2013′s Growing Marketing Trend: Whitespace

You may be in on the trend or you may be oblivious, but you’ve seen it, and you’ve probably been drawn in by it.

Copious amounts of whitespace – large gaps between images and chunks of text, whether the background color is white or not – are appearing on more and more marketing materials.

Why, you ask, and why should you care?

Here, I’ll explain why.

It All Started On Web Sites

The last few decades, marketing messages have proliferated past consumers’ ability to absorb.

In response, attention spans have shrunk. With more competition and less time, web sites reacted by cramming their home pages with information so they could say as much as possible before visitors clicked away.

Those crammed home pages looked like this:



Easytobook, pre-May 2012 (more details here)

But what rises must fall, and drowning site readers with a slew of details isn’t exactly user-friendly. So a counter-trend rose up: presenting the basics, and nothing more, like this:



Easytobook, post-May 2012

WordPress management console ManageWP posted about updating their web page in a similar fashion – see the before and after here.
 
 
What Was The Point Of Adding Whitespace?

More whitespace means less content, which translates to “only essential content.” This tactic has three benefits:

Which is why…

The Trend Spread To Email-For-Mobile

Since links on small screens are tiny and most fingers are not, the whitespace trend spread to marketing emails. Links and buttons are now padded with extra space to give those fingers room to click.

As we’ve shown before, here are two versions of the same Bluefly email:


Here, links are crowded together

Whitespace allows readers to click

It’s Showing Up In Grocery Fliers

Many grocery stores are still following the traditional many-rows-of-tiny pics approach – you know the one; it looks like this:



But lately, mailboxes have been opening to reveal fliers of a far different style:

With all that whitespace, stores can emphasize their biggest sales and most popular products.

Even Product Packaging Is Adopting The Trend

Pharmaceutical startup Help not only incorporates copious whitespace into their web site, but their product packaging as well:



Shoppers are met with exactly the answers they’re looking for, and nothing more.

How To Create Whitespace In Your Emails

There are two key steps:

1. Keep text minimal. Communicate what’s important, and use your typical brand voice, but leave out the nitty gritty.

2. Leave blank areas between your blocks of text, images and other elements.

In AWeber’s Block Editor, where you drag and drop your design elements, whitespace is easy to incorporate. For example, here are two versions of the same email, the first created with no thought for whitespace and the second created in the Block Editor:

For even more space around content, you can use the + sign to insert an extra columns or rows.



Adding whitespace to your emails can create a whole new design. You might want to see some examples of similar designs before you jump in, so here’s a collection of whitespace-d web pages from DesignWoop.

Your Predictions, Please

Whitespace, though useful, gets less content in front of your readers before they have to scroll or click for more.

Do you prefer the cleaner, newer design trend, or do are you sticking with the show-it-all method? We’re curious which way small businesses are leaning, so let us know in the comments – and thanks!

By:
Amanda Gagnon is the former Education Manager for AWeber and has started a number of small businesses.

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49 Comments

  1. Amanda – This is a great article. I really like white space and dislike sites that are crammed with flashing icons and ads.

    One thing I see a lot that is a negative is the fact that text is often a dark gray instead of black. That makes it harder to read and counteracts the less busy background on a website. More contrast please!

    2/14/2013 11:23 am
  2. I agree 1000%!

    Google and Apple have been using white space for quite some time. It’s good to see other marketers catching on.

    I like the way you guys summed things up here. Bravo!

    – Jamie

    2/14/2013 2:44 pm
  3. I like whitespace, and clean and neat emails. I don’t have time to read everything in an email, and I’m sure my readers don’t have either…

    2/14/2013 2:55 pm
  4. I feel vindicated! I’ve received some comments that my site was too ‘plain’ that there was not enough flash and bang on it.

    I prefer the space aesthetic, so refused to capitulate to critics! Yay, now I find that I am a trendsetter.

    Good stuff, going to do a blog post on this subject.

    Thanks again.

    2/14/2013 3:16 pm
  5. wow this is an amazing article. I really liked the examples.

    “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter” – Benjamin Franklin

    I like the new trend. Less copy means people will write more concise sales copy. Every sentence will be impactful.

    2/14/2013 3:26 pm
  6. Patricia – I agree. I think it looks classy on a plain white background if the letters are big enough, but otherwise, function over form.

    Jamie – Thanks, and exactly. We’ll be watching for whatever Google & Apple do next.

    Haroun – You got it.

    Rachel – Standing your ground, I like it. And just like Jamie pointed out, it’s what Google and Apple are doing, so you’re in elite company.

    Rishi – <3 Mr. Franklin. And yes.

    2/14/2013 4:00 pm
  7. I like the white space but the mobile flyer turns me off. The white space on it looks cheesy.

