In my experience, most small website or blog owners know bad web design when they see it (on someone else’s site, of course).
Naturally we all have seen those horrible sites, where the either the owners or the design crew are a bit color-numb and have put up a website that only a mother could love.
Why WordPress is Better, for a Small Business?
Now I am not going to beat anyone up over how their website looks…after all there are lots of truly “ugly” websites in cyber-space that make lots of money for their owners.
And there are also lots of great looking sites on the Web that have never paid for their monthly hosting fees.
A factor which helps an “ugly” website become a profitable business or income stream is simply its usability or user-friendliness.
Usability or user-friendliness is “the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal.”
The “tool” in this case is your website and the goal can be to share your ideas, educate people about your products or services
But shouldn’t this “usability” be part of the whole web design thingy? Why can’t the web guys take care of all that stuff?
Why do I, a non-technical, person have to even know what it is let alone worry about it? Okay, you are both right and wrong.
How your site is designed is ultimately part of what you made so much money to have done in the first place, but let think of your site as an iceberg…okay bear with me a second, will ya?
Your website is like an iceberg. As you know 90% of the iceberg’s mass remains hidden below the surface of the waves. 10% is on surface.
Most of what makes your website functional is hidden from view. Only the 10%, called the User Interface (that the stuff that makes the site user-friendly is visible.
All of the usability stuff or “User Interfaces”, means is the doo-dads and buttons and links you the web visitor sees and clicks on.
This also includes size of the lettering, the colors, the patterns, the photographs, even the words or content you use (text layout and blocking ).
All of this is basically what is considered the interface or user. This is what typically a visitor sees and uses to move around your site.
You want people to find your phone number quick and easy so they can call you or print off a copy of your Google map so they can drive to your business location.
But the main parts of the site, the hidden, geeky bits are what you are paying the big bucks for and what take up the most time in a web designer’s schedule.
Without the 90% that makes up the “engine”, your website would be just a pretty picture in cyberspace.
Okay…let’s try this, using an example that is closer to home, think about trucks vs. SUVs for a moment.
Almost all SUVs are built around the framework and engine model of its closest automotive cousin; say a heavy duty 4×4 pickup truck.
Despite all its plush interiors, heated leather seats, DVD screens and CD combo MP3 players, all SUVs are built to carry similar size payloads as any truck in its weight class.
But most people would naturally be very reluctant to pack 8 kids and their band instruments in a 4×4 truck for a 3 hour trip to an out-of-state band competition.
Nor would most sane folks load 2000 pounds of bricks along with bags of mortar in their SUV to haul to a rural construction site.
But both vehicles are structurally similar, inside! Same hauling capability but each has radically different “facades” or user interfaces and different functions.
See where I’m going?
Automotive engineers are responsible for making sure that the 90% of the car you never really see: the engine, chassis, drive train, wheels, brakes, safety features, electrical harness and computer units all work together and play nice.
While the vehicle’s body style, finish, color and interior design features (i.e. the user interface) are handled by an entirely different type of design team.
The same goes for web design.
Web site design requires 2 different but very closely related skill sets – graphic designing and programming code.
A designer needs to do both in order to create a site that is attractive yet error-free and functional.
But unlike in an auto company, your web development crew will probably NOT have 2 separate teams of specialists.
In fact with most small web design teams, you will get the code programmer (i.e. the engineer) and the graphic designer (i.e. the user-friendly or usability person) wrapped up inside a single person.
Sometimes you may find a firm that has two people, but you still can’t be sure you haven’t gotten two coders or two graphic art lovers.
Naturally as the owner and usually the only non-technical on the design team, you are not expected to understand the 90% of designing a website. But you do have a responsibility to do more than sign off on the basic aesthetics of the site.
Your job is to approach your blog as your prospect visitors will. You need to be able to land on any page on your website or blog and within 7 seconds be able to answer these 5 questions:
- Where am I?
- What’s this page about?
- Where have I been?
- Where can I go next?
- Where’s the “Home Page”?
You only have 3-5 seconds because; university studies have shown this is how much time a visitor will spend looking around an individual web page.
If your visitors can’t figure the answers to at least 2 or 3 of these questions, then they will click away (probably never to be seen again).
This what this usability stuff is really all about – can a stranger come to your site and figure what those 5 questions?
If yes, your site, no matter how “ugly” can be successful…if not, no matter how nice it looks, you still have a “dawg” on your hands.
Where am I? – People can get click happy on the web and may land on your site through some obscure link from a site that is sorta-kinda-maybe-vaguely related to yours (web links can branch off funny sometimes).
So the first thing you need to check when you inspect your site…can a newbie person tell what your site is about almost instantly?
Internationally known Internet marketer Seth Godin, calls it “Where’s the banana?” He likens people to “monkeys” that are searching the web for information, i.e. “bananas”.
Godin asks that show your visitors the biggest banana (your website or blog’s main topic or subject matter) right away.
If your site is for a non-profit for the white mountain squirrel, then say so…don’t “hide” what you do or who you are.
You will miss some visitors who are looking for what you are offering but who clicked away because they were uncertain about what your site is about.
Remove anything that confuses them!
What’s this page about? – Similar to the banana theory, how well does that individual page “show and tell” a new visitor what’s it all about?
If you have a site that deals with jewelry, don’t talk about necklaces and rings on the same page. One topic (or mini-banana) for page, please. Don’t clutter up pages with multiple ideas.
Where have I been? – Keep navigation links clean, consistent and simple.
No one would like going into a room and having the door they just came in suddenly disappear or change color or look like something else all together, but people have sites that do this kind of thing all the time.
Have your friends click on all the links and tell you the honest truth about how they feel when moving from one page to another.
The navigation links and moving from one page to the next, should be smooth and flawless.
Where can I go next? – What do you want your visitor to do next? You have got to tell them. Yes, you will have to be blatantly obvious and grab their hands (digitally of course) and lead them to the next step of the process.
If you want comments on your blog say…”to leave me comments, scroll down to the bottom of the page and let me know what you think…”. Or to visit us, print out the Google map to our store and come see us next Saturday for our sale…:
Why be so obvious? Because people are tired, stressed out, in a hurry and distracted.
They want to do something (oh, yeah, what was it?….gosh…can’t remember) but before they can remember, they get emails, phone calls, kids, spouses, co-workers and bosses (drat!) interrupting their surfing experiences.
Your job is make sure your site helps them when they have those little “brain-fark” moments.
Where’s the “Home Page”? – E.T. isn’t the only one who wants to go HOME. Nothing ticks off people (me) as not being able to find the home link, quickly and easily.
And please, call your home page, “Home”. Do not name it the “index”, “front page” (I know…I did this once…until someone emailed me and wanted to know where the “back” page was), the “Menu” or a cute little image of a “front door”.
Call it what it is…the “Home Page” or “Home”. Make sure it is always in the same place and that it is obvious…no fancy web design tricks like drop-down menus or mouse-overs, or clickable pictures. Use just a plain BIG button or link that says HOME and that takes you the main index page of the site or blog.
Don’t make people roam around like Moses searching for the “Promised Land”.
Install a good WordPress theme that is especially designed for your type of business.