by Tony Murtagh
However good your products/service, if your site is poorly designed you will not succeed at turning visitors into customers. The following article will help you avoid many of the common mistakes that novice (and expert) designers make. Whether you are going to design the site yourself, or contract out to a design consultant, there are several key elements to good site design that you (or your designer) need to work to.
The most important part of your site is the home page – that is what your potential customers will see when they first visit the site. If that is not right, it doesn’t matter what the remainder of the site is like – no one will ever get to see it!
Think of your front page as the cover of a book, and the Web as a giant bookstore. Most of the people in the store are there to browse around for a while, either not sure of what they want or just passing the time away. They will not pick up the first book they see and start reading it, but they will glance at the book covers until one catches their eye. They will then pick it up and look at the back cover for further information. If that still retains their interest, they may then actually open the book. By this time they have probably glanced at the covers of two or three dozen books and read the back covers of another dozen.
They will then read a few paragraphs here and there and then they will probably put the book back on the shelf and continue browsing. Eventually they may buy and read one of the many books they have glanced at.
This is like many of the browsers on the Web. They will surf through many sites before stopping long enough to navigate through one particular site. Even then they will probably leave before buying anything. It would be an achievement for you if they go as far as adding your site to their favourites list!
“But,” I hear you all saying, “when visitors come to my site, it is because they are interested in the product/service/information that I offer so they will stay.”
Really? And do you believe in the Tooth Fairy as well?
Let’s go back to that bookstore. Say you were to visit that store with the specific intention of buying a book on Web Site Marketing, and you had an idea of the book you wanted because a friend had recommended it. You would go to the computer section, find the book you were looking for and probably pick it up and glance through it. I doubt if you would buy it purely on your friend’s recommendation.
Now even if you did like the look of the book and felt that it was just what you wanted, wouldn’t you at least glance at the other books in the section? Isn’t there a chance that you would pick one or two of them up and browse through them? After all, you do want to ensure that you buy the best and most suitable book don’t you? So even if you went to the bookstore with the express intention of buying one particular book, there is a possibility that you could change your mind because you have seen something better.
If you found that the recommended book was poorly designed and you didn’t like the way it was written, would you still buy it? I don’t think so!
So you see, even if visitors have gone to your site because they were interested in what you have to offer, it is by no means certain that they will stay there, let alone buy anything!
OK, so now, I hope, you appreciate the need for good site design.
The following pointers will help you to design a site that your customers will find attractive and will stay at for at least a few minutes! I would recommend that you list these points and ensure that they are followed – especially if you are paying someone else to design the site for you – make sure you get the site that will work for you – not one that shows what clever designers they are!
Downloads Quickly – most accepted research has shown that a visitor will only wait six to eight seconds for a site to download – after that he will skip on somewhere else – so don’t have lots of graphics on your home page!
Easy to Read – don’t have a heavily patterned background or lots of colours – it might look pretty but people wont strain their eyes trying to read a light blue text on a purple background. (If you think I’m exaggerating, believe me, I’m not – I have seen that on a site of a company trying to sell a web design service – I could hardly read it so naturally I left and have never been back!). Black or dark blue on white is usually best for the main body text.
Make it Clear – show your visitors exactly what they have to do to navigate your site/obtain information/buy goods etc. Don’t leave them thinking what to do next.
Build Confidence – they probably don’t know you, so build confidence in your site. Do this by having an “About Us” page, contact information, site security information (if you are taking credit card details), testimonials, a FAQ page if appropriate (Frequently Asked Questions).
Keep Banners to a Minimum – particularly on your home page – people either don’t like them, ignore them, or worse still, click on them and leave your site!
Ensure Visitors can Navigate Easily – at a minimum, have a “top of page” link at the bottom of every page that is longer than the visitor can see at normal browser settings, and have a “home page” link on every page. Don’t send visitors down a cul-de-sac with no obvious way out. Yes, I know they can use the back button on their browsers, but it is surprising how many people do not and will simply exit your site if it is unclear where to go next.
How Do I Buy? – If you are selling goods directly from your site, make it crystal clear to visitors how to buy.
Build up a Database of Customers – collect their e-mail addresses getting permission to contact them in the future). This can be accomplished by the use of surveys, questionnaires, a quiz, or asking them to sign up to a newsletter.
I trust that the above tips will help you in designing a web site that will not only look good but, more importantly, make visitors want to look at the remainder of your site.
Tony Murtagh has spent all his career involved in sales, sales management, marketing and PR. He was a UK National Sales Manger (Major Accounts) for a mobile communications company, had his own publishing company producing a monthly Business to Business magazine and has acted as a PR consultant for a number of small businesses.