Web Design : Form vs Function (Part 2)

One key area, that most businesses don't get right, is how much information to give away...

Many companies choose to dump their entire intellectual property onto the web - and thus create no reason for the consumer to get in contact or buy. The only time when this is correct is if you're selling directly (E-Commerce), or building an information/affiliate site.

In this situation, the longer you can keep someone interested on your site, the more chances you'll have to build yourself as an authority - and thus get them to consider one of the offers. And you should still be attempting to get them subscribed to your newsletter, as this will massively increase your chances of converting them at some point in the future, if not now.

Other companies go the other way, and don't provide nearly enough information and involvement to get their potential customers interested.

For most business sites that aren't purely based on online ordering (e.g. Amazon,) you'll want to draw them in with enough information to answer a few questions - but more importantly to train people on what the real questions are - so you can answer them in your information pack. We're essentially trying to take people on a journey where we open more doors than we close; we create a deeper and more defined sense of what they need to know, without giving it away.

This brings them to the ultimate conclusion that we're an authority on the subject - so they gladly request more information or join our mailing/newsletter lists to get the more refined 'inside' information on offer. Now, of course, you have to actually have more information to provide - your sales process can't be a hollow lie, or you'll undermine your integrity before you've even started. But putting together valuable information for potential clients is easily done - if you put yourself in their shoes and answer the key questions in the market-place with honesty, integrity and plenty of detail.

You should aspire to create what we call a 'Sticky' website. This is the term we use for a site that people keep returning to, because of the quality and freshness of content, the ease of use and navigation, and the site's overall integrity. If you think about the majority of sites that you return to regularly, you'll find they meet these objectives.

There's a famous advertising and copywriting acronym: 'AIDA': It stands for Attention, Interest, Desireand Action. It covers the successful steps for building an effective advert. Since websites are basically interactive on-line adverts, this acronym is one of the most important you'll ever learn for effective web-design, and it's essential that your site addresses every one of the components.

  • First, capture the visitor's attention with what's 'above the fold' (which is what you see on the web-page before you scroll or move down). Most advertising psychologists believe you have around 7 seconds to grab someone with a headline.
  • Second, build their interest in the first minute so that they stay on your site.
  • Third, build their desire for the service and products you offer.
  • Fourth, provide a 'call-to-action'. This is the vital element of conversion: to turn a visitor into a prospect or sale.

Web landing-pages, be it the home-page, a sub-category page or an individual product or service page, must lead visitors intuitively down this path. Bad copywriting, confusing navigation and counter-intuitive layout are your enemies here.

'Fussy' web design is one of the biggest sales-killers, and focuses visitors on how to use the mechanics of the site - rather than on your sales-message. Page layout should be clean and clear. It should be immediately obvious where to start reading, and the font and colours should be easy on the eyes. Video, multimedia and animation should be used to help tell your story - but without being a hindrance. Huge animating Adobe Flash header-pages, that serve no purpose but to look pretty, are useless here. They can dominate above the fold and if they don't provide some critical sales-purpose of their own, could be the last thing someone sees as they hit the 'back' button on their browser.

And because of the constant day-today barrage of advertising and media in modern society, our attention-spans are much shorter - and we've become somewhat immune to hyped-up sales-copy. We appreciate simple, clear language with integrity. We want it to get to the point and address our questions and concerns, and say it in a human way which shows an understanding of our point-of-view.

If you bear all these ideas in mind when you attack your next web-design project, you'll be setting yourself up for victory. Designing and creating a good website is about understanding why people are visiting our sites, and then delivering what they need in an effective and helpful way.

All the technical web skills on the planet won't be worth a damn if you fail to understand your visitors and clients. Attend to their needs and make it easy for them to do business with you. And then maybe, just maybe, you'll have the ingredients for success!