Good Web design makes the difference between a so-so site and a winning site that sells customers on your product and services and acts as a valuable Internet marketing tool. Below are some recommendations both in terms of design and usability that will make your site easy to use and navigate.
Your first concern should be how customers will navigate through your site. Try first writing out your categories and sketching out on paper a site map that makes sense to you. Each main category will get its own tab, button, or link in your navigation scheme. Shoot for six or eight main categories. Users will get overwhelmed when confronted with too many choices. If you have too many categories, consider making some of them secondary navigation links.
Once you have compiled your list of sections, you will need to decide how to present them. Top-tab navigation and left-side button navigation are the two most popular schemes. Look around at some of your favorite sites and size up their navigation. Also check out the competition and sites in your industry. It’s possible that a particular organizing principle lends itself to your type of site or industry.
Be judicious in the use of “fancy” navigation techniques. Flash graphics, dynamic “flying” menus, or potentially confusing graphics may alienate readers. There is no law against making your site aesthetically pleasing. Just do not do it at the expense of ease of use.
Once you have settled on a navigation design, implement it consistently throughout your site. All text and graphics must behave in the same way. The “Home” button has to always take a user back to your home page. Consistency is key.
You don’t have to be a master programmer or have a computer science background to build great-looking Web pages. In fact, the most important consideration is your users. If you can build Web pages that are attractive, easy to navigate, and provide value, your users will return again and again. Below are some important considerations when designing your site:
- Create a clear hierarchy on the page — head, subhead, and so on.
- Create a clear navigation. You should have the same navigational structure on every page.
- Don’t use too many graphics. They will slow down the load time of the page and distract readers from your message.
- Don’t use too many fonts. Try to standardize on fonts that all computers will have.
- Don’t use too many colors. Also make sure that you use readable colors. Blue text on a black background, for instance, can be difficult to read.
- Don’t make your text too small.
- Leave ample white space — the space on the page without text or graphics — to make your pages easier to read.
- Don’t make pages too long. Break up information into more than one page if necessary.
Another way to improve the look and feel of your Web pages is to “borrow” concepts from professional designers. If you see a particularly great-looking page, view the source code (See your browser’s Help section for specific instructions on the View Source command.) to figure out how to achieve a particular effect.
Make sure to take a look at some design resources. The Web sites and books below will be helpful in your efforts to produce a clean Web site.
- Usability.gov is a Web site put together by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It covers usability and design basics, provides checklists, lists sources of statistics, and mentions events and conferences.
- Useit.com, is the Web site of usability guru Jakob Nielsen. Check out the site and his books — particularly Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity — for the last word on Web site usability.
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 from the World Wide Web Consortium provide standards to make Web sites more accessible to people with disabilities. Following these guidelines will benefit all of your site visitors, however, so make sure to acquaint yourself with the standards.
- Webpagesthatsuck.com is part cautionary tale, part learning tool, and part amusement. Vincent Flanders critiques Web sites that use dubious practices, navigation, and design. Read, laugh, and learn.
- Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, provides a common sense approach to Web usability and design. Check it out for its useful design tips and examples.
You may think that your site design is practical and easy to navigate. But because you designed it, you know how to get around it. You need to make sure that your customers can find your products, services, or information. If customers get lost on your site, it reflects poorly on your business.
An easy way to ensure that even the most novice user can navigate your site is to implement user testing. Ask colleagues, friends, family, or anyone off the street to test your site. Give them a particular task — for instance, have them find a particular product or service.
Be sure to test your site on all major browsers. Each browser version has its particular quirks, which can make Web pages appear slightly (or sometimes radically) different. To be safe, design your Web pages to render correctly on version 4 browsers and above from Netscape and Microsoft. Also, make sure that your site is compatible with Firefox, which is rapidly gaining popularity. For more information on browser compatibility, check out Anybrowser.com.
Remember that your Web site is a work in progress. Make sure to use Web analytics to see which areas of the site are popular and which are ignored. See How do I measure the success of my Internet marketing efforts for more information on analyzing user data.