PROFESSOR: Web Design has developed rapidly since the introduction of the internet back in the early 1990’s, back when just having a web presence was enough to garner traffic from potential clients. Since those days, however, web traffic has multiplied exponentially and competition for audience attention is at an all-time high. So, what can you do to ensure that your website attracts an cultivates an audience? Now, I’m not focusing on things like S.E.O. or targeted advertising, tools that drive traffic to your website. I’m talking about the website itself, because even if you have a fool-proof campaign to drive potential clients to your site, you still have to ensure, that once there, they stay there! Keep in mind that the majority of visitors have likely been directed to your website via a search engine in which the link to your site was just one of dozens, if not hundreds, or even thousands, of possible choices.
Think about your own web surfing habits for a moment. Let’s say you’re intent on buying a pair of shoes and you search for something akin to “buy tennis shoes.” Your search results show hundreds of URLs and ads for webstores that sell shoes, right? You select one, click on it, and the landing page pops up. Almost instantaneously you form an opinion, deciding right then and there either to continue to explore this website or to click back and examine another option. In fact, statistically speaking, studies show that people decide whether or not to engage with any given website within .05 seconds of clicking on the page. So, let’s look at the psychology that is triggering that .05 second reaction and discuss what design elements assist in manipulating that reaction in favor of the visitor remaining on the site.
Someone tell me, what’s something that informs your decision on whether or not to further explore a site?
STUDENT: The first thing I consider is whether or not the site even has what I need!
PROFESSOR: Good! Yes, we have to demonstrate to people immediately that we can accommodate their needs. So, let’s discuss a couple of things that will help us do that right off: our branding and our hero section. Let’s start with branding. It’s important that our company logo and is obvious and conveniently located on the page so as to signal to visitors that they’ve found the correct website. Also, a well-designed logo that portrays a solid company identity will communicate a great deal with a single glance. We also have what is often referred to as a hero section, which is doubtlessly the most important aspect of our design. A hero image will, in all likelihood, be the first element visitors notice, and will be an integral contribution to the opinion they subsequently form. Therefore, the carefully selected image should be eye-catching and informative. The hero section should, likewise, contain a statement which informs visitors about the organization, usually via one or two cleverly crafted lines which clarify mission and purpose, and convince visitors the site is worthy of further exploration. To that effect, both the hero image and statement should clearly complement the company’s branding and style. Any questions?
Okay, great! Then, let’s switch gears here a moment and talk about things that turn people away from a website. Anyone want to jump in and give some examples of that?
STUDENT: I hate it when I can’t find what I’m looking for. I have to click through different pages looking for something when I just want to be able to see where I need to go from the landing page.
PROFESSOR: Yes! I’m so glad you mentioned that because clear navigation is absolutely essential to quality website design. One of the primary causes of visitors exiting a website without engagement, is exactly what you just mentioned: overly complicated navigation design. Your navigation menu should be easily spotted, near the top of the page, should contain brief but descriptive labels, and should remain consistent throughout all subsequent pages of your website. Remember, as with everything on the landing page, keep these navigation labels brief. It’s easy to overwhelm visitors with text-dense material, so an open design that is easy to scan, highlights key information and suggests links to additional content will assist in enticing visitors to explore further.