    2/14/2013 4:04 pm
  8. DC

    I like to use the white space method as I think it is a more immediate and effective way of selling a product. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    2/14/2013 4:11 pm
  9. Dana – That’s really interesting. It definitely looks less polished; I’m guessing that’s what you mean.

    DC – Anytime.

    2/14/2013 4:15 pm
  10. Folks, white space doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve been in direct response marketing for 40 years and it made me millions. I saw this trend bubbling around in the 1980s. My clients would bring me in white-space designer ads created by their prior agency. The ads were beautiful. Some had won awards. Every ad had lost money.

    We redesigned the ads. Suddenly, they were profitable. And we kept our clients. You see, folks, customers can’t read white space.

    This fad will boil itself out within two years and web sites will start to become readable again. Not every customer who browses the Net has the mentality of a Squidoo enthusiast :)

    2/14/2013 4:20 pm
  11. John – Wow, I’d love to see some examples of that. We tested something similar for one of our broadcasts last year and found a jump in engagement, but we’re definitely going to keep testing. To bring up the Apple point yet again, wouldn’t you say it works for them? I’m wondering if consumer preferences have shifted.

    2/14/2013 4:24 pm
  12. Amanda. Great post!

    I can’t tell you how much I always appreciate hearing “more white space” from industry leaders.

    Mike J.
    Inkspot Graphics

    2/14/2013 4:31 pm
  13. Don

    I like it personally, be it a form that been around for years in off line marketing. Now, it’s being applied to online marketing. Take a billboard, it’s built to instill a though in your mind and a desire, knowing your driving by it ever day so. That way when you’re out shopping or have a need the image you seen comes to mind because of repetitive image you seen that caught your eye was store in your mind.

    It a matter of appealing to the eye, also the way people scan pages is important. You’ll have to keep this in mind when using this style; it’s like learning new way of copy writing using pictures instead of words.
    You basically build a series of pictures that the mind will pick on fast and get the attention of the reader before the click away.

    You should be able to, in a glace to get the reader to stop, want to see more and have a desire or feel the need to click see more. This all takes place in about 1 to 3 second in the mind, that the effect you working to get when building you ads or flyers. The mind can perceive things at an unbelievable rate. And you’re trying to grab the 1 second that stop them to see more.

    2/14/2013 4:50 pm
  14. Your article brings up a question I just ran into. I built a broadcast message using an AWeber template and Block Editor, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it leave some space between sections. You know, like using HTML. It was just headline, paragraph, headline, paragraph, etc.

    How do you manipulate that spacing in Block Editor to create more white space?

    2/14/2013 4:52 pm
  15. Thanks, Amanda. I’d like to see some split-test examples too, independently verified.

    I’ll concede that white-space designer ads work in the consumer market for low-priced or impulse purchases (eg. pizzas). But in the corporate market, or for anything priced above $50, they flop.

    My own tests show:

    1. White-space ads attract high clickthroughs but poor conversion to sale.
    2. Long-copy ads get fewer clickthroughs but better conversion to sale.

    Option 2 is far more profitable for high-end offers.

    Some while ago, Sean Mize told me he had emailed 50,000 people a very, very long-copy ad, 2000+ words. No graphics. No sub-heads. It brought him just three responses. No problem. Each response yielded him $10,000.

    (I’m citing this from memory. If Sean’s listening in – he used to be an AWeber subscriber – perhaps he could correct me?)

    Incidentally, how come you responded to my post? Maybe because my copy had no white space!

    2/14/2013 4:57 pm
  16. Amanda,

    The answers you are providing in the grey boxes are impossible to read with my current monitor settings. I guess using “white” background is a better idea. :)

    2/14/2013 5:31 pm
  17. I guess white is the new black. :)

    I think it comes down to user-friendliness and making media consumption as easy as possible. Truth be told, people don’t read, they scan, so the easier you can make it for people to digest information, the better.

    2/14/2013 5:47 pm
  18. I created a business totally lacking the idea of Whitespace. Time for a re-design… no wonder no one has contacted me yet lol.

    2/14/2013 6:16 pm
  19. I’ve always been a big fan of white and simple templates.. it’s going to be future!

    2/14/2013 6:51 pm
  20. One of the things I have learned is to follow the steps of people who are excelling. I have been “whitespacing” my emails for the past 6 months for that reason. The successful entrepreneurs I follow have been sending me emails that are whitespaced. They are clean and to the point. In generating my lists the emails I have been sending out have been mirroring this successful example. I am thinking it is a new trend, one I like.

    thanks for the update.
    Thom

    2/14/2013 7:57 pm
  21. White space is good, in the right context.

