The Purpose Of Side Content
There are two main parts to a review, with the first being the main body of the review and the second being everything else we put on our page to influence our readers. In looking at our present case study, Poker Listings’ review of 888 Poker, we will see that they use a great deal of this second element in their review.
We are actually currently looking into the effectiveness of these various elements, but now I want to step back a bit and look at this topic more generally, to see what function these should have and how we may strive to get the most out of this side content, before returning to the review.
I don’t think you necessarily need any of this content and it can actually serve as a distraction from the main body of work if not done properly, and even if you do it properly it can still be distracting.
However if they are distracted from the main article, which they are going to be if they bother at all to look at this side content, we must then look to use this distraction to our advantage, to both enhance the appeal of the review in general and also generate further interest in reading more.
The Types And Functions Of Secondary Content
I will use the term secondary content to describe all of these elements apart from the main body of the text, as I don’t want to just call it side content as it doesn’t necessarily all belong on the side bars.
Often it is though, but we can also use this in a more linear fashion, where the readers’ attention isn’t directed off to the side but instead they can be presented with this material simply by reading from top to bottom and not to one side or the other.
You see this sort of thing used quite a bit on the web actually, where the goal isn’t to distract the reader by taking them away from the normal flow of reading something.
So which approach should we use when? Well before we look into that it may help to wonder why we need any of this material in the first place. There are two main reasons, and the first one is to seek emphasis. Material placed in larger font in boxes with a more graphical feel will simply stand out more.
This is especially important given that some readers will simply browse the review by simply glancing at it if it is all normal text based and by highlighting things by using strategies designed to call attention to it there is a higher chance that it will be read.
Even with readers who are reading every word on the page, when we place more emphasis on certain things by making them more prominently displayed, this will convey more importance to them, and also tend to increase retention of the material.
So in other words whatever we make prominent tends to be remembered better, and memory does play a role here, since at the end of the line where we are making our calls to action, the better the reader can remember the reasons why they should listen to us, the more likely they will do so.
The second reason to do this is to place content which may actually be secondary to the body of the work aside so that it can be referenced if required but can just be glanced at if the reader does not feel the need to do so in its entirety. An excellent example of this would be the use of the payment methods listed in the review we are looking at.
This is a case where the reader may just want to check to see if a certain payment method is there, and then return to the review, hopefully anyway. In just about all cases, if the interest remains, and we haven’t detracted from it from our side content, then they likely will.
Which Approach Is Better?
I personally have a strong preference toward integrating the material as much as possible and I think that this is much more than just a stylistic preference or a matter of seeking visually appealing form.
I think that the reason why you see so much side content in reviews such as Poker Listings’ ones is that they are doing so for artistic reasons and preferring this over function. I do not feel that any material presented in the review should be seen as secondary and it all should function together, in a very well planned way, to achieve the goal of the review.
When writing reviews for clients, I never get into this aspect of the review and just provide the main content and let them decide how they want to highlight certain things. I generally find that among my clients they will just about always seek to integrate these highlights and other graphics in a way that flows with the content and not against it.
I think that there can be a tendency to overwhelm readers when you do otherwise, and our case study is certainly an example of doing otherwise. I like the use of the header material but beyond that they are leading readers in a pretty disjointed fashion with the main content being surrounded on both sides throughout the page.
On the other hand, there is certainly something to be said for a visually appealing layout, but I think that we can accomplish that very nicely without having to resort to distracting our readers too much.