KISS. It stands for "Keep it simple, Stupid." You've probably heard it before, but from where I stand, the message needs some SHOUTING.
The key to successful Web site design isn't sophistication, it's simplicity. Designing for simplicity is anything but simple (as if I needed to tell you that). But well-thought-out simplicity is what makes the successful Web sites successful. When you want to learn to be the best at something, do you study the amateurs or the pros?
The best Web sites load in about 10 seconds at 28.8 Kbps. Your designers may have T1 lines or DSL or cable modems, but 93 percent of your customers don't. Plus, all sorts of things further slow down download times. But the bottom line is that nobody is going to wait more than 10 to 15 seconds for your page to appear. Want your site to appeal to most people? Well, most people still surf at speeds under 56K, have their monitors set for 800 x 600 resolution, and don't even know they can change that, much less how.
On the Web, visitors look first for relevant text, not graphics. Make clear, strong text available right away. That will also keep them interested while graphics load. Use graphics only if they help prospects understand what they are looking for or if they convey information that can't be conveyed effectively through text. And keep graphics as simple as possible so they load quickly.
The best Web sites have simple and consistent navigation. Your average prospect will view two to three pages before leaving; so, at best, you're two clicks away from dead in the water unless you help her get where she wants to go quickly.
Respect conventions. Blue, underlined text means hyperlink, or "Click here," to almost everyone. Don't confuse anyone! Avoid underlining or using blue text for anything else. Place your navigation cues on the top or left of every page, with the same links arrayed at the bottom. Use categorization schemes that make sense (a series of tabs or something similar works well) for multiple elements.
Make everything obvious. First and foremost, help your prospect see the information -- white backgrounds are quick to download and help information stand out. Label stuff, and do so clearly -- no jargon. Offer concise explanations. Always remember: If your visitor can't find a function, it's not there!
Never leave your prospect stranded anywhere on your site. Imagine you're lost in the middle of a huge store with no signs. Where's housewares? Where's checkout? Where's the bathroom?! Now, how much do you like this store? How much do you want to buy now? So, on your site, provide clear navigation from anywhere to anywhere, and do it on every page. And for heaven's sake, keep all your navigation links within your page. Unless you want to encourage your customers to leave, don't direct them to the Back button on the browser. Any trip to the menu bar is an opportunity for your prospect to kiss you goodbye.
The best Web sites don't assume the client is an expert user. Technology is a wonderful thing, but Joe and Josephine Consumer are years behind the tech types. Therefore, your GUI should be simple (GUI, graphical user interface, pronounced "gooey" -- the sort of stuff you won't want your prospects stuck in). Also, never make them download plug-ins. Average shoppers don't know how, and even if they do, why take them away from the shopping process and force them to do something else because some designer thought it would be cool? They won't say, "Wow!" -- they'll leave. If you can't design it into your site and still have it load quickly and do all that other important stuff, leave it out. And give your prospects simple, clear instructions and helpful tools to guide them through the buying process. (If they can't understand checkout, they won't.)
Keep in mind: Visitors are looking for a reason not to trust you. Pay attention to the details: Check for typos, grammatical errors, screen error messages, images that don't open, browser compatibility problems, functions that don't work -- everything. Then have someone else check again. The best Web sites build their brands by creating a great user experience.
Am I beginning to sound like a broken record? Good! Now, pucker up and give your prospects a big, delightful KISS.
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Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.