A client recently asked me, “What the heck is a tout?”
Touts are bits of text, sometimes with images, that link to content on other pages or other websites. (From an Art Director perspective, they are images, sometimes with bits of text.)
Touts can have several purposes, depending upon the type of website you’re building. Like call-outs or pull quotes used in print, website touts attract the reader’s attention and are quickly scannable for meaning.
Unlike call-outs and pull quotes, touts have an additional layer of functionality: They move visitors deeper into and around the site through links, providing them with additional ways of accessing content that is of interest to them – which potentially leads to conversions for your company. Touts can also point to external resources – related sites, documents, and applications – which strengthens search engine optimization (SEO).
Web touts can help keep content fresh
Touts give content managers and marketing folks an easy, flexible way of adding bits of new content. They become opportunities for cross-linking without compromising consistent voice in the main text. From a marketing perspective, touts can direct visitors to specific areas of the site to highlight a product or service featured in offline marketing initiatives. The net result is easily-refreshable content that supports SEO and marketing efforts.
“Yeah!,” you exclaim, “We get it! Let’s go tout up our site!” Hold on there… Here’s where I get a bit prescriptive: Touts should be part of an overall content strategy.
Touts are strategic “systems”
A well-designed website is a system. It’s built upon a hierarchy of information, and that information is organized to address different audience needs at various points in the architecture. Graphics, typography, and other design elements work within the system and help shape it by drawing on unique expressions of size, shape, aspect, color, behavior, and so on.
Likewise, touts should be systematized — or at least designed, used, and placed with some degree of thought and care. They should further the site’s story, point to additional areas of interest, and direct audiences to relevant content. Touts should work within and support the overall hierarchy of other content types.
Different types of touts will be appropriate at different places in the site hierarchy. For instance, pages higher up in the hierarchy might benefit from touts driving visitors deeper into the site for more detailed information. Touts pointing to related content — a video exemplifying some part of the page’s message, another part of the site with a related service, etc. — might be appropriate at deeper levels of the hierarchy.
Creating a strategy for what types of touts go where, what they should look like (from a design standpoint as well as a text standpoint), and how they should behave should be carefully planned, decided, and documented for the purpose of future updates. Jerry Velasco, one of our Senior Art Directors created the diagrams in this post to document tout specs for a pharmaceuticals client.
And all of this means you have to be clear about your audience, their goals, and how you want them to engage with your web content.
Recommendations for using touts on your site
Some rough, high-level considerations for touting:
- Tie touts not only to the overall objectives and goals of the site but also at the page level
- Include a call-to-action, a link, something useful to your visitor
- Include keywords, where possible
- Make them useful to your target audience
- Design them to be attractive and eye-catching without distracting from the main content
- Limit the number of touts on a page to balance design and content and to avoid cluttering the page with confusing messages
None of this is to say you can’t or shouldn’t use call-outs. (I do in this post, for instance.) But be sure your site designers understand the difference in their use and purpose — and their limitations in terms of their digital utility.
Tout away! But use touts intentionally and strategically, so they enhance the overall success of your site.
SOUND OFF: How might your website benefit from using a tout strategy?