Photo Credit: Descrier
A website is not a physical object, but it should be brought into the world like one. A website should be prototyped, developed, tested, and tested again. A website is so much more than just an arrangement of element on a page. Great amounts of thought go into websites that convert, sell, and convey strong messages.
Half-baked sites with little purpose or prior thought will not convert beyond accident, or get a message across effectively. What follows is a brief exploration of how good sites are built, and how you can implement a few important theories to make better websites.
Good Sites Explain Themselves
A website that begs questions needs to be changed, quickly. A good site will reveal as much about what it’s for as possible, as quickly as possible. Mystery is powerful, but in this case it’s entirely frustrating.
Park home manufacturer, Omar Homes, leaves no unanswered questions on their website. The homepage immediately tells you who they are, what they do and how to get in touch. The navigation is also designed with the user journey in mind so that visitors to the site are able to find things with ease.
Users Don’t Read Everything, So Don’t Bury Content
It’s rare for somebody to actually read everything. Users will scan through a body of text to find pertinent information, so that information should appear as soon as possible. Put important points as headings, or summarise your points in a few short lines. Going into great detail on your front page is a bad idea. An age-old journalistic technique is the ‘inverted pyramid’. All of your most important content needs to go right at the top, and be put across as quickly as possible. This is your Who, Why, What section. After that, feel free to add supporting points that add to the story or the description. It’s usually best to be economical with words, especially on the front page: short, sharp, punchy points.
Norfolk cottage agency, Best Escapes, does this very well. All of the important content and USPs are above the fold on its homepage. Written content is separated into colourful blocks with the text concise. This makes the information more digestible for the user and ensures that the text on the homepage is actually read by visitors.
Embrace The F
More to the point of scanning: users will look at your site in a loose ‘F’ pattern. What this means is that a user will start by scanning a horizontal line across the first point of interest on a site. Next, they’ll start to filter down vertically for a short distance, looking for the next point of interest. Then, they might scan horizontally again, when they notice something worthwhile. After that, it’s likely that they’ll scan down the left flank again, without reading anything else across a horizontal access again. This has implications for how you lay out your site. Arrange elements broadly across this pattern and you might see an increase in engagement.
Whitespace Is Not The Enemy
When people first build a website, they often assume that every nook and cranny needs to be filled with content. This isn’t the case. In actual fact, users will rely on empty space to help contextualise what is and isn’t important on a page. Giving a site visitor too much visual information is likely to make them click off quickly. Think carefully about how much information you actually want to present to a visitor, and use whitespace to separate elements. Information and graphics need to breathe to be effective — don’t let things get crowded.
Award-winning heating specialists, RA Brown, have used whitespace to their advantage on the company website. It is visually striking and its layout is well-organised and uncluttered, which enables visitors to move around the website freely and find the information they need more quickly. The images used on the site are also brightly coloured, which is enhanced by the whitespace further.
Translate Your Site Into Russian
This might seem a little radical, but it’s not permanent and actually serves a very important function. By making text incomprehensible, it’s possible to find out how usable a site is when one can only rely on graphical elements and site layout. Engaging in a user test whilst the site is translated should reveal some valuable insights about how easily navigable a site really is. Don’t forget to change your site back from Russian, obviously.
Examine Your Visual Hierarchy
On any given webpage, a certain element is going to attract users first. After that, they’re going to drift to something else on the page. This process continues four or five times, and thus a user has worked through the visual hierarchy of your site. Being able to work out the order or perceived importance for visual elements, and the order in which users are likely to look at them, will allow you to construct a website that meets its aim better. For instance, if you want a user to complete a form, that form should be towards the top of a site’s visual hierarchy. This doesn’t mean it has to be at the top, or be the biggest, but it means a user’s eye has to be drawn to it sooner after they’ve gleaned what the site is all about.
Use The Golden Ratio
This is a visual law that artists and designers have been fawning over for centuries. Designs that utilise the golden ratio have a particular appeal to the human eye. It follows that pertinent information should be placed in golden positions. The ratio itself is about 1.618, but it might be more useful to use a guide like the one pictured. The aesthetic quality that designs employing the golden ratio produce is natural and comfortable.
Hick’s Law and the Paradox of Choice
If users are given two options, and it takes them 2 minutes to make their mind up, then adding a third option might mean a 3 minute decision making time, right? According to Hick, this just isn’t the case. Each additional choice that a user is presented with will have an inordinately detrimental effect to the amount of time it takes for a user to reach a decision. A form with five choices is a lot harder than a form with four, but a form with six options is way harder than a form with five, and so forth. Reducing the number of visual choices or actual choices a user has to make will greatly increase usability.
Fitt’s Law and Button Sizes
Roughly, Fitt’s Law suggests that the size of a button will determine how easy it is to push. The distance to the target is also a factor, and the two in conjuction offer a prediction of how quickly a user can interact with a button or element. Making a certain box bigger will encourage interaction, not just because the button looks more important visually but because it has a lower resistance to interaction. If you offer different pricing plans, making a certain button more usable might drive sales of that particular plan.