Tell me, when you want to learn to be the best at
something, do you study the amateurs or the pros?
Amazon.com has spent years and mega-millions of dollars
making their complex site simple to use (okay, so
they are not turning a profit, but they do make sales,
LOTS of sales). So if you are thinking of putting
something on your site, ask yourself, "Would
Amazon do this?"
best websites load in about 10 seconds at 28.8 kps.
All sorts of things affect download times, but the bottom
line is that nobody is going to wait ages for your page to
appear on their computer1. They'll just click
on over to your competition. Big file sizes2,
lots of graphics, high resolutions … they may look cool
once they’ve downloaded but the simple fact is your
prospect doesn’t want them and won’t wait.
Industry leaders design for the lowest (reasonably) common
denominator out there. They don't assume everyone has
high-speed connections or state-of-the-art monitors. Do
you want you site to appeal to most people? Well,
most people still surf at 28.8. Most people have small
monitors. Most people have their monitors set for 800x600
and don’t even know they can change it, much less how.
And since studies prove that on the web visitors look
for text, not graphics, make clear, strong text
available right away. That will keep them interested while
the graphics load. Only use graphics if they help
prospects understand what they are looking for or convey
information that can't be done effectively through text.
And keep those as simple as possible so they load quickly.
Avoid scrolling if you possibly can, but if you
must use it, use vertical scrolling only, never
horizontal, and place the most important information above
the scrolling line. Get your most important information to
your prospects fast!
best websites have simple and consistent navigation.
Your average prospect will view 2-3 pages before moving
on, so at best, you’re two clicks away from dead in the
water unless you help them get where they want to go
quickly. It can be done - and it really does matter! Why
do you think Amazon.com is fighting so hard to protect its
to say it, but most online shoppers are conditioned like
Pavlov's dogs. Stuff like: blue, underlined hyperlinks
mean "click here" to almost everyone. So use
them, don’t confuse them! And avoid underlining or using
blue text for anything else. Likewise, don’t put links
in another color. Most people will miss them. Place your
navigation cues on the top and/or left of every page, with
the same links arrayed at the bottom. Use categorization
schemes that make sense (tabs or something similar works
well) for multiple elements3. And frames may
look cool, but they’re a bad idea. Redesign your site to
lose them and your sales will go up.
Studies show that a) the average shopper doesn’t know
how to use them, and b) most search functions give bad or
no results so often that shoppers are better off with
links. And you may be tired of me saying it, but
frustrated shoppers simply leave. But if you really think
you have to use a search function, label it clearly with
instructions. Also, provide a mechanism to make it simple
for users to narrow their search. If your search hands
over too many irrelevant results, prospects will feel
overwhelmed and leave. But most important, make sure the
darn thing works right (gives fast and accurate
results) under as many conditions as you can possibly
think of. Humans are amazingly talented at screwing up
even the stuff that seems obvious.
of obvious, the best websites 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. Offer concise
explanations. Always remember, if your visitor can't
find a function, it's not there! Remember, too, that
if they’re looking for a function and can’t find it
fast, or find a clear alternative, they’re gone.
imagine you’re lost in the middle of a huge store with
no signs. Where’s checkout? Where’s housewares? Where’s
the bathroom! How much do you like this store? How much do
you want to buy now? Never leave your prospect
stranded anywhere on your site. Provide clear navigation from
anywhere to anywhere 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. And they don’t come back.
best websites 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. Your GUI
should be simple (Graphical User Interface, pronounced
"gooey" - the sort of stuff you won't want your
prospects stuck in). Also, never make them download
plug-ins. The average shopper doesn’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 fast and 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).
the ISP/Portal world. And what’s their hook? "So easy
to use, no wonder it's #1!" Who are they trying
to reach? Most people. They make sure every
interface is obvious, and they provide lots of on- and
offline support. There's a ton of complexity behind the
screen, but what the user experiences is super simple!
