Does your website attract visitors or repel them? This month we mention a couple of website traps that can send visitors hurrying away before they’ve got to know you. [First published October 2006. Some details may be a bit dated.]
Website visitors make very quick judgements. From the first moment they lay eyes on a page from your site their hand is hovering on the mouse ready to move along elsewhere. You need to make a good first impression if you’re to have any hope of keeping them for long enough to get a message across.
Keep in mind that visitors arrive from search engines and links friends have given them, so don’t expect them to turn up at the Home Page. They may drop in on any page on your site. Make every page a visitor ‘magnet’.
The first paragraph on each page should hold the key message or content of the page. As well as helping your visitors, search engines use this for keywords, and often display it in the results list.
Keep it clean
Do your pages look clean and tidy, or are they a jumbled mess of clashing colours and fonts, with strange sounds that blare out from the computer’s speakers whether visitors want the music or not?
Does the page pop-up windows with ads? Does it force the visitor to watch some Flash animation while they want to get to the information? Do things bounce and jiggle, spin and scroll all over the page?
This kind of ‘clutter’ can quickly put visitors off a website. Of course, it also depends on the visitors you’re aiming to attract — kids may find bright, colourful, active pages appealing, where seniors may prefer a quieter page, with cooler colours. But in any case, each item on a page should be there for a reason, not just because the person who made the page wanted to try out all the buttons on their web page software.
Keep it brief, with headings
Does the page take ages to load, filled to the brim with pictures and endless text? Do visitors have to scroll, and scroll, and scroll to read the information? Is the text small and packed in tight so everything ‘fits in’?
Visitors like spacious pages where things have a bit of elbow room. If you have a lot of information don’t be tempted to make the font smaller and squash things up as that will scare visitors away. Keep the text size in the ‘medium’ range.
If you have a lot to say then find ways to divide the text over several pages, or at the very least keep the paragraphs short, with space between paragraphs and use plenty of headings that summarise the information beneath them. Visitors like to skim a page and use headings to find their way to the parts that specially interest them. With long pages, consider starting the page with links that let visitors jump to main headings.
Make downloads friendly
If pages are necessarily long, then consider also making the same information available as a PDF, Word or text file that the visitor can download and maybe print off.
On the other hand, avoid forcing the visitor to download a file just to read what you have to say. Always prefer a web page over a file download. Providing the same information in several formats allows visitors to choose what works best for them.
If a download really is the best way to provide the information then make sure you at least provide a summary of the contents beside the link for the download.
For example, a Council may provide a 200 page PDF file with options for a planned neighbourhood improvement. It may not be realistic to turn the whole document into web pages, but there should be a summary of the contents of the document beside the link, perhaps containing highlights or key points.
Also be sure to include the type of file and the file size within the link itself, as this is an accessibility aid.
The guest is the best!
Visitors to your website are your guests, and your greatest treasure. Do everything you can to make them comfortable, to welcome them, to keep them happy.
Have a look at your website now. Has dust accumulated in the corners? Is there clutter where it shouldn’t be? Does it need a bit of a tidy up?
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, October 2006. This article may have been modified from the original.