Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sound Principles of Web Design

Web design is always evolving to keep up with new technologies and new search engine algorithms. Businesses that used to be stuck building rudimentary HTML sites with Dream Weaver can now hire designers relatively cheaply and have a slick, high-performance site in no time. But with so many bells and whistles to choose from, how can you make sure your Web site actually informs people instead of confusing them, draws them in instead of making them click away, and generates real interest in what you have to offer?

That's a question we asked ourselves as we recently revamped our entire corporate site. What follows are some of the lessons we've learned -- and the proof is at

1. Relevant content MUST be above the fold. Visitors do not like to scroll, and research has proved that a visitor will click Next before they scroll. That's why we kept all of our taglines and topline navigation buttons within the space of a normal-sized browser window.

2. Keep text short and to the point. People don't go to Web sites to read dissertations. Bullet points are easy and fast to read, which is good when you have about 8 seconds and 3 clicks to get a visitor's attention.

3. Each page should have ONE relevant call to action. Think about what you want each page of your web site to accomplish and make it easy for the visitor to do that ONE thing. Most of our Web pages end with a very simple call to action -- fill out a brief information request form to get more details. It's straightforward, gets the reader what they want, and prevents the reader from having to make a choice about what to do next. (That's good because most casual visitors, if forced to make a choice between two options, will just click away instead.)

4. Minimize load times. In our era of high-speed Internet, people are extremely impatient. If you have any animation elements, make sure they load immediately. Or do what we did, and scrap animation entirely.

5. On every page, include key word phrases a visitor would likely search on to find your site. Avoid pronouns when you can use the entire phrase -- it will help the search engines index your site properly. Will your site look a little repetitive and sound a little more stilted? Maybe, if you sat down and read it out loud. But Internet readers and search engines alike tend to scan quickly for the phrases they want, so it's to your benefit to include them as much as possible.

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