There are many things that can be said about what is right and what is wrong in website design. There is no value in going through all of that here and now, partly because of the time it would take to cover it all. However there are some things that I feel sure would be useful to you if you are in charge of a website.
In real life, I think we understand about the importance of first impressions. Psychologists tell us that a first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. Sometimes, that first impression of a person can be accurate, but often it is not. The impression formed can give a false representation of that person.
First impressions are lasting impressions. It doesn’t matter how inaccurate those impressions are. If you give someone the wrong impression of yourself, the damage is done and it can take forever to set right. It has been calculated that It takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make our first impression, with confidence in impression formation increasing with increasing time taken to form the impression.
The same is true of your website. It has been well reported for some time now that users often leave a website within 10-20 seconds. If the first impression they get of your organization is a bad one, they can be on their way to one of your competitors within just a few seconds.
Remember, the Internet is a market place that has countless millions of websites, many of which are trying to compete with you. Therefore the first impression people get from your website is of immense importance to you. It is not just that you might loose a visitor to your website, it is more that once lost, you have no way of getting them back.
If your first impression is not sufficient to retain the visitor for long enough to read what you are trying to say, you have lost that opportunity for life. Now translate that into the reason why you have a web site – to support your business. In truth, not everyone who visits your website will be a potential customer to you. But in today’s society, burdened down with austerity measures, just how many potential customers can you afford to loose?
Look at what is happening in the bigger stores on the high street, with regular frequency they change the window displays to ensure there is always a fresh look to the place; they keep up with trends and fashions so that people who looked before have another reason to look again. They ensure that their audience is and remains interested in them; that there is something to draw the customers into the store.
This is not something new! It is the way it is for a reason. It reinforces the good first impressions that customers had and, at the same time, provides an opportunity to addresses the false impressions that some people might have had.
Let me put this another way. If a female member of your staff arrived at work every day wearing the same clothes (not a uniform), you would quickly realise that there was something wrong. You would probably look for an opportunity to give advice to that member of your staff.
How true is this of your website? How often do you change the way it looks? How often do you do what is needed to keep the interest of your website visitors? How much effort are you putting into the impression that your website gives?
There are very few people who would go into a shop selling only clothes from the seventy’s unless they were interested in a retro look. Yet there are so many websites that have not kept up with today’s look and feel. Legally, your business is seen as if it were a living entity – are you allowing it to give that same impression to the people who visit your website?
There are almost never-ending lists of things that can be suggested to get the best out of a web site and all of these are subjective to the individual. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However there are some very clear things that are globally accepted as bad practice; things that give the wrong impression to the website user.
We live in a world that is driven by an expectancy of things to happen immediately. Gone are the days when people understood that something took time to happen; the old adage that something good was worth waiting for is definitely dated now. Therefore if your website takes a long time to load, remember that people get bored very quickly.
Take a look at the web sites of your competitors. Do their websites load quicker than yours? Yours may look better when it gets there but if people have left your site through the boredom of waiting for it to arrive, where will they be going?
This can be an obvious thing to look at fixing but not just because of the pleasurable experience of your website users. A critical part of search engine optimisation these days is the speed of the website. If your website is too slow, not only does it give the wrong impression to your visitors but it can also be the reason why you fail to get on the first page that people see when they are searching the Internet.
I am sure you have experienced this for yourself. You go to a website and just cannot find your way around it. It doesn’t have to be this way for your website. If your navigation bar is clear and easy to use; if the layout of your home page is easy to understand, people will feel more comfortable with using it.
If, on the other hand the home page of a website it too cluttered; too busy or with too much happening, it gives the user the wrong first impression. If you have to think too much to get past the home page, you are less likely to make it to the thing you are looking for.
We live in a world today where, in many ways, people want to be spoon fed with information. That is partly why YouTube is so popular. Think about it for a moment, if you have the option of two explanations of a complex question; one that you can read and the other where someone will explain it to you, which would you prefer?
People will get through your website’s home page far quicker if it is made easy for them.
The layout of your website is vastly important to giving a good first impression. However, the layout itself can also be a problem. Many people today are looking at websites from a variety of mediums.
With the availability of smart phones and tablets and the increasing speed and availability of access to data, people are no longer restricted to the desktop. Gone are the days when one layout was good enough for everyone. Today you need to have a responsive design that will change and adapt for all users.
If the layout of your website will not allow people to view it on a smartphone or if the navigation on that medium is not clear for them, the likelihood is that they will be quickly searching for somewhere else to meet their needs. You cannot just think of shrinking the size of your website down to fit on the smaller screens, that just doesn’t work.
Because space is so limited on mobile phones, serious thought has to be given to the importance of each of the elements on the web page. Viewing a website on a mobile phone implies a lot more scrolling down and therefore prioritisation of the things that are to be shown becomes a major importance.
You can judge this for yourself. How long are you prepared to scroll down to find something; at what point does that become tedious? If you can work out your own boundaries, just imagine there are people with far less tolerance than you.
There are many more things that you can decide for your self about the first impression your website will give. If you designed it yourself, you may be biased in your view of the website. If so, ask a friend to take a fresh look at it and be honest with you.
Even if you thought your website was the best in the world when you created it, it doesn’t hurt to take a fresh look at it from time to time just to make sure it really is as good as you think. This world we live in today is moving at a hell of a pace and sometimes it can feel hard just trying to keep up with it.
I don’t advocate keeping up with the Joneses as a way of managing your business. However if you think that Mr Jones the (insert your business here) is getting more from his website than you are, it probably is time to address that imbalance.