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Online marketers need to consider print

Author's avatar By Graham Jones 12 Sep, 2014
Essential Essential topic

People still love print – sometimes more than digital – so enabling good printing is essential for online marketing success

Internet marketers live in a digital world, but they should not forget printed documents. In this article you will discover:

  • Why print is psychologically important
  • How to ensure your website is printable
  • What printed documents are worth providing

Back in 1975, Business Week magazine predicted that we would soon have a “paperless office” thanks to all the new technology being introduced at that time. Of course, here we are almost 40 years later and the paperless office is still a distant dream.

Even in this age of instant digital information, where you are not short of things to read, the chances are you also have a pile of print to wade through. The notion that digital would replace print clearly hasn’t happened. Indeed, even though the sales of ebook readers have soared, printed book sales are still healthy. Ebook sales appear to have peaked back in 2012/3, yet in the same year some 184 million printed books were sold in the UK. True, that is a fall compared with the previous year – but that was a record year thanks to “50 Shades of Grey”.

Furthermore, a study by Pew Internet showed that significant numbers of young people still want to read printed books, in spite of being brought up in a digital age.

Amazon Kindle 3

Even though you can read headlines that digital books have overtaken printed books, these stories are often misleading because the total number of books being consumed has gone up – and besides most of the digital books sold are novels. For business books, print is still king.

Why do people love print?

You would think that children brought up with digital documents would not want to print things out, nor would they want printed books and magazines. But they do. Indeed, in one study of magazine readers across all ages it was found that even though people could subscribe to digital editions of their favourite magazine, they still preferred the printed version.

So why is that? What is so enticing with print, in spite of the ease and convenience of digital? The answer lies at the end of your fingers. Your fingers include millions of touch sensors and they are vital in helping you negotiate the world around you. Indeed, they are so important the information they provide is seen as central by your brain. When we live solely in digital, our brain misses out and is a bit concerned about the lack of detail it is receiving. Indeed, research shows that we remember less from digital alone and recall more when we print things out. It is as though our brain is more sure when we are touching something.

Some people need this touch information more than others. These are known as “kinaesthetic” individuals – their brain puts a greater weighting on tactile information than other individuals. You can spot a kinaesthetic person by the things they say. They say things like “I don’t feel I understand that” or “I need to get a grip on my studies” and so on. People who have a tendency to prefer touch sensory information reflect this in the words they use which tend to reveal physicality.

Here’s the problem in the digital world. Even though all of us will include touch sense input into what we engage with, around one in three people are touch-dominant.

That means that three in every ten people who visit your website desperately want to touch your information in order to engage with it, but have to rely solely on their visual senses. It means that a sizeable proportion of your website visitors cannot properly engage with your content.

Often, these individuals will print out your web page so they can hold it, so they can feel the content and so their brains can relax a bit because they are getting the range of sensory input required. Some people still print out all their emails so they understand what they have been sent and they can therefore respond properly.

Your web pages needs to be printable

One of the problems with printing out web pages is that browsers are not very good at printing. The key material on the page gets squashed, the adverts can dominate and the pages break in inappropriate places. As a result, standard web page printing is a mess. People can use Evernote’s “Clearly” product which allows them to print out the essence of a web page, getting rid of all the “furniture” that confuses. However, unless every one of your visitors has this browser add-on, they will get poor printing.

You can, of course, avoid this issue by having a “print only” CSS file which means when someone chooses to print your web page, the print only CSS takes over and delivers a much more desirable print experience for people. If you want to print out this article you will see that Smart Insights uses a “print.css” file to ensure the printed page is easy to read.
However, this kind of thing is not always possible, due to limitations of your content management system or the web design software that is used for your website. In such instances, then preparing a “print version” of the content is a good idea. This would be as simple as taking the content, creating a PDF of it and then having that available as a download link. Kinaesthetic people would then get a sense of relief as they would be able to click on the link and get something to print.

Should you make everything printable?

If you have to turn every page of your website into a printable PDF that is going to eat into your time and other resources. So what documents do people really want to be able to print?

Clearly any downloads you have people can print out – switching off the ability to print from within a PDF can work against you. The very reason that many people want such documents is so they can print them out.

The real reasons many people want to print something out is so they can reduce risk.

Our brain is constantly evaluating everything we do in order to reduce the risks involved. It is a central component of our survival mechanisms. Risk reduction transfers to many of our day to day activities, such as buying something. We seek to reduce the risk of spending too much on the wrong things. Hence we like to be well-informed about many of the things we buy.

For people who have a high degree of tactile input requirement, printing out something is required to help them reduce their risks. That means anything on your website that involves decision-making, such as something to buy, really ought to be printable. In this way people can print out the product details and get to “feel” them, helping their brain assemble yet more sensory input as part of its desire to reduce risk.

Key things to enable printing for include:

  • Product information
  • Terms and conditions
  • Biographies and profiles
  • Anything else that involves making decisions

Even though we are in a digital age, where millions of words are read each day online, the printed word still has immense value. Ignoring print could reduce your chances of online success; enabling print can bring about greater engagement.

(By the way, I printed this out to check before I posted it.)

Author's avatar

By Graham Jones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the Internet and how they behave online. He uses his findings to help businesses improve their use of the Internet, in particular to enhance marketing and sales. Graham is a Visiting Lecturer at The University of Buckingham and an Associate Lecturer at The Open University. He writes for magazines, newspapers and digital publications as well as for his own blog on Internet Psychology. Graham is the author of Click.ology: What Works in Online Shopping which includes his five-step "CLICK System" for analysing websites from a psychological perspective. You can connect with Graham at LinkedIn or on Twitter.

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