Our world today is concerned with all things beautiful. Implants, facelifts and tummy tucks have never been more in vogue. We are obsessed with the body beautiful, yet the world has never been fatter! Conversely, bodybuilders can look great, but the truth is many of them take drugs in one form or another to look this way; not all do, but a great deal do these days - if not for competitive reasons, then for lifestyle reasons. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Gold Coast of Australia where I live. It's a medical fact - despite the arguments - that people taking steriods (for instance) have problems with their organs in later life. Their outside appearance does not tell us what is happening on the inside.
The same thing can be said about websites and all things online. Many website owners or managers listen to their ego over the websites looks rather than concerning themselves with the content they provide within it. While its important to like what you have or own, it should not come at the expense of doing what the website was intended for; helping your audience. When your audience is navigating your site to find things, they are highly tuned and ruthless about getting what they want. It's all about 'i want it now!'.
Web is publishing and mostly about communication, although graphics and design play a very significant role in housing what we might want to present. However, the content is king. Customers want answers to things they are seeking more than 'feel good' visits to your site. In fact, the real important 'feel good' comes when they acheive what they came to your site to do.
Publications have been around at least since we had printing presses - and these date back to the 14 and 1500s. As a world society, we have had time to get used to what works and why when it comes to printing. Font use, size of the font, headers, titles etc. All these things are (most of the time) done very well with most publications today. There is the odd area where this may not be the case. You are unlikely to find a printing firm (let alone a print designer) who puts titles or headers on the bottom of a magazine cover. Why? Because when the magazine is placed in the rack (as they are all around the world in a similar fashion) people looking for the magazine of their choice would not easily be able to ascertain which magazine is what. Titles are generally put at the top so they all poke out of the rack in plain view above one another. Magazine racks are used in a similar way in many countries for this reason; this visibility idea comes from 'Usability'. Generally speaking, we have as a society agreed and accepted (from many years of use) that storing enough magazines for different audiences needs to be done in a simple but effective way. We can then replenish them easily and the audience can see, grab and purchase them easily too. Not rocket science to any of you reading this because we have grown up with this already happening over many generations. It's embedded in our society that this general way of seeing, storing and selling magazines is done in a relatively similar way all around the world.
Business websites are no different. At the moment because 'the web' is so young, some people argue about what works best and why. While there is a balance to be had with your website, it should not be at the expense of a usable functional site. If you care about your audience 'Usability' over 'Design' is likely to achieve the best results.This can be easily understood from the simple fact that a website needs to 'do' things (in an easy, fast fashion) well before it looks pretty. Whats the point of a website that does little but looks great? Momentarily inspiring maybe, but it does not create action - which is where most websites fall down. A "call to action" is something all pages should have and this has a lot to do with us as humans and how we think. We want to be presented with a way to get done that which we came to do. If we are not given this, we leave. Think about this next time you walk into a shop looking for something you're after; its likely you will quickly try to ascertain if they carry it. If not, you're out the door down the road looking elsewhere. This is web.
When people visit websites, they are essentially reading an online publication. Human behaviour (based on how we are built physically, what we see in our world and our language) drives us to react to websites in a certain way when we arrive. Certain parts of the website are most likley to be scanned by our eyes first and then we tend to scan across and down the page. This is because we read left to right and from the top down (many languages, not all). Most people I have tested over the years tend to take a quick glance at the top of the website to determine if they are in the right place from what they might have expected by having clicked on a link to get there. They are unlikley to notice if your logo is a horizontal or vertical version or if the font was the same as the logo they noticed on the truck or magazine last week. People are hell bent on 'doing' things online... "tasks". It is this that drives the success of a website. If you want to be successful online, focus on what your audience wants and how you will deliver this to them. It can still look good while doing so.
Remember that a website cannot be all things to all people or else you end up doing nothing well. Make sure you focus on the largest part of your audience with the content you do provide. Don't clutter your website with information that 'might' be of use, this only blocks the good stuff. Then make sure that there are simple avenues or referral paths for the smaller audience to find solutions to their requirements too. Like phone numbers, contact forms or referral agents. Whatever you do, keep it simple, concise and focused using words your audience understands.
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