    Consider splash, squeeze and landing pages. Someone may only be looking at that page for 6 seconds! White space is good here because it directs the eyes to the important message.

    Consider email subscribers now. They have already shown interest by subscribing for more info, so give them more. However, don’t just single-space cram paragraphs together.

    Keep short (maybe 60 to 100 character wide) lines with only a couple sentences per email. Readers are more likely to read through short blocks of text then novel-like paragraphs.

    In short, are you capturing new leads or reaching out to your subscribers? White space is great if used effectively.

    Great article, Amanda.

    -Jerokiah Darr

    2/14/2013 8:51 pm
  22. Bernie

    John – As you know, Direct Response advertising relies on a headline (and maybe a graphic) to grab those people who want solid and convincing information – only those prospects will take up your invitation and make the effort to read the copy.

    On the other hand, many web surfers search for sources of information/products and respond best to a brief, easily read amount of specific information to help them decide if they have found an appropriate site. The landing page they visit should have a specific call to action without the distraction of many options or time-consuming copy. Load them up with too much copy before they want it and they can easily click to another site and try again!

    If, on the other hand, their search is specific (i.e. a ‘buyer’) to a particular product or service, copy intensive pages meet their need.. just as they do in the print media.

    The answer is.. TEST, and keep testing (just like DM)

    2/14/2013 9:02 pm
  23. I am a white space lover! My website is full of it:) glad to know I’m on trend and was wondering how to do it with my newsletter. Thank you for this post!

    2/14/2013 9:53 pm
  24. Nice article.

    I think it’s more important to have a heavy focus on what is in the spaces with the text and photos.

    Put another way smart supermarkets are getting more focused on advertising their most popular products instead of trying to advertise everything.

    In the other pages you mention the focus is heavily on highlighting the exact offer and making it easy to click.

    It’s not so much the white space (although that is an important element) but in tightly focusing and highlighting the offer or message in your piece.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

    2/15/2013 12:39 am
  25. braigetori

    fantastic article. content like this is what wins.

    2/15/2013 1:02 am
  26. I didn’t notice this evolution (maybe it’s because I’m in Europe) but this makes perfect sense. Thanks for the tips!

    2/15/2013 4:17 am
  27. Hello Amanda,
    Another good post, congratulations. Well, I have to say – today I learned something. I have never considered to add more white space and less text to my marketing messages. Actually if I think also to marketing messages I received in the last few weeks, most of them are like that, such as the ones I received from AWeber.
    Now I’d like to ask you something: First of all, do you think the space have to necessarily be white, or maybe a light grey would be ok? Secondly, sometimes it is hard for me to send an email with a clear short message. Sending a message with just the essential stuff is the hardest thing. Summarize is very difficult.
    Cheers

    2/15/2013 12:15 pm
  28. Someone mentioned that Apple and Google have been heavy on the use of white space – these are both mobile intensive companies. Perhaps you can comment on how mobile has possibly driven white space design – ie designs scaled down for mobile require a more headline driven, less text approach. Is white space more critical for good mobile display, but perhaps not as important for traditional web, email & print, where direct response copy is critical to ad performance?

    2/15/2013 12:21 pm
  29. The use of whitespace is nothing new. I’ve long been a proponent of making your marketing materials inviting to readers’ eyes. It’s a combination of white space, short sentences and paragraphs, bullet points and dark type on a white background.
    Designers love using white type on a dark background and studies have shown large amounts of reverse type make it difficult for folks to read.

    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention in the Aweber community. It’s so important to be inviting.
    ~Debra

    2/15/2013 2:07 pm
  30. Paul Miller

    Amanda I agree with John Yeoman – white space doesn’t sell. I learned this way back and it applies to anything high ticket (anything over an impulse purchase of $20) for example: I was put in charge of a small car dealership that was struggling. I off course evaluated several things one being the advertising. The dealer had been doing it previously and like “WHITE SPACE”. In fact when he saw my first ad group he said “I don’t like it – to busy” and I looked at him, smiled, and said “You don’t have to like the ad, just the results.” That weekend was the first weekend he ever sold 20 cars and trucks in ONE day.

    IF white space were the thing, every top gun copywriter would be using it to sell products. You never see a lot of white space in any sales letter, either offline or online because white space doesn’t SELL. Copy sells.

    So when the dust settles “white space” may be good for “image” type ads or emails simply designed to build brand but when it comes to closing, getting the customer engaged, excited, frothing at the mouth to purchase – white space ain’t gonna cut it.

    2/15/2013 5:04 pm
  31. OR

    Finding the perfect balance of text, white space, images and links is allways an art that need to be split tested.

