5 Key Web Design and Usability Principles

While a snappy design might not be the single most important factor in the success of a website, and sometimes too much emphasis is put on what a site looks like instead of how it works, design does play a very important role in creating a good first impression.

It is a difficult balancing act, but the overriding purpose of a website should always be to serve the customer first before things such as SEO. Most websites have a 30-60 percent bounce rate after a user lands there from a search engine or other type of off-site link. This means that up to six in 10 visitors leave without navigating to any other pages on that site, and most will never return.

We’re going to discuss 5 design aspects that can enhance the look and user-friendliness of a site to decrease bounce rates and increase conversion rates.

  1. Make The First Impression Count

    No matter what type of product or service is being sold, a commercial website represents that business and should showcase what is being offered. When visitors arrive there for the first time — especially if the visitor is arriving there via a search for the specific product or service being offered — there are a number of questions that are running through their minds at the subconscious level:

    • Does the site seem trustworthy and is this company stable?
    • Does the site appear professional and credible?
    • Does the site appear to be welcoming and friendly?
    • Does the site have what is being sought?

    While a snappy design might not be the single most important factor in the success of a website, and sometimes too much emphasis is put on what a site looks like instead of how it works, design does play a very important role in creating a good first impression.

    A study published by Stanford University on this very issue found that consumers rate a website’s overall design as the single most influential factor in determining credibility.

    “The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and colour schemes.

    In other words, the visual design may be the first test of a site’s credibility. If it fails on this criterion, Web users are likely to abandon the site and seek other sources of information and services.”(Bold emphasis added.)

  2. Website Design Tips

    With the results of the Stanford study in mind, below are a few suggestions that lend themselves to great website design:

    Layout — A layout with page elements organized in an orderly grid fashion makes pages easy to navigate and absorb. White space/empty space should be incorporated as an intentional design element to give the page a clean appearance and avoid the perception of clutter.

    Typography — Legibility is the key. Reading type on a screen is quite different from reading on a printed page. For example, most readers prefer a serif font when reading printed text, but prefer a sans serif font when reading onscreen as serif fonts can appear blurry. For this reason sans serif fonts are preferable. Put some thought into font selection, size and colour to make it easy on the reader. Also, keep in mind that readers tend to scan web pages to pick out highlights, so keep paragraphs short, use section headers and bullet point lists to organize content.

    Colour Scheme — A carefully considered colour scheme can pull together and complete an overall design. Choose two to four complementing colours to highlight page templates and marketing materials. Avoid using sharp colour contrasts in an attempt to make elements “jump out”, as the effect is often more distracting and annoying than attention grabbing.

    Animation, Flash and Multimedia — avoid the overuse of gadgets. Flash animation and multimedia can grab attention, but can also distract from the purpose of the site. Users with non-compliant browsers will simply go away, and there are accessibility issues for visitors using mobile devices and tablets.

    While design is important, it should also be kept in mind that for a business website the ultimate aim is to sell a product or service, and great content supporting that product or service is what keeps visitors on the page.

  3. Maintaining Consistency

    Once the first impression hurdle has been passed, visitors will begin navigating to other pages of the website, so it is important to keep the site design elements consistent from page to page. Elements include: colour scheme, font styles and sizes, layout structure, graphics and navigation link placement. While layout structures may necessarily change, such as from a home page to a product page for example, if other elements such as navigation links, headers and logo placement remain consistent, visitors will not feel lost going from page to page.

  4. Using Images

    Imagery transmits subconscious messages to viewers and quite often that message is not the one intended. This is why the use of stock photography should be avoided unless the chosen image clearly complements the product or service being offered by the website. A picture of shiny happy people used on a webpage because it was inexpensive and easy to find can actually have a detrimental effect on the page viewer, who on a subconscious level sees no connection between the attractive models in the picture and the product or service they are on that page to learn about.

    Images can be a powerful design element, but should be used wisely and sparingly. Too heavy a reliance on graphic images can distract from content and make the design look cheesy and amateurish.

  5. Page Navigation

    User friendliness in navigating from place to place and an easy-to-use search function to help users find what they are looking for are the biggest factors that keep visitors on a website. People will give up and leave if they cannot easily find exactly what they are searching for, so the navigation structure in the design of a website should be kept as simple and intuitive as possible.

    • Include navigation tools in both the header and the footer of site pages.
    • Use breadcrumbs on every page so visitors can see their navigation trail.
    • Place the search box near the top of each page.
    • Include intra-site links within page content as a navigation shortcut. (Also great for SEO purposes.)
    • Do not use complicated Javascript or Flash for navigation for the reasons outlined above about browser compliance and device accessibility.

    The general rule of thumb for a proper navigation structure is to keep it as simple as possible for visitors to find their way around a site.

Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools

Google Analytics is one of the most important free tools available for the website. It covers all important stats about the traffic source, conversions, visitor behaviour and technology. Most importantly, it can show you whether SEO or any other marketing campaign is bringing success in terms of leads or sales.

SEO should really be measured for the extra revenue it generates. The only way to get an indication on how many leads or sales SEO has generated is by use of Google Analytics. You can also drill down into the stats and check which keywords, traffic source, contributed towards the leads.

Ideally, Google Analytics should be linked into your CRM to see if any of those leads have turned into sales.

Google Webmaster is another free tool that provides and analytics to help improve your site’s performance in Google search. Apart from checking how many pages have been indexed by Google, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to check keyword positions and click through rates.

Note: now you can integrate Google webmaster tools within the Google Analytics.

XML Sitemaps

An XML sitemap is basically just that: a map of the structure of a website. An XML sitemap file (.xml) is a list of all the pages on a given website with the latest update information for each page. Not all websites have an XML sitemap, but it is an important component to add to improve SEO for a site, as search engine crawlers are able to sift through site pages more efficiently using an XML sitemap file as a guide.

An online sitemap generator can be used to create an XML sitemap file, which can then be uploaded to the root directory of the mapped website, and should be updated regularly to coincide with other updates to the website.

Redirects

Whenever a website, or even a page within a website, is renamed with a new URL address, it is important to use a permanent 301 redirect to ensure that search engines re-index the page data so that any search rankings for the page or website are not lost.

A 301 redirect is basically a line of code inserted into the meta data of the URL address that instructs search engines to redirect traffic from the old address to the new address.

Sales and online success are built with web traffic, and understanding these basics of search engine optimization techniques is a great way to aim for the top by developing a cutting edge online marketing strategy.

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