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, functions that don’t work -
everything. Then have somebody different check
best websites create the brand by creating a great user
Our good friend, Roy Williams, The Wizard of Ads, says,
"Sell substance with substance and style with
style." You have to pay attention to the perceived
value of your shopper's experience and or you won’t
be successful. If your product or service is primarily
related to style (fashion or entertainment), then your
site design must convey that flavor - while respecting
all the stuff we’ve said so far. That’s the
challenge of designing for simplicity. Similarly, if your
business is information-rich or has big-ticket items, you
need to provide lots of substance so your customers can
have the satisfying experience of evaluating things
on their own. In the end it is all about how your site
makes them feel.
shouldn't have to tell you style and substance mean
nothing if you ignore the importance of first impressions
(downloads, navigation, ease of understanding information,
spelling errors) or spew lots of jargon, acronyms and
techno-babble at your customer. No matter how strong
your brand in an offline world, you will still lose the
brand you establish has everything to do with how you
design your online presence. Listen to these folks:
Mok, Chief Creative Officer of Web design firm
Studio Archetype/ Sapient, says, “the trusted
brand in the dirt world consumers would probably
trust in the digital world. But while they would
trust it enough to get through the trial and
presentation, the user experience has to be
validated beyond that first impression. The loop
needs to be closed with fulfillment." When
establishing a track record on the Internet Mok
says, "It's all about reliability and
execution. The stronger the execution, the quicker
you are able to establish a brand on the
the combination of brand and navigation that are the
most powerful," says Davis Masten, a principal at
Cheskin Research. "Ideally it's about
having a brand essence and brand personality that
people can identify as unique to you."
Here's what the top 100 websites have in common: fast
download times; few graphics; little, if any, multimedia;
no frames; similar navigation systems; high contrast text
with lots of white space; most links in
"traditional" blue underlined text; no
DHTML; no splash pages; and a very solid database-powered
beginning to sound like a broken record? Good! Now, pucker
up. Give your prospects a big, delightful KISS.
1 Various studies have shown that
in 1999, losses due to unacceptably slow download
speeds and resulting user bailouts alone were
between $7 and $9 Billion.
2 An analysis by Flanders and Willis, of Willis
Design Studios (and authors of Web Pages That Suck)
looked at the file size of the top 10 websites as opposed
to the file size of websites ranked 40 to 50 (ranking by
Media Matrix). The top 10 had an average size of 35
kilobytes, compared to 62 kilobytes for the rest. Not
conclusive, but very interesting.
3 Willis Design Studios also notes that having
these navigation elements repeat on other pages speeds
download of successive pages - the image is in cache and
needn't be recalled from the server. Result: faster click-throughs.
click here for a printable version of this whole article
Who Wants to Catch “Viral Marketing”?
The jargon-junkies are at it again. What used to happen
over the back-yard fence when Jan told Louise, or in the
hardware store when Jan told Bob (Jan’s a busy lady), is
now called "Viral Marketing." And while I shake
my head at terminology that makes it sound like a disease,
I have to admit they have a point. With cyberspace so
huge, word of mouth can have a big role in building
traffic to your site.
do you tap into the power of viral marketing? Simple.
Start by providing your customers with a stellar online
experience. Everyone knows that when it comes to getting a
referral, a delighted
customer is the best marketing
And it’s the cheapest one, too. Who are you more likely
to listen to, a friend or somebody you don’t know? Now,
try this one: an email from a friend or an email from a
stranger? The numbers are powerful. 64% of us will try
something if it’s recommended to us by a friend. And
when someone has a good experience online they tell an
average of 12 people. And by the way, that’s five
times as many people as they tell offline . But
be careful. When they have a bad experience, they tell a
whole lot more. The bad news spreads like wildfire, but
the good news will spread, as long as you give
them a reason to glow rather than grump about you.
give word of mouth an active role on your website.
Include a "Tell A Friend" option on your site,
enabling your happy customers to send your url to others.
Just some of the resources out there are the
recommendation service Recommend-It (www.recommend-it.com),
CGI Resources (www.cgi-resources.com),
has about 70 form processors, some
of which are perfect for your recommendation application,
which has links to more info on
They don’t just give you a robust referral tool that’s
a snap to implement, they also give you the ability to
send pictures and content excerpts and
custom marketing messages, plus you get real time
data tracking, and on top of that they marry it all to a
super rewards program where people earn points
every time they make a referral and then can get great
stuff when they have enough points. Check it out.
make that website experience worth raving about and give
your visitors some tools to rave with! Then watch them
start congregating over their virtual back-yard fences,
doing their viral marketing thing.