How often have you used a website and gotten bored and left because of the website design? It’s probably not very often. If you’re buying a book or movie on Amazon, you search for it, find it and buy it. You might read a few reviews or browse for a few different comparable books or movies, you might get bored with the book or movie you bought from the site, but you are unlikely to get bored with the website itself.
Now count up all the times you have left a website because you were frustrated or fed up with trying to find the information you were after. If you use the web regularly then you almost certainly counted into double digits.
You know the sites I’m talking about. They might have a flash introduction or the pages will be loaded with images that make the page take ages to load. The menu doesn’t seem to make sense and leads you on a wild goose chase and you get ‘de ja vue’ as you feel you are going around in circles trying to find the information you wanted. Eventually (or possibly, quickly) you leave the site, curse its name and never return.
Bottom line: Your visitors are far more likely to get impatient and fed up with your website than they are likely to be bored.
To underline a point, when Facebook redesigned its website a poll of its users revealed that 94% didn’t like the changes. When Amazon changed its menu it took me a while to get used to it and their sales took a dip because of it. Were the users of these sites protesting and demanding change? Not a bit of it, in fact when Facebook brought in its news feed in 2006 there were organised protests against the changes.
So Where Does it All Go Wrong?
In (very) short, it goes wrong when you choose style over substance. Or to put it another way, it goes wrong when you choose to forget about what your website objectives are and concentrate purely on thinking ‘That looks cool!’
The old statistic is that you have eight seconds to grab your users’ attention and after this they will leave. This stat is proven in study after study and is generally accepted by most, but flashy graphics in isolation are not the answer. These same studies also state that users look for ‘visual clues’ in that eight seconds to work out if they are in the right place (or on the right page) and an effective use of these visual clues on your web page will help you ‘hook’ the user to find out more.
Using Visual Clues Effectively
Flash animation is eye catching and naturally the users’ eye will be drawn to it. So if you are going to use flash animation then it must re-enforce the primary messages and encourage the user to stay. Be aware that page load time is a big reason for users to get frustrated and if they are faced with the ‘loading’ progress bar, your cool graphic may well have the opposite effect that you intended.
Supporting images are helpful for users to find their way. You may think this is obvious, but having an image for the sake of it is not helpful. So if you sell baby clothes then a picture or a montage of pictures showing smiling babies wearing your product range is going to be a big clue to your users that they are in the right place. But if a photo is not appropriate then don’t crowbar one in. A graphic image showing a sales chart or carrying other sales massages will be more appropriate if you need to break the page up.
This is probably the most important element of each page. The text on your page has been crawled and indexed by Google and Google is where most website owners I work with find that the majority of their traffic comes from. So it makes sense that if you put a relative, attractive, attention grabbing headline this is going to be of immediate interest to a user. They are going to read it and realise that this page is in tune with the Google search that brought them here. Then they’ll start to read the rest of the information that you have added to your page.
Once you’re your using your website design to engage with your customers you then have a chance to convert them into a customer.