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Applying "Less is More" in Digital Marketing

Less is More – a phrase from a poem written in 1855 and later popularized by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in describing the minimalist aesthetic. It has been adopted by minimalist fans and applied to all sorts of situations - digital marketing included.

But what does it actually mean in this context?  How should you apply it to get more bang from what is likely to be a limited buck?

Before applying the motto, one should ask what one should be doing less of, in order to get the 'more'.

It is not as some would tell you, a reason just to do less of everything. 

What it really means in digital marketing

The less is more approach in digital marketing is essentially a reaction to the endless production of content, advertisements, email newsletters and (in particular) social shares to an attention-deficient audience.

These days we are inundated with information and our eyeballs are hot commodities if the competition for them is anything to go by. But all that 'stuff' means a brand's messages can get lost in the deluge.

What Less is More means is do less of the stuff that doesn't matter to anyone. What it doesn’t mean is do less of the stuff that does matter.

What to do less of…...

Here's what you should do less of on your website or digital assets such as social networks

  • Distractions – side ads, up-sells, cross sells and any visual clutter
  • Thin content that offers no value and is of no purpose, not serving the needs of any defined audience (ie pages of a skimpy 250 words).
  • Reuse of content across multiple – or rather as many as you can imagine - social networks.
  • Tweeting random tweets, endless status updates and pins
  • Having social media assets that lay dorment - don't link to your Twitter feed if the last time you posted an update was two years ago!
  • Emailing your list every second day
  • Pumping out as many blog posts a day your organisation can manageLow quality content with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and un-original content
  • Content that is long-winded, superflous and unnecessarily verbose or full of jargonFancy visual effects – parallax sliders have a lot to answer for!
  • Animation is cool, but not always the best solution
  • Forms with extra fields for your benefit but time consuming and invasive for those who have to fill it out
  • Information about what you care about, what you have/know, your mission etc – unless it matters to your audience

It's all just noise

But you need to do more of….

...what matters. This includes:

  • Well researched, unique content that hits the audience where and when they need it
  • Clear, informative content that leaves no room for confusion and questions (funnily enough this is one we see left off web content all the time)
  • Well focused USPs (unique selling proposition) – and no, “good service” isn't a unique proposition
  • Clear calls to action – one action per page (though you can repeat it)
  • Single focus pages – one service offering, one message per page. So no, that one service page listing everything you do won't cut it. Obviously pages that refer to other pages for more detail are sometimes necessary (we do it ourselves)
  • White space – this means giving elements on a website room to breath with space around them
  • Focus on the channels and social platforms that are most used by your audience and stick to them

The impact on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

If you think a one page scrolling website is going to rank on Google you can forget it. Even if you have other pages on your site, if they are less than 500 words or so you'll struggle.

For SEO – especially if you are targeting long tail keyword phrases you need content.

The rule of thumb is one page per target keyword phrase. If you are in a competitive market, this will be a minimum.

The impact on social marketing

This is one area where less is more could apply to many marketing-oriented companies, although I've seen this particular issue more often in specific industries and where a person is the brand.  Social marketing needs to be built on something -either relationships or content.

It goes without saying that if your content doesn't say something entertaining, insightful, informative or controversial then people won't care about it. If they don't care, they won't engage, share or discuss it.

The number of websites with social sharing buttons on a bland page with 150 words of sales copy just leaves me scratching my head in confusion.

Figure out which platform is the one that your target audience is using and focus on those so you can make it meaningful and engage with your audience properly.

The impact on web design

Less is more or minimalist design is NOT an excuse to be obscure! Your design should facilitate the discovery of the content not hide it behind mystery navigation and fancy animation. There is nothing worse than going to a website and having to ask “Yes, but what do they DO? How much does it COST? How do I get one?” For some reason tech start-ups are really bad for this.

A miss-understanding of the theory of 'mobile first' design has also lead to websites devoid of useful content. We've read the headlines too – “more people accessing the internet on mobile devices than desktop” – sorry, our client website statistics just don't support this. Mobile first does not mean mobile only. Doing responsive design (i.e. it works on all devices and screen sizes) really well is a lot harder than people seem to think especially on a small budget.

On the other hand, fancy design details, animations, walk on videos, multi coloured calls to action and parallax scrolling are often just there for the sake of it.

In terms of code less is definitely more. Well constructed, efficient code runs faster. This does come with compromises however, particularly in the eyes of the website owner who wants to 'do their own thing' requiring multiple in-line styles, overrides and exceptions to the template.

Try and get less customers

Say, what?

Too much choice paralyses people.  Instead of trying to be all things to all people, figure out who you can best serve and focus on doing that really well.

Don't forget the sales funnel.

Part of the less is more conversation forgets the sales funnel. In this, a particular individual – assuming they are in the market for your product or service – will go through a number of steps before they choose you. Each of these steps requires different content to engage and interest them so they move to the next one.

People who are early in the get-to-know-like-and-trust you process will need more information about what and how you do what you do than someone who has already well on the way to a decision to purchase.

It also depends on where website visitors are coming from (ie your traffic sources) I've seen heat maps of websites where the content on pages are universally ignored as visitors go straight for the call to action. But this tends to be those driven by advertising – i.e. the visitor has self qualified themselves.

But organic search and referral traffic often require more persuading. Good content builds relationships and trust. This is done by including case studies, project/job information etc.

So – where does that leave us

  • Less is more means being more focused, more efficient - not giving your audience less of what they want
  • So you need to know your audience and give them what they want – preferably through research
  • Think and have a plan before you start doing anything.
  • If content marketing is part of the mix – and it will be if SEO is important – focus on long form content (2000 words +)
  • Use tools like Hootesuite to make social sharing more efficient, but don't use it as an excuse to push the same content to every platform
  • Don't get sucked into minimalism unless it's in the right place at the right time
  • Have a promotional and outreach strategy that focuses on where your audience are – not where someone else tells you they are.

And it won't happen by itself

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