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Question on Highlighting of Text

I would like to get some opinions from direct marketing people on the use of highlighting (yellow, for example) text in direct mail copy--and on websites. I'm looking for pros and cons, and, comparisons in effectiveness with underlining text and the use of bold type.

Thanks in advance. - by Gary Boye
First, I'm not in Direct Marketing so I don't really qualify to respond to your question. However, if you're interested, from a visitor perspective I don't mind bolded words but highlighted words seems fake or contrived. - by Calvin
I don't have any stats, but conventional wisdom for Websites is underlined text means hyperlink...doesn't mean it isn't effective though. I've also noticed a lot of highlighting going on with some of the major online marketers (as well as in some direct mailings), which means it may be working.

Every situation is different. To really tell, running a test would be in order (one version without highlight or underline, one with). This could be pretty quickly set up online...use testing software to alternately serve up two versions of a Web page and record cliks and conversions for each. You could generate traffic through AdWords, Overture or other ppc program. - by Bobette Kyle
I've also noticed a lot of highlighting going on with some of the major online marketers (as well as in some direct mailings), which means it may be working.
Yes--I noticed some real conflicting opinions among the experts on this. Calvin's comments are in line with some reservations I have myself.

It's interesting--I've met a couple of old pro direct mail copywriters in my travels. They have been successful sellers over the years seeling "how to" packets and they put a lot of stock into writing with a visual flair. Both were adamant on using yellow backgrounds on the web--and lots of black and red in text. Obviously you can't highlight in yellow on yellow backgounds--but their philosophy of schmaltz was consistent with those who advocate it. - by Gary Boye
Here's my two cents as a consumer (of course, I have no idea if I'm typical). I like to be lead through the most important ideas. If a headline catches my eye, I'll glance through reading the bold. highlighted or otherwise emphasied points. If I'm still interested, I'll read more detail.

If you do some testing, I'd love to hear what you learn. Personally, I think times are changing and I'm skeptical about whether what worked for years will continue to work in the future. My father sold his "wares" entirely through mailings (in the 70s). He swore a sales letter needed to be an 11 X 17 (folded in half like a book) 4-page 2-color letter. He consistently got his 3%-5% percent response. I think people are much more harried today. I can't picture my prospects taking the time to read anything that lengthy.

That having been said...eye catching contrast still gets my attention! - by RainMaker
I think you'll find subheads highlighted in yellow (not all of them) and also some testimonials.
On average, people spend 7 seconds before they click away. Highlighting text helps draw the reader in, so they be more likely to read further.

Susan - by susana
Highlighted text screams old school sales copy. I'd avoid it and stick with effective use of bolding, italics, underlining and white space. - by Jolly Roger
Highlighted text screams old school sales copy. I'd avoid it and stick with effective use of bolding, italics, underlining and white space.
I agree. Highlighted texts remind me of old-school internet marketers. But again, it really depends. I'll do A/B testing first.I won't use underline texts online if it is not a hyperlink though. - by msato
I don't mind bolded words but highlighted words seems fake or contrived.
I'm on the same opinion. Some bolding is fine, but I hate highlights and big red headlines. To me that's tacky. - by Bald Dog
Having spent the last 5 years learning all about marketing on the internet and having spent at least $80,000 to learn it I can proudly boast to being only the second person here to have the right answer to the question.

The hardest lesson to learn when you come into internet marketing/web copy etc from a successful sales background is........

Nobody knows nuthin'

So what you do is......(as one reply already pointed out) you do a split test.

One page with underlines and or bold or whatever and one page with yellow highlights. You rotate the pages using google's wonderful website optimiser.

Run the test for at least 200-300 visits. Measure the results.

You have your answer.

Not someones opinion. Not some speculative observation but.

Simply the definitive answer. No need to argue/discuss/pontificate the stats will tell you exactly what works and what doesn't.

The trick is to only ever test one element at a time. I made the mistake early on of having some great ideas about what would work and what wouldn't. Fortunately I had a mentor (paid for) who just used to repeat every time I had a 'great idea' ...sure Mike it's worth testing.

It took me a year but I learned the lesson.

