The effect of design on a website is like the impact of clothes on you and me. A great outfit enhances our best features and makes us look good, while a badly chosen one either makes us look ridiculous, or worse, makes us fade away into the crowd.
No ad to show here.
This second fate is OK if you’re a person. Not so much when it comes to a website. Users ignoring your site and dropping off like flies is the last thing any website owner or marketer wants.
A far cry from the early days of the internet, by now most websites are professionally designed and are easy on the eye. Most follow the basics of website design and keep a close eye on website metrics and conversion numbers. Things like cluttered layouts, roundabout website navigation, flash intros, drop shadows and beveled graphics are largely a thing of the past.
However, there are still some ridiculous (and fundamental) design missteps that some websites still make, which cost them both traffic and conversions. Check if your site is guilty of any of these.
1. Design around the brand, not the user
A website is meant to be your brand’s home on the internet. But that does not mean that you get carried away in brand narcissism. The primary job of a website is to cater to a user’s needs as well as make sure they end up buying from or subscribing to your brand.
Designer brand Alfred Sung has a classy and minimalistic website that stays true to its brand ethos. However, the website falls flat when it comes to usability. The image above shows the eyewear section on the site — it does not carry any prices, no ‘buy’ button, and indeed not more than six items in the name of variety! The ‘Outdoors’ section on the homepage leads to a fancy landing page that is nothing but a circular reference to the homepage.
When a site design revolves around just the brand and its aura, the user’s needs and the website’s usability are forgotten in the bargain – this is a surefire way to ensure that your visitor beats a hasty retreat from your site, never to return.
2. Slow to load
We’ve all heard about (some of us remember) the dialup days of yore when webpages used to take a few minutes to load, each. However, in this broadband age, its only badly designed websites with real issues that load slowly. In fact, 40% of users leave a website if it takes more than three seconds to load, with average site load times across the web clocking in at 2.08 seconds.
One common issue that slows down websites is using large, heavy images across your site. Make sure you compress all images across your site before uploading them onto your server. Free image compression tools like Compressor.io or Smushit help you reduce image size without any loss in image quality.
Another reason for slow load times is that your website’s content delivery network (CDN) is sub optimal. A CDN is a network of servers that help in serving up your site quickly and without glitches to users anywhere in the world, by showing them a copy of the website from the server nearest (or one that can serve up pages the fastest) to them. A CDN is the last place for any website to pinch pennies on; however, you can try out a freemium service such as CloudFlare to begin with.
Last, but not the least, make sure your site is immune from denial of service attacks by bots, cyber bullies, web application hacks and vulnerability exploits. A security and availability service such as Fireblade will not only give your website a CDN through dynamic site acceleration and faster caching, but also a multi-layered firewall and protection based on behavioral profiling, so you kill two birds with one stone.
3. Intrusive ads
Many websites, especially news and publishing portals, depend on advertising revenue for their survival. While most stick to the usual banners or text links, many go above and beyond. The worst of the lot are pop up ads that most users close even before they can completely load and jarring auto-play video ads that make you close the tab ASAP.
Such antics spoil site aesthetics and mar the users experience on your website. Multiple ads not only slow down your site load time, they often serve no real purpose with banner blindness proven to be a real thing.
The images above demonstrate that readers completely ignore the banners on these webpages (highlighted in yellow boxes), choosing to focus on the main content instead (red and orange highlighted zones).
While there’s nothing wrong with having ads on your site, there is a fine line between displaying advertising and making them intrusive and irritating to users, forcing them to leave the site altogether.
4. Long blocks of text
It’s a proven fact that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter by the day. Reading online consists more of ‘skimming’ the content and picking up keywords instead of perusing through every word penned down.
This means that those long blocks of text that you sport on your site – yeah, nobody reads them.
Split your copy into small easily digestible chunks with clear headers, bullet points and small paragraphs consisting of a maximum of 2 to 3 sentences each.
5. Copy too small
Another problem that many websites suffer from is legibility. The fonts used are not optimized for the web, with the font sizes tiny enough to strain readers’ eyes.
Avoid this rookie mistake by going for sans serif fonts for maximum legibility on the web. Do not experiment with too many fonts on your site. Pick 2 to 3 fonts at the most and stick to them.
Source: What a webpage looks like at different font sizes
Keep your main body copy at a font size of 16 pixels or above, as studies show that this is the smallest font size for comfortably reading stuff on the web.
While I could go on and on with this list, these are some of the biggest blunders that result in actual conversion drop offs. Lazy design features like using clichéd stock photos across the site do result in points knocked off for aesthetics, but don’t directly affect conversions per se. According to a study conducted by Elizabeth Sillence of Northumbria University, 94% of users cite design as a reason for not trusting certain sites.
Web design after all is a lot more than just aesthetics. It is the most potent conversion tool in your marketing armory. Use it wisely and reap the dual benefits of winning customers’ trust as well as their share of wallet.
Image: Alex Proimos via Flickr.