Juggernaut > Web site design > Success

Juggernaut Technology Pty Ltd

Suite 14b Greenhill Enterprise Centre,
University Drive, Mt Helen Victoria

PO Box 175, Buninyong Victoria 3357

Tel: 03 5309 0494   Fax: 03 5309 0495
Email: ra@juggernaut.com.au

How to build a successful web site

The secret to building a successful web site is simple. Help all the visitors to the site achieve their goal. Help the visitor. It sounds so simple... but there are many sites out there that seem to actually hinder the visitor.

Hindering is not helping. The first step towards helping the visitor is eliminate impediments between the user and their goal. This is done in little ways, but lots of little steps can add up to a very pleasant journey.

Don't have a splash screen. A splash screen does not help the visitor achieve their goal! All it does is put a 10-30 second delay and an extra mouse-click between the user and their goal. Instead of a splash screen, put the effort into developing a truly useful home page.

Don't use massive Flash or GIF animations. These are simply an obstacle between the user and their goal. Worse still, they distract the user from the real content of the site, whether that is product or information. Have more respect for the visitors to your site than to have them spend their time looking at useless content. An exception to this rule is a site where the content _is_ the animation (i.e. mini-games). Any such animated content must add value to the site.

Create good links. This is an artform in itself. The basics are:

Use graphics wisely Graphic elements are largely ignored by visitors in favour of text. Once again, there are a plethora of considerations, but the summary is:

Make the site visually appealing. At the same time as trying to minimise load time, the design of a site is certainly important to visitors. The site should have a polished appearance and should impress the visitor with the quality of the design and the ease of navigation.

Keep the site fast! Sun Microsystems found that visitors give three times more importance to the speed of a site than to its appearance. Usability studies have shown that pages should load in one second for optimal usability. It is essential to have the basic page structure rendered (including logos and navigation bars common to each page) within 10 seconds. This is generally only achievable with return visits and internal links, as the graphics need to be cached. 10 seconds is the time it takes for a visitor to become bored waiting for the site and to click the back button.

Get visitors into the site's contents. The aim of the home page is to get customers off the home page and into the main content of the site. Each second the visitor spends on the home page they move a second closer to clicking the Back button. The home page should tell the visitor what they can expect from the site and provide well-written (i.e. descriptive) links to the site's content.

The home page needs to cater for visitors who come to the site for a range of different reasons. Customise the home page so that visitors to the site can begin their most common tasks there. Logfile analysis will reveal the highlights of the site. Example: on an e-commerce site, don't make customers click to enter the shopping section - make the product search form or catalog head an integral part of the home page.

Keep content visible. Content that matters should appear within the 640x480 page size. Many people have small screens, or prefer to keep their browser window to a limited size.

Make content usable across platforms. There should be no need for a 'best viewed with the designer's favourite browser'. If a web site does not work with all browsers, it's broken. It can't even be assumed that a browser is Netscape of Explorer any more. There are a number of new browsers (Opera, iCab) and other devices (mobile phones, cars) that can be used to access web sites. And of course, if a site requires Javascript, search engines won't be able to get in so they won't list the site.

Make special features easy to use. Users don't read instructions. If a site needs instructions, it needs to be redesigned.

Don't link to the current page. All too easy to do, and extremely confusing for visitors.

Let the visitor know if they're on the wrong site. Users should be able to easily determine whether your site is going to allow them to realise their goal. It's no good keeping a user on your site if they are just getting frustrated. In the long term, this will decrease the quality of the web site's 'brand', as users will associate it with a poor experience. A site with many well-crafted links to other sites will help the user achieve their goal, so a visit to such a site will be associated with a good experience. Such a site may well earn a bookmark as the jumping-off point to those other sites.

Navigation

Once users get off the home page and into the site's content, they still need to be able to navigate between different areas of the site. On a small site, a single level of navigation is adequate. This would just be links to different pages on the site (remember the links should be written in plain english!). On a larger site, two or more levels may be required (i.e. main site sections across the top, this section subsections down the side). Expanding lists down the left side are good.

Stick to navigational systems users already understand. Users aren't going to put their goal on-hold while they learn to use a new whizz-bang navigation system. The Yahoo model is an excellent model. It consists of well-crafted text links and since users have so much experience using this type of navigation, they will know how to use the site at first glance. It is also fast. It is no accident Yahoo is one of the most popular sites on the web.

Keep navigation simple. Disappearing, pop-up, slide out and rollover menus are complex and confuse users. Flashy graphic links confuse users (is it a heading or a link?). Well-crafted text links will indicate the contents of the linked-to page, making it obvious to users which link will take them closer to their goal. From the context of the link, users should have a pretty good idea what they're going to see on the next page. Users won't click on an abstract link on the off-chance it will take them closer to their goal (the back button to the page of search engine results is a more obvious choice in this case).

A well-written link will also set the context of the following page, making it easier for users to understand the content of that page. This saves the user a second of so of orientation when they arrive on the new page, making the site just a little easier to use.

The structure of the site should be organised in a logical way for the user to understand. This will rarely match the company's organisational chart. Instead, work out how the content of the site breaks down from a user's perspective. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to ask the potential users of the site!

Once a beautiful, well structured site has been built, search engines need to refer visitors to it.

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