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How Contrast Helps You Get More Subscribers and Sales
Last Updated January 18th, 2011


You have less than 3 seconds to impress a random, one-off visitor on your blog. What do you do to grab their attention?

Sadly, most people craft a killer headline, pick an emotional picture, and write an interesting opening sentence. This is the bare minimum.

If you only focus on your content, you lose out on the opportunity to make the rest of your blog work towards turning random people into customers.

Let’s cut to the chase. What else can you do to ensure you don’t miss out on potential readers and buyers?

The Power of Contrast

Let’s say I give you a shopping list of ten items. Nine of the items are written in blue and one is written in green. I then ask you to memorize the list.

Which item do you think you’ll have the best chance of remembering? The green one, right?

Most people remember the green one because the unexpected contrast instantly calls their attention and leaves a lasting impression.

In Social Psychology, this is known as the Von Restorff effect. And while it was discovered 77 years ago, the impact it has  today is huge. Let me explain.

Competition in 2010 is fierce. There are a record number of bloggers and entrepreneurs competing for a finite amount of attention. You must stand-out to be rememberable.  You’ve heard this platitude before, so let’s look at two examples.

How White Headphones Helped Apple Become the #1 MP3 Player

You’ve all seen it. The black silhouette of a guy  dancing on a vibrant colored background.

And what’s that dangling from their ears? You guessed it. White headphones.

This Apple iPod commercial was genius. Years ago, people were accustomed to black headphones, which is why the white headphones left a lasting impression.

The best part? The commercial worked thousands of times. Once you knew the white headphones belonged to the Apple, every time you saw them on the street, you couldn’t help but think of an iPod.

Sure… the iPod is a great product, but their deliberate choice to stand-out helped them turn random people on the street into buyers. Win.

Now how does this work online?

Yellow Highlighter, Red Arrows, and Other Attention-Getting Tactics

By now you’ve probably encountered  red arrows, yellow highlighter, and other high-squeeze tactics internet marketers use to grab your attention.

And while these tactics are great for converting cold traffic into e-mails or sales, I refuse to use them because I consider it obnoxious.

Plus, I consider myself a Third Tribe Marketer. So I wouldn’t consider using these “in-your-face” tactics because I know it probably turns you off.

So, what other attention-getting tactics exist?

For starters, take a second and load up Copyblogger.com in a new window or tab. You’ll probably notice the mail icon that falls off the top left of his design, right?

Well, this little trick pulls your attention and practically forces you to read “Free Updates.”

Better still, eye-tracking studies show that people often look to the top left of a web page first. So, including it at the top left makes sure people see it.

And better still, when you see free updates, you also see the yellow post-it note that sums up the point of Copyblogger.com in six words. “Copywriting tips for online marketing success.”

It’s no wonder he has more than 100,000 subscribers. He man-handles your eyes as soon as you hit his web page. And it wasn’t obnoxious, right?

That’s Third Tribe Marketing at work.

How Can You Use Contrast Right Now?

I showed you how big business used contrast to get sales. I also showed you how a mega-blog uses it to get subscribers. Now what can you do to use contrast on your website?

1. Navigation

Most people use several links for their navigation. The problem is, many of these links blend in with one another. This leaves a great opportunity to use contrast to grab attention on the table.

For example, take a look at LauraRoeder.com. In her top navigation, all of her links have a gray background. She would probably benefit greatly from changing the background of “Free Resources” to a different color to make it stand out more.

2. Color Scheme

What niche are you in? What colors do the top blogs use on their website? Is there any way you can choose a completely different color?

For example, take a look at my site design. Simple, I know. But look at the color of my links. I picked purple. I did this on purpose because there weren’t any other marketing blogs that I knew using the color purple.

Is this a major change? Probably not. Will it help you stand-out just a little bit more than the next guy? Absolutely.

3. Subscription Boxes

Most people include a subscribe to this blog call to action in their sidebar. Unfortunately, it’s often in the wrong place or it blends in well with their website.

Load up Dannybrown.me for a second. Do you see how his sidebar looks very uniform? It looks nice, but nothing stands out.

While this may be on purpose, I bet he can boost his subscription conversions if he changed the background color of “Subscribe to Danny.”

Or, he could go one-step further, and break it out of his sidebar completely. He could include it above his search box, in a yellow post-it to further differentiate it from the rest of his sidebar.

When Should You Use Contrast?

While I may have called out Danny and Laura, my observations may be off-base. The thing is, you should only use contrast when you want to call attention to a specific item on your page, so my recommendations may not be in line with their goals.

