattern work to your advantage, put the most important elements, like your logo or a CTA, at the corners.

This landing page for I Eat Fit makes awesome use of Z Patterns on their landing page. Their logo is at the top left corner, portal login the top right, and along the bottom scan pattern is the CTA of “Get Started.” By placing all the key elements within the line of the Z Pattern, they increase their chances of visitors engaging with their content.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Use F patterns for text-heavy pages and Z patterns for image-heavy pages.” @99designs #digitalmarketing” quote=”Use F patterns for text-heavy pages and Z patterns for image-heavy pages.” @99designs #digitalmarketing #design”]


Principle #2: Bigger = Better

The first principle of visual hierarchy in marketing is that the bigger your design element, the more likely it is to grab your audience’s attention. So if you have something important you’re trying to communicate to your audience, bigger = better.

On the flip side, things that are less important can be smaller in scale. So, for example, if you’re selling a sneaker, you’d want the product image to be larger than the product specifications; seeing the image of your sneaker – and picturing themselves rocking said sneakers – is going to connect with a lot more potential customers than a description of the materials used to make the shoe. And since you want to bring attention to the element that’s going to connect with your audience – the product photo – it should be bigger than what isn’t going to connect as much – the instructional paragraph.

Just look at how sneaker company Lit Nations showcased their LED sneaker on their Facebook page:

Notice how the product image is larger than anything else on the page? That’s no accident. It’s because the product is what Lit Nations wants you to pay attention to.

The same is true for your typography. People read whatever is largest first. So whatever messaging you want your audience to read, make it big. Chances are, they won’t read the whole page – but they’ll definitely read whatever is largest. If you were creating a pop-up to get people to opt-in for your mailing list, for example, you’d want the “Subscribe Now!” text to be large and attention grabbing.

Similar, on a landing page, you want your CTA to be big and bold. Take, for example, our logo design page. The “Get a design” button is the same size as the header text to emphasize action on the page:

Now, keep in mind: there is a limit to the whole bigger = better rule. If you make a specific element huge, and completely out of proportion with the rest of your page,. it’ll still catch their attention, alright – just not in a good way.

The bigger = better rule exists within the confines of good design, so keep everything balanced and proportionate in order to keep your design from looking amateur. If you have one large element you want to highlight, like a photo, make sure you balance it out with more delicate, smaller elements (like text or a menu bar) elsewhere on the page (for more on the principles of proportion and balance, check out this article on the basic principles of design).

Principle #3: Color

This one is probably going to sound like it’s coming straight from Captain Obvious’ mouth, but bright colors are always going to stand out more than neutral, gray, or muted colors. So, if you want to bring emphasis to a specific area or element on your way, color is a great way to do it.

Just take a look at this landing page from DreamFly. All the colors on the website are neutral (white, black, and blue), except for their CTAs, which are all in a bright coral. The brightness of the coral hue as well as its contrast against the otherwise neutral website makes it pop, which naturally grabs the attention of website visitors – and drives clicks in the process.

If you have an area you really want to call attention to (like a call-to-action), using a bright color can really help the element stand out and grab the attention of your visitors. Try red, which has been shown to increase conversions by a whopping 34%. Need a hex code? #FF420E is a great place to start.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Red has been shown to increase conversions by a whopping 34%! #designmatters #99designs #graphicdesign” quote=”Red has been shown to increase conversions by a whopping 34%! #designmatters #99designs”]


Principle #4: Different Fonts – And Font Styles – Serve Different Purposes

Just as important as the font size you choose is the font type and style. By switching up the font type and style on your page, you can bring attention to different elements.

So, for example, if you wanted to highlight you were having a sale, you could not only make it a different size, but a different font altogether. Or you could make the font bold in order to help it stand out from the rest of the text on the page.

Just take a look at this Kate Spade ad. By using a block, graphic font, the “Sale” text jumps off the page, standing out from the rest of the text and grabbing your attention.

If you’re writing a blog post, you can also switch up the fonts in the headers, subheaders, and body text to make different pieces of information pop to your audience.

When writing blog posts, your content should be structured like this:

  • Title (H1): Hooks your audience and gives them a general idea of what they’re about to read
  • Subheaders (H2): Topics that expand on the main theme of your blog post
  • Body text: The actual content of the post

Very few people will read your blog post in its entirety, so it’s important to establish what is important for them to read. Make sure your title is in a large, bold font; that way, you ensure people will read the title, get an idea of what your post is about, and be compelled to keep reading.

Next is your subheaders. Choose a bold font that stands out from your body text; that way, even if people only skim over the article, they’ll at least get a summary of its main points.

Finally, the body text. Even though the content of your blog post is important (otherwise, what’s the point?), it’s not as important to make it stand out; if someone gets to the body text, they’ve already committed to reading the article, so using a font to grab their attention isn’t necessary. You can stick to a traditional, normal-sized font for body text.


Wrapping Things Up & Next Steps

Visual hierarchy is key to bringing attention to the parts of your content that are most important for your marketing efforts. A few things to keep in mind as you begin to refresh your pages are:

Lead with your Branding

Make sure that your page is laid out in a way that not only leverages visual hierarchy principles to drive interaction, but also in a way that strengthens your brand.

  1. Pull colors from your brand color palette.
  2. Showcase your logo in a place where you know the “scanners” will see it.
  3. And make sure when choosing fonts and images that they fit within your brand style.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’re feeling stuck, sometimes the best way forward is to get a fresh perspective on your design from someone outside the company. Running a contest on 99designs, for instance, can give you hundreds of ideas in a matter of days. Or, if you’re trying to improve your online ads, you can look into running some Dynamic Creative ads, which have been proven to have a 2x higher CTR and 50% lower CPA than static ads. No matter which route you choose to take, remember that getting your visual hierarchy right should be at the top of your priorities before you pour those marketing dollars to pump up your business.