When It Comes to Clicks, Times New Roman Still Reigns Supreme.
“Do serifs make you tap?”
That’s the question posed in a recent exploratory blog post by Yieldmo. As an attempt to answer this question, the mobile advertising company conducted a test as an expansion of a previous experiment by the New York Times. Unlike its inspiration, which aimed to test believability of the written word based on typeface, this experiment aimed to determine what kind of typeface was not only the most believable but the most engaging to the user.
The experiment tested three serif typefaces, including:
Against three sans serif typefaces:
What they found, based on click-through rates (CTR) measured for online display advertisements, was that Times New Roman was by far the most effective typeface that they tested, netting a +15% change in CTR. Arial came in a distant second with just a +4.3% CTR change. But most notably, Garamond, a fairly similar serif font in comparison with Times New Roman, saw a CTR change of -15%.
What could have caused the dissonance between these typefaces?
“Times New Roman really is a very legible font,” said NDG Creative Director Mike Metz. “The thickness and weight of fonts is very important when it comes to readability, and Times New Roman maintains a very consistent weight throughout. Its x-height makes it especially legible as well.”
In layman’s terms, a font’s x-height determines how high lower-case letters are compared to upper-case letters. And in comparison to Times New Roman’s generous x-height, Garamond, even when it occupies the same number of pixels, looks small.
Yes, readability might’ve been the culprit, but maybe the answer behind the contrasting CTRs isn’t even that scientific and may just boil down to the fact that we’re creatures of habit who gravitate to what we’re familiar with.
“I think we wanted to be able to point to some subtle psychological reasoning behind why click-through rates were so much higher for Times New Roman,” said Metz. “But I think it really just comes down to the fact that people are so used to seeing Times New Roman, so they’re just more comfortable with it.”
Consider: Times New Roman has been everywhere since 1932. Books, newspapers, reports, office documents and an infinite number of other published works all live by the old standard.
Moreover, Times New Roman is a font that’s installed on virtually every modern device with a display. In the same vein, that would explain why the user engagement experiment showed positive CTR response on ads displayed with the Arial font, which comes pre-installed on both Microsoft and Apple platforms.
“The important takeaway from an experiment like this is to aim for engagement over what font you might think looks best when developing your design strategy,” said Metz. “If it doesn’t get them to ‘tap,’ then you’re not going to get the results you want, so it’s not really an effective typeface, even if it seems more aesthetically pleasing at first glance.”