Design and usability trends for websites move on so quickly these days that it can be difficult to keep up. You might spent thousands on a new custom designed and coded beauty, only for it to be out of date in a few months time! Which is why you need to make sure you understand the fundamentals of a well functioning website before you do anything else.
These are the three biggest mistakes I see people making with their websites over and over again:
1. The next step isn’t obvious
By tracking eye movements over a screen, Jakob Nielsen, the leading web expert behind the Nielsen Norman Group, discovered that the majority of people read web pages in an F-shape (two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe). A similar study found that websites have as little as 2.5 seconds to grab a visitors attention before they’ll look for what they need elsewhere. You can read more about both these findings here.
This is important to note because if your homepage layout is confusing, or too far removed from the usual format, new visitors may be disorientated. Instead of trying to figure it out they will most likely click away instead. There’s a reason why most blogs have a big header at the top, the main navigation under that and a sidebar with the most important links – because it works and people understand it.
It is vital that a new visitor knows what the next step is in order to get to where they want to be. Do they have to scroll to get to the content? Do they need to click ‘BLOG’ to get to the blog? Are the contact info, portfolio or FAQ’s easy to find? Never make your navigation links cryptic. If people don’t know what things mean, they will not click them!
Keep your overall design simple. You can add those personal flourishes with some well designed branding once you have your basic layout in place. In a nutshell, if it isn’t clear what people need to do next, they’ll just give up.
It was popular a while back for websites to get very clever, to challenge the visitor and really get them to engage with it. While this worked for some (my friend Lisa Devlin is a great example. Her site has no clear navigation at all because she wants to put some people off – she gets more enquiries than she can handle as it is!) over recent months I’ve been noticing that the trend is swinging back around to classic minimalism – white backgrounds, just a few core colours and fonts, and really obvious navigation.
2. You’re giving people too many choices
If you offer your visitors too much choice, they’ll be less likely to do what you want them to do. Imagine walking into the toothpaste aisle at your local supermarket. There are so many options that it can a) be very overwhelming and b) be tricky to remember which one you usually buy. If you’re anything like me you just end up picking the one that’s on special offer or that you recognise first. I know we end up with a different brand nearly every time!
You do not want your website to be the toothpaste aisle. You want to direct your visitors, very clearly, towards what you want them to do next. Ask yourself what that is. Do you want them to look at your portfolio? To read your sales page? To browse your blog? To subscribe to your mailing list?
I’m sure some of you are now saying, “But wait, I want people to look around my whole site!” and while that’s fine, and maybe people will, you’ll have MUCH greater control over what your visitors will do next if everything on your homepage is not competing for attention.