Now I know nothing except . . . it's worth testing - by helisell
Highlighted text screams old school sales copy. I'd avoid it and stick with effective use of bolding, italics, underlining and white space.
I agree that it screams out old school. Highlighting/Underlining/Italics I consider all being part of the visual appeal of the piece.

First you determine what look and feel your piece will be. If you are going for high end sleek then you will want to draw attention in a different way and not highlighting as that is "old school" and does not go with the look and feel you are trying to achieve.

Some direct mail actually have underlined paper and handwritten font or typewritten font to purposefully have the old school look and feel. Highlighting would be appropriate in this case.

So it goes back to your objectives for the piece... who your audience is and how you want to present/brand your product. Because remember every direct mail piece you send out will add to your brand. I prefer to have a consistent branding message across platforms i.e. web, magazines, trade shows, direct mail, etc. All conveying the same branding/message so as not to confuse the consumer and in our case we still trying to build our brand. - by Andrea
Sorry.....you can only determine the look and feel of a piece by testing it.

Otherwise YOU are deciding the look and feel based on what?

Gut feeling? Intuition?

You simply test your mailings. Some with highlighter, some without.

It's called direct results marketing because you use the 'results' to determine what works (and what doesn't) otherwise you are simply throwing money away.

It's simply getting your customers to vote. If they respond then that is a 'yes this works' vote. If they don't respond they are simply telling you to try something else.

Branding is a great idea....if you have the odd $1,000,000 lying around.

Direct response (measured results) marketing is quicker, cheaper....and a LOT more effective. Never assume...just test. - by helisell
The look and feel type and size is determined by your message and your objective. For example if I'm inviting them to come visit me at a trade show I might pick a post card instead of a letter. I might also pick similar coloring to that on the graphics on my website and my booth coloring so they recognize our company. That stuff has been determined by our positioning - we have positioned our company as an expert in our field etc.

I'm not against testing. There are additional factors to take into consideration when one makes these decisions.

Also... say you want to use highlighting... what kind of highlighting? you can do the old fashioned thick yellow line or you can do something more updated for a more slick look by using imagery as the one below and inserting your text in the pink area:


These decisions are done by a creative team once they are given some direction from marketing as to what they are trying to accomplish. Because in direct mail the sky's the limit when you are creative. Budget of course will always be a factor and will put some boundaries as to how creative you want to get.

p.s. I like this graphic I just found... I might just use it in my next direct mail piece except I would use blue as that is the color of our company and we gotta push the brand recognition ;-) I might say "Booth 1759" in the highlighted area on a corner of the postcard. - by Andrea
Other factors? Really?

Only factor I know of is........this works better than this.

I meet very very few people who actually test anything. They say that they agree with testing but they never DO any. - by helisell
When you tested the slick pink highlighter against the yellow highlighter . . . which one got the best result? - by helisell
When you tested the slick pink highlighter against the yellow highlighter . . . which one got the best result?
To test... you first have to start off with a baseline. YOU determine your objective and your message. YOU determine the general look and feel of your piece. Then you decide what to "test". You can test one variable at a time or multiple variables at a time. On the web it is easy to do. On time sensitive mail outs you do not always have that luxury. You can get creative as to how you want to test and maybe send out half of your mail out with pink and the other with blue and see which gives you the results.

The highlighting would be the variable to "test" and my comment was that the highlighting would have to fit into the rest of the piece. Prior to deciding whether or not to test highlighting you must first decide that bolding or italicizing or changing the font color or size are not better ways of drawing attention to that piece of text. This decision goes back to what I was saying about content and graphical layout and look and feel. - by Andrea
Does it really matter whether you test bolding/italics before highlighter?

The point I'm making is that........people don't test.........and yet it is the most effective way of improving.

Ah well. I'll leave it at that. - by helisell
Does it really matter whether you test bolding/italics before highlighter?

The point I'm making is that........people don't test.........and yet it is the most effective way of improving.
I'm not saying you test them all with the public. You try them all out according to your experience and artistic/marketing/sales eye... From a graphic design and page layout point of view yes it matters whether you bold or italicize or change font size or highlight.... depending on the text you could even put it on a starburst. You start out with what looks good, what has a good impact in your opinion... what looks professional -- and then you test - if time and budget allows... - by Andrea
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