Designing an engaging Web site starts with clearly understanding what your message is and who you want it to reach.
If your Web site is intended to be primarily an information tool, providing visitors with detailed background on your products and services, that’s going to drive the site’s organization and design in one direction. If e-commerce is your goal, with visitors being offered the chance to place and track an order on the site, that’s involves a different set of concerns.
Whichever approach you take, there are some basic design rules to keep in mind that will help make your site easy to find and explore.
1. Think hard about the content you want to share and how it should be organized.
Make sure every page on your Web site has something valuable to say or offer. Attracting visitors to your site isn’t enough. Once they come, you must provide them without something interesting or useful. That’s what encourages them to stay as well as come back.
2. Use simple, clean layouts.
Sure, you want your Web site to be full of information but don’t be afraid of white space. Organize your information in order of priority and guide the visitor to the most important information with attractive type, art and callouts. Contrasting colors help make text easy to read. But avoid making things too complicated, and choose fonts that are commonly used on most computers so that things don’t get lost in translation.
3. Design for all screen resolutions.
When a site is easy to use, it encourages visitors to spend time with your content. Designing your site with a stretch resolution ensures that visitors have a visually appealing experience, no matter what type of screen they are using.
4. Avoid image backgrounds and pop-up windows.
Not only are such devices distracting, they take much longer to load. Nobody likes waiting, and if a Web site is slow to load, that visitor’s going to be long gone before it finishes coming up.
5. Minimize clicking.
The more you cause visitors to click around your site to find what they need, the more likely they are to leave. Make it easy for them to move around your pages, and don’t slow them up by forcing them through a meaningless “welcome” page when they first arrive.
6. Limit page lengths.
Two screenfuls of information is generally a good amount of content for a visitor to absorb. If your site contains articles about a specific subject, as many as six screenfuls are OK but anything longer than that should be chunked into smaller pages that are more easily digested.
7. Include an easy-to-find link to the home page.
That way, if someone needs to start over, they have an easy path back. Keep things simple by using the word “home” rather than a clickable logo. And place a visible site menu on the top or left of every page so visitors can navigate in all directions easily.
8. Compress image files.
Graphics software can compress big files so they load quickly into your visitors’ browsers. And if want your site to feature flashy graphics and multimedia controls, make sure everything functions quickly and effectively.
9. Don’t make lines of text or pages too wide.
A good rule of thumb that will allow your content to work well on most screens: Keep pages about 1000 pixels wide. And break off small sidebars to the right or left of your main content rather than running one large item to create additional visual interest that draws in the reader.
10. Make text readable.
Use font sizes that are easy for the average viewer to absorb. Increasing the line spacing also helps make things easier on the eyes. And avoid using gimmicks such as words in ALL CAPS and exclamation points. Instead, make sure your copy is written in a crisp, compelling fashion that engages readers all on its own.