We all know that design is subjective – what one person likes, another will hate. However, when it comes to website design there are some basic rules that every business owner should adhere to when they decide how they want their website designed. These rules are not subjective; they are based on sound usability practices and commercial research so ignoring them will have an adverse effect on how your customers engage with your website.
So if you are more interested in winning new customers than trying to create your own vision of design perfection, let’s look at the 5 things that are most commonly flagged as undesirable by website users…
MISTAKE 1 – SMALL FONTS
Back in the day, most websites used a 12px font for no other reason than it was what everybody did. Business owners decided that small fonts looked ‘cool’, overlooking the simple fact that website content is supposed to be easy to read. Nobody wants to squint at the text on a website to read it and therefore, are your prospective customers going to continue reading about what your business does if it’s a struggle? Probably not.
The following lines have different font sizes – you decide which is easier to read…
- This line of text uses a 11px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 12px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 13px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 14px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 15px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 16px font – is it easy to read?
- This line of text uses a 17px font – is it easy to read?
You might be interested to know that the most commonly used font-size is now 17px – when you look at how it compares with the 11px font, you can see why.
Digging into this subject a little more, you need to realise that your website visitors have a very short attention span (about 8 seconds according to this study) so you need to ensure your website conveys information clearly and consisely. Making it difficult to read is not going to encourage your users to pay more attention; quite the opposite in fact.
MISTAKE 2 – ROTATING SLIDESHOWS
Speak to most business owners and one of the first things they’ll say when you ask them what makes for an effective website and they’ll say “it has to grab the reader’s attention”. And the way that many of those business owners want to grab attention is by asking their website designer to include a rotating slideshow – not a good idea.
A slideshow is basically a group of images (slides) that rotate with different messages, typically situated at the top of a website home page. Here’s an example of one from the Siemens website…
There are two reasons why business owners decide they want to include a slideshow…
- They want to cram-in as much info as possible into one section of the website
- They want some visual eye candy and think slideshows looks “cool”
However, studies show that slideshows don’t serve any useful function and certainly won’t help you to engage with your website visitors.
The bottom line is that slideshows on websites are now considered a bit ‘old hat’. They don’t increase visitor engagement and they are a constant distraction from your core marketing message, not an enhancement to it.
MISTAKE 3 – POORLY CONTRASTING FONTS
We’ve already identified why small fonts are a bad idea but size alone is not the only consideration when it comes to making your website content as engaging as possible. Another common mistake business owners make is using what they perceive as a “cool look” – fonts that don’t have enough contrast with the background they’re placed upon. Here’s an example…
The reason that poorly contrasting fonts is such as bad idea is that the amount of light our eyes absorb at age 40 is less than 50% of the light that they do at age 20. This further drops to 20% by age 60. You might look at the example text above and think it looks fine, but will everyone who reads your website content have the same level of vision? No they won’t.
Talking of contrasting fonts, another mistake that is still extremely common is the use of white text on a black/dark background for the body of your website text content. This really is an absolute disaster for usability (and conversion) and warrants it’s own blog post which you can read here.
MISTAKE 4 – FUSSY HEADLINE FONTS
Just like colours, fonts are a very subjective consideration. Back in the day, us poor Website Designers only had about a dozen fonts to choose from so the Client had little other choice that to use a ‘safe’ font that was fairly easy to read.
Nowadays, with the ability to use thousands of different fonts we have an issue with business owners who want to use quirky or intricate fonts that might look a bit different, but are actually a real pain for people to read. Take for example the fonts used below (and these are actual fonts we’ve been asked to use)…
Now you might be thinking that one or two of these actually look quite nice, but is that important? Surely it’s far more important for your website headlines to be easy to read? You have but a few seconds to get your message across to your website visitors and that message needs to be delivered as clearly and concisely as possible, which isn’t possible if your font choice is too difficult to read.
MISTAKE 5 – POOR NAVIGATION
Website usability for both user experience and commercial optimisation is a complex issue, to the point where there have been many books written on the subject. There is one seminal book by Steve Krug, the title of which beautifully sums-up the whole web usability subject, and it’s called…
“Don’t Make Me Think”
Patently we can’t cover the content of an entire book in this post however, there are some common usability and navigational mistakes and omissions that we regularly witness on business websites…
- Don’t try and be too clever when naming links in your navigation menu. People don’t want to guess what your links mean, they want clearly defined titles so they know precisely where they’re going to end up. An example of this is where the business decides that rather than use the term ‘Home Page’, they call it something like ‘Hello’, ‘Welcome’ or ‘Start’, none of which are intuitive.
- You should use contextual links throughout your website content. For example, if we’re talking about website design then it makes sense that as you read this text, we place a link to our website design page in a place where you might be appropriate for you to click it.
- Burying pages too deep into your navigation tree. There is a rule in website usability called ‘Four clicks to gratification’ and basically it means that your visitors should be able to get where they want to be within a maximum of four clicks from your home page. Obviously the fewer the better so be wary if you’re burying content deep in your navigation structure.
First and foremost, you should understand and accept that an effective website has nothing to do with aesthetics. Colours, font styles and imagery are always going to be a matter of subjectivity. However, some things are not subjective and are simply right or wrong. The five elements we’ve covered in this article are by far the most common problems we encounter with business websites.
So if you want to encourage more people to visit your website and more people to engage with it, you need to stand back and look at your website from the view of your prospective customers. You need to distance yourself from your own personal preferences and look at the wider view.
In the same way you wouldn’t open a food store that only stocked foods you personally liked, owning a website that only satisfies your own creative needs is not going to help your business succeed.
If you’d like more information on building an effective website for your business then head over to our website design page or you can give us a call on 01252 416 222 and we’ll gladly answer any questions you have.