Sunday, November 13, 2011

The First Impression

Your website represents who you are and what you offer. When people see it for the first time they're thinking:

  • Is this site credible?
  • Is it trustworthy?
  • Is this a professional company?
  • Is this company stable?
  • Does this site make me feel welcome?
  • Am I in the right place?

You need to ask yourself all of these questions when designing your website. Now, design may not be the most important factor in a website overall and often times folks put too much emphasis on how a site looks instead of it works, but it does play an important role in making a good first impression.

For example, an in-depth study from the Stanford University and Consumer Web Watch, "How Do People Evaluate A Website's Credibility? Results from a Large Study." found that a website's design was more important than credibility indicators such having a privacy policy, awards or certifications. P-44 Technologies does a great job at summarizing this study

"Visitors first evaluate a site's overall design, including its use of multimedia. Beau Brendler, director of Consumer Web Watch noted: "While consumers say they judge on substance, these studies demonstrate that consumers judge on aesthetics, and get distracted by bells and whistles." So, after spending all this time developing great, valuable content that visitors can't find anywhere else on the Web, does this mean nothing matters but a cool color scheme and fancy flash animation? Fortunately, it doesn't. The Stanford study noted specifically that while a site's design is the first indicator of quality, it isn't the only one:".. .the visual design may be the first test of a site's credibility. If it fails on this criterion, Web users are likely to abandon the site and seek other sources of information and services."

Tips for a great website design:

  • Proper use of colors: Use the right colors for your audience and to draw attention to select elements. Don't try to make everything jump out. The result will be just the opposite - nothing will stand out. Avoid a chaotic mix of colors on your website and instead pick two to four colors for your template and marketing materials.
  • Animations, gadgets and media: Avoid anything unnecessary. Using Flash animations because they look cool is the wrong strategy. In most cases it's best not to use animated background or background music. Only use media and animations to help support content and information.
  • Layout: Create a clear navigation structure (refer to Navigation on page 21) and organize page elements in a grid fashion (as opposed to randomly scattered). Also, don't be afraid of white space and avoid clutter!
  • Typography: Make sure your website is legible. Use fonts, font sizes and font colors that are easy to read. For easier page scanning, use bullet lists, section headers, and short paragraphs. If you're site is English language-based, make sure information flows from left to right and top to bottom.

While design is important, don't forget that offering great content is what your visitors are ultimately after. A well-designed website might convince visitors to take a closer look but they won't look twice if the content isn't useful and well organized. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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