This is the third in a series of four posts about building a better website. The first post focused on setting goals for your site, the second focused on site planning. This post focuses on design. The last post will cover quality control. The series was sparked by an article that I posted on my Facebook page that advised businesses to reevaluate their e-commerce efforts, and also that they should avoid the “do it yourself” approach. While I agree with some of the advice in the column, I’m not sure that its necessary to avoid the DIY approach—especially if you’re tech savvy.
Regardless, the article did mention the necessity of setting goals, site planning, and design . . . all steps frequently overlooked by zealous business owners anxious to “get online.” I add another frequently overlooked, yet critical, function—quality control.
With your site plan as your guide, you are now ready to design your site. Regardless of whether you alone design your site or if you work with a web-designer, the key thing that you remember is to not over- or under-design your site. Over-designed sites are confusing to navigate and frequently require a visitor to go too deep (too many click-throughs) to get to desired content (or the content necessary to meet your sites goals) or contain available, but unnecessary items that are technically “cool” but cause long-page loading times and detract from your sites goals. Under-designed sites may have all of the necessary content presented in a reasonably accessible way but either do not look professional or contain major design or aesthetic flaws that turn off visitors (or worse, cause visitors to lose confidence in the efficacy or professionalism of the company). Following are ten tips to help avoid common design pitfalls:
- Use your planning grid to define page contents and user-interaction flow. Assess your final design against both your goals and planning grid. Excise any items in your design that conflict with or do not support your goals and that do not fit into your planning grid.
- As you design your site, make sure that you keep the user experience first and foremost in your mind. Think about what annoys you about websites that you visit, avoid those same mistakes in your own site.
- Visit your competitor’s and others’ sites. Incorporate what works best into your site, avoid what doesn’t work.
- Make sure it is easy to navigate both forward and backward through your site (don’t hard capture your visitors and cut-off backtracking, this is frustrating and a primary source of site abandonment).
- Try to keep your site as shallow as possible – your visitor’s short attention spans will not lend themselves to deep-diving through link after link on your site.
- Minimize pop-ups, these can distract your visitor (and potentially drive them away from your goals). Avoid moving pop up’s if at all possible – do not cause your customer to chase an animated pop up across the screen to close it, this is another primary cause of abandonment.
- Present clear images and complete information on any products that you offer. If you offer some items online only, highlight that (e.g. use larger or a different color font). Failing to do so may result in a lost sale. Sure the customer may physically visit your retail outlet but once there the customer will be frustrated and you’ve likely missed an opportunity to sell the item to them because more often than not, because of their frustrating experience with your store and site, go back online and buy the item from a competitor.
- Don’t pry – asking for personal information before it is necessary will turn off visitors. Additionally, if you’re asking for information do it honestly and be up front about why you’re collecting it. I recently ordered a pizza online through a national chain’s website. As I completed my transaction, a “warning” box popped up indicating that there was a problem with my birth date. I’ll say, I was never asked for nor entered my birth date. The box popped up immediately after the credit card processing screen and while it did offer a “No Thank You” option to opt out of providing my birth date, I wonder how many consumers unwittingly provide this critical-to-marketing but totally-unnecessary-to-pizza-ordering piece of information? I’m sure the gimmick works to get the desired information but it seems misleading and borderline deceptive to ask for it in this manner. Not the image I’m sure that the company wants to project.
- Aesthetics are important. As is consistency in branding. Don’t use garish or contrasting colors, or changes color schemes from page to page. Pull your company’s brand identity into your site. Use the same colors, fonts, and messaging online and offline . . . don’t confuse your customer by failing to unify your marketing efforts across all channels.
- Seek out an uninvolved third-party (preferably in your target market) to interact with your site and pay close attention to their feedback, compare their experiences/impressions with your goals and make adjustments where necessary.