April 3, 2012

woocommerce-online-store

6 Golden Rules for Successful Websites

By Campbell Angus

Over recent years, study after study has shown that there are a number of factors which should be considered when creating a website. Each of these is important to the overall impact and success of your website.

So, in order to create a successful website, follow these 6 golden rules:

Appearance

This relates to every one of your main pages, but is particularly important on your home page. Remember, your Home Page is the first thing your visitors see. It’s like your ‘shop frontage’ in the offline world. It needs to look appealing and welcoming to make people want to ‘come in’ and look around.

Your page should look:

  • Clean
  • Uncluttered
  • Professional
  • Attractive

Your job is not to try to impress your visitors with lots of flashing gizmos, brash colours, animations etc. Your site should be easy on the eye, and should make people feel immediately at home. Don’t distract them with unnecessary gimmicks, or too much clutter; put them immediately at ease. Otherwise, when confronted with too much ‘in your face’ content, they’ll simply click the back button on their browser and go elsewhere.

Content

This is really what makes or breaks a site. If you don’t give people a reason to stay on your site, and more importantly, a reason to keep returning, your website is doomed to failure.

Remember at all times, your visitors do not come to your site specifically to spend money with you – they don’t necessarily want to buy anything. They want ‘information’. When creating the content of your site, always remember the question in the forefront of your visitor’s mind is always ‘what’s in it for me?’ Then make sure you give them something.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to give them freebies, or discounts, or anything of the sort. There’s generally no need for that. But what you must give them is one or more of the following:

  • Useful information
  • Helpful advice and/or tips
  • Something to entertain them
  • The opportunity to contact like minded people
  • Links to other relevant sites

Plus, most importantly, you need to keep the information coming. You should add useful new info to your site at regular intervals, so visitors have a reason to keep coming back. Do this, and traffic to your site should continue growing.

Speed

This applies to all of your pages on your site, but again is most important for your home page.

If you’re a regular Internet surfer, you already know that the speed with which a site loads is of extreme importance. If you have to wait more than 10 seconds or so for a page to load you start to get impatient; if 20 to 30 seconds later the page is still not fully loaded chances are you’ve moved on to somewhere else and you never bother going back to that site.

What makes a site slow to load? It’s mostly due to large graphics, backgrounds and animations etc. A background on your site should ideally be no more than 2k to 5k MAXIMUM. Your logo about the same. Each additional photograph or graphic should be kept as low as possible (even photographs with large physical dimensions should be no more than 10k-12k in file size).

As a rule of thumb, try to ensure that any page on you site is no larger than 30k in total, after accounting for all graphics, text plus logos and background. If you exceed this, your site will start to be very slow to load.

So when designing your page, limit the number of graphics. Size down the physical dimensions of any photos/graphics, then ‘compress’ the file size down as far as possible (using a programme such as Ulead Smartsaver – available as a free download at ulead.com).

Always consider your pages (your Home Page in particular) as if it was a billboard advertisement. People looking at a billboard as they drive past only glimpse at it fleetingly. They see only what has the most ‘immediate impact’. Visitors treat your website the same way. If it doesn’t immediately impress them (and to do this it must load fast!) they’ll move on to the next site without a second glance at yours.

NB. To check the file size of any image on the web, right click with your mouse on the image, then click on ‘properties’. This will tell you the file size.

Design

This is linked to the last and the next points. The design of your site affects the speed of loading and the readability of your text. A quick ‘crash course’ in design follows: –

a) Design the appearance of your site to convey an impression of what your site is about e.g. don’t put cutesy animations/graphics onto a serious business site, but you could on a ‘fun’ special interest site.

b) Remember that different colours convey different emotional responses e.g. red/orange/yellow are happy colours; they raise heartbeat and create excitement, whereas blues are colder, more formal, greens are more restful etc.

c) Here in the western world, we read pages from top left to bottom right. Your page design should take note of this i.e. this is why most logos are top left of a page and most main links appear down the top left hand side.

d) The human eye always instinctively follows the direction an image is pointing: – therefore when including graphics ensure they always point to the centre of the page (e.g. If it is a picture of a bird flying, car travelling etc. ensure it is facing ‘into’ the page rather than towards the edge of the page. Likewise, if a picture of a person, ensure they are facing ‘into’ the page, rather than to the edge.) This principle applies to all types of printed material, not just web based content.

There are exceptions to these rules, but generally if you stick with these guidelines, you shouldn’t go far wrong.

Readability

There are three main aspects to cover here; that is, the typeface used, the layout/design and the colours used for text and backgrounds.