    2/15/2013 5:40 pm
  32. I like the white space too. In college they talked about whitespace in our web design classes but only in the last couple years has it really taken off. I can’t stand web sites that are packed full with every space taken.

    2/15/2013 11:48 pm
  33. Very important message. I am using white space more and more. thanks!

    2/16/2013 10:23 am
  34. Less is definitely more. More and more websites are adopting the minimalist approach in their design. It can be very overwhelming when you’re sent emails you don’t know where to start from! I am backing whitespace.

    2/18/2013 4:37 am
  35. As Paul says, it all comes down to what you’re selling. White space invites an impulse response. Yes, you’ll get clickthroughs, but they won’t convert to sale. Long copy text ads get fewer clickthroughs but a higher conversion to sale.

    Claude Hopkins taught that in the 1920s. David Ogilvy rediscovered it in the 1950s. Long copy text ads work – at least, for high-end offers. White space doesn’t. Why do folk keep inventing square wheels? :)

    2/18/2013 8:11 am
  36. Great information. Thanks for sharing your insights and information. Love knowing about “white space”.

    2/20/2013 1:39 am
  37. Yes! Big fan of whitespace, and this post will be helpful sharing the concept with some of my clients who don’t get it yet ;)

    2/21/2013 9:31 pm
  38. Ben

    Less means more. See Google Glass home page http://www.google.com/glass

    2/26/2013 9:59 am
  39. This is great and this is what we do now.

    3/12/2013 11:21 pm
  40. stanley escolano

    I am all for whitespace If I don’t get the point in the first two lines.

    I delete it..

    3/18/2013 4:41 pm
  41. Great article about WHITE SPACE as I have already been leaning that way in what I do .. I’m Extremely Busy .. So I can relate to LESS IS BETTER!
    THANKS!

    4/2/2013 2:00 pm
  42. I guess we are all in a hurry, long winded e-mails are a no no.. unless it’s information that you are really interested in and have the time to read. Unfortunately we get far too many e-mails, and often don’t open them at all, we pick out what we think is important and leave the rest alone. That’s the pity of subscribing to news letters etc, most tend to over do it and send you 6-10 a month.
    Yes write space is good, the writer has had to think how he/she can maximize the impact of fewer words to get the desired result, they are more lightly to get read. Still send less emails per month is a better option.

    4/2/2013 4:45 pm
  43. I’m in favor of the white space.
    Its much easier to see and use.

    4/4/2013 10:18 am
  44. I too like to have white space. I am yet to explore this using block editor. Thanks.

    4/4/2013 3:35 pm
  45. I have been wanting to have more white space in my blog broadcast. When I first started using the blog broadcast feature on AWeber, it would pick up a few words of the beginning of the blog post, then have a link for the reader to click and read the remainder online on the actual blog. I asked if there was a way to lengthen the amount of text the editor provided the reader and I was told “no, but you can choose to have it pick up the entire blog post.” So I moved to that. If there isn’t enough text to lure the person, the will not click on. I also feel that my readers have subscribed to my newsletter to get some content without having to be bothered going elsewhere. So let me ask you what I asked my AWeber support agent: “Can I tweak how much the editor picks up from my blog without having to go to the whole blog?” Also, I get emails where they are able to synopsize their post, keeping the white space, and then provided a link to the actual post a couple of times. But I don’t want it to be automatic. Can you advise me?

    5/14/2013 6:33 pm
  46. Susan, yes, there are actually two ways.
    1.) If you use WordPress and use the “More” tag (the dotted-line button), move it down further in your post. This will cause more of the post to show up on your blog’s index page, but since everything above that tag shows up in the blog broadcast, it’ll accomplish what you want.
    2.)If you don’t use WordPress and use the “More” tag, set your blog broadcast to not send automatically once it’s created (un-check the “send automatically” box). You’ll be able to go in and add whatever text you like (copy it in from the post or just describe the post in a way that’ll make your subscribers want to go read it) before sending the email out.

    5/15/2013 8:41 am
  47. Amanda, I use WordPress. I have started using the “More” tag as you suggested, but for some reason, your editor does not pick that tag up and I am having to manually delete text and add a hyperlink “Read more” to get my broadcast message to work properly. Can you see if there is a technical reason why my “more” tag from WordPress does not get picked up? It is a lot more more work for me to have to do these manual updates. Thanks in advance.

    6/20/2013 4:36 pm
  48. Susan, It sounds like you have the {!rss_item_content} variable in your blog broadcast template; you’ll have to switch it out with the variable {!rss_item_description} and you should be good to go!

    6/21/2013 9:12 am
  49. White space is becoming a trend in web design in general along with flat design. To be quite honest, I’m liking it.

    10/11/2013 9:25 pm