How do you know when you should use it? First off, you would need to take a few minutes and determine the primary goal of each page.

For example, on your single post page, your goal may be to convert a one-off visitor into a subscriber. This is the perfect opportunity to make your subscription box stand out.

Or, as another example, on your product page, you may want to convert readers into customers. Here’s where you can use contrast to highlight the importance of your products.

So, ask yourself… What’s important on each of my pages? What can I do to make sure that my goal is 100% clear?

Note, if you’re having problems figuring this stuff out, please feel free to leave a comment. I’ll gladly help you implement this on your site.

Or, you can feel free to subscribe to Social Triggers because I’ll be giving you a lot more awesome tips like this in the near future.

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12 comments Leave a comment
Stefan Vorkoetter

Contrast is great, but using purple for your link colour is a bad idea in my opinion. I’d read several of your pages, and didn’t click on quite a few of the links because I thought I’d been there already. Purple is the colour for already-visited links.

Brian Clark

No one’s accused me of “man-handling” before. At least not in formal charges. 😉

Great article Derek. You’ve really nailed how contrast works in design. It also works in copy as well — same principle, different application.

Here are a couple of posts about it:

How to Use the Simple Power of Contrast to Become More Persuasive

How to Hit a Copywriting Home Run With Perceptual Contrast


    Well, man-handling is an understatement. Now you know I remember those two articles from when you originally wrote them. Time flies and it’s still 100% relevant.

Are These Sales "Best Practices" Hurting Your Results?

[…] What’s the best way to help people “stand out?” […]

ridgely johnson

Recruiters/Executives give a resume an average 30 second glance when a resume comes across their desk-and they are PRO-actively looking for candidates. Subsequently, job seekers must structure resumes knowing they this “one shot.”

Regardless of your motivation for writing the blog, I feel fairly confident in believing you want your followers to read it, correct?

Following your specific, clear suggestions will substantially increase the chance that you keep the reader engaged through your post-
Nice job-

A side note- I became intrigued with your banter on Twitter-Third Tribe and that is what lead me here- do not underestimate the power of the contact made there & the authenticity each arena provides 😉

Scott Carson

I like this article and comments more. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in purposing a new blog. Although I started this venture with goals to someday earn a living, my main two overarching goals are to see obesity and type II diabetes trends reverse. I think the idea of influence/leadership is critcal to effect change in any effort online. I’ve been struggling with code for my social widget and thinking about what I could use to stand out. Thanks for the prompt, it reminded me about the psychology of colors.

Karl Staib - Work Happy Now

I know I need to work on my navigation. I don’t think they stand out enough. This is something that I have to work on. Maybe I’ll make my “Hire me” link yellow, so people realize that I’m available for consultations. I’ll have to check with my web guy. He should be able to come up with something.

Danny Brown

Hey there fella,

Thanks for the overview. I hear what you’re saying (and on my older design I think the Subscribe options stood out a little more). And if I was really “all about” subscribers, I probably would do a Copyblogger (or similar).

But I’m not bothered about making money from my blog (I’ve certainly been offered plenty sponsors, ads, etc), so I’m not overly concerned about how many subscribers there are (or aren’t).

That’s not to say I’m not really grateful for everyone that subscribes – I am for sure. But I’m more for the cool convos that happen there as opposed to using numbers for leverage in book deals or closed, paying communities… 😉

Cheers again, bud!


    It’s not always about the money. I understand that. But, what if someone really enjoyed your content? What if they couldn’t find your subscription options because it wasn’t prominent enough?

    Or, from another standpoint, taking money out of the picture… Let’s say you’re working on promoting your 12 for 12k charity. Maybe you might benefit from highlighting that instead?


What a great article. I think I need to go change the color of one of my navigation items too.

Laura Roeder

Thanks for the feedback Derek, this was a really useful article. I do try to use contrast with the highlighting of “first name” and “email” on the homepage. Sometimes people tell me that they can’t find my programs for sale, so maybe I should experiment with using contrast for the “shop” link.


    Personally, I prefer to build my list so I can let my autoresponder do the selling. In your case, if people can’t find your products, highlighting your shop link may be beneficial.

    Also, I also want to ad one more thing. Your products page may not be the right option for “every” page of your site. You may only want to do it on your homepage (which is where the loyal visitors usually hit).

    And then on your single post pages (where the search engine traffic hits), you may want to highlight something else.

    At the end of the day, you always have to test. What’s right for one audience isn’t right for all audiences.

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