Typeface

The first rule is to stick to the main typefaces wherever possible. That is Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and Times. This is because, if you choose a more obscure typeface, it is possible that your reader may not have that particular typeface on their computer, so all of your text will be converted to the ‘nearest’ compatible typeface which they have. This can often change the whole layout/appearance of your page. Remember, there are literally thousands of different typefaces around. Most computer users only have a few hundred (at most) loaded on their computers.

Other often used typefaces include gill sans, courier and comic sans.

Secondly, your choice of typeface determines how easy your text is to read on a computer screen. If you’ve spent a long time reading large amounts of text on screen, you’ll know that this is very tiring on the eyes. So choose a clear typeface. For example, this text is written in Arial which is easy to read.

But imagine if we produced this using Gothic, Script or Cloister. If you produce your text on your website using a typeface like this, your visitors will very, very quickly decide this is too much hard work and will almost immediately click their back button. I think you can see what I mean by this!

Layout/Design

When you read large amounts of text, it is far easier if there are many headings and sub headings breaking up the text into sections. This is even more important on a website due to the way most people look at web sites; i.e. they ‘skim’ each page to look for information of interest. If they see something that interests them, they read further.

So you can see, if you create headings which clearly explain the nature of the text which follows, your visitors are going to be scanning your headings (and sub headings) for words of interest, and will only read more if your heading has attracted them.

When creating headings, make them one or two pt sizes larger than the body text and make them ‘bold’. Sub headings can be the same size as the rest of your text, but should also be bold.

Then, if you also wish to emphasise certain parts of the text within each paragraph, you can make some of the most relevant words (or sentences) bold too, so they stand out more as people ‘skim read’ your pages. Likewise you may also choose a different colour for some headings, or other bold words, but this should be done in moderation. And care should be taken when choosing colours so they do not clash with each other.

One final point; avoid typing in CAPITALS except where absolutely necessary. Not only is it harder to read a long sentence in capitals BUT ON THE INTERNET, WRITING IN CAPITALS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING!!! IT AMAZES ME HOW MANY PEOPLE PRODUCE MOST (SOMETIMES ALL) OF THE TEXT ON THEIR SITES IN CAPITALS. THIS IS A COMPLETE TURN OFF TO ANY VISITOR TO YOUR SITE! I’m sure you can see what I mean.

As an aside, you should not send e-mails to people typed in capital letters either. This is considered as rude.

Colours

If you look at the top 100 sites on the Internet you will notice that, almost without exception, they are created with mostly black text on a white background. There is a very simple reason for this.

If you choose a dark background and use white text (or worse still, coloured text!) it is much more difficult to read. Whilst it is OK to use a coloured navigational bar or column and put white or coloured ‘links’ on them, if you do the same for the remainder of your text, most visitors to your site will soon tire of trying to read your text and they will quickly be searching for their back button. Again this applies to any printed material, but the results are far worse when viewed on a computer screen.

I think the point has been made!

As a final point on text readability, it should go without saying, your text should be free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Navigation

One of the biggest failings on many web sites is they are very difficult to navigate around. This is often because the whole site is too cluttered, so you don’t really know what to do or where to go. But mostly, it is down to a fundamental design flaw.

Many sites have main links in a different order on each of their pages. Some even have some of their main links missing from some pages. The visitor therefore tends to get a bit lost within the site, gives up and ………… goes elsewhere!

As a general rule, keep your main navigation links running down the left hand side of you page. Repeat them on all you main pages, and keep them in the same order. Then, especially if your page is quite long, repeat the main links (i.e. Home) at the bottom. It is also often a good idea to add a link saying ‘back to top’ at the bottom of a long page to save visitors having to scroll back to the top.

Next time you go ‘surfing’ look at the navigational elements of the sites you visit and notice how simple/difficult it is to navigate around the site. You might be surprised how many sites are really bad in this respect.

So, these are the golden rules you need to observe when creating your web site. As previously mentioned all of the main ‘constructional’ elements are incorporated within Blaze Online sites as standard, so you needn’t worry too much about them. As for the actual content, readability, colour/design, well that’s down to you. Follow these simple rules, and you should be able to create a site worthy of regular visits.

NB: there are other aspects which affect ease of use of a site which are sadly lacking on most sites out there. Perhaps the most important is badly designed ordering systems, or worse still, no facility to place orders at all!! If you’re a regular Internet user you’ll know what I mean. How many times have you been to a site, wanted to order something, but cannot find a link to an order form (or shopping cart) because the site owner has made it difficult for you to find it!! Defies belief doesn’t it, but it’s an all too familiar occurrence!

Back to basics again: – your site needs to be easy to navigate around, clear and easy to read, fast loading, and if you are selling anything, it must be easy to order from.

It’s not difficult. Not if you follow the golden rules.