“Conversion Optimization” sounds intimidating and a bit borg-like but it really just describes how people engage with your website. This “conversion” might mean signing up for your newsletter, subscribing to your blog, or purchasing your good or service. By using tools like Google Analytics and setting goals and funnels you can measure how effective your site is at this task and improve the user experience (aka. help them achieve the goal). Whatever your websites “special purpose” is, you generally want people to stay awhile, click on things and share stuff.
People ignore design that ignores people.
The Big Red Buy Now Button, blinking text, multiple font styles and colors, and ALL CAPS EXCLAMATIONS!!! do not make people pay attention or feel welcome. They only make you look like the stereotypical used-car salesman.
Think of all the messages that we absorb on a daily basis. Ads at bus shelters, billboards, apps on our phones, prime time TV commercials, the magazines we read during our cardio workouts, store windows glimpsed while we’re rushing back to work … the modern world is a constant pulse of visual stimuli that clamor for our attention. Whether we like it or not our consumer brains absorb the implicit meanings and directions within those carefully constructed messages (even when we don’t notice it). Our behavior is then linked to design and we learn both good and bad habits which we apply to the next, similar situation. As designers, we really want try to elevate the reader’s experience and teach them to use our website in the most intuitive way possible. Effective calls to action are simple to understand, easy to complete, and aesthetically pleasing.
- Let your reader know that they are in the right place. You have a lot of competition for readers attention from other websites, email pings and real-time demands. Your website homepage should let people know right away who you are and what you do with a graphic or text logo and concise, descriptive tagline.
- Don’t talk down to your reader. People are more visually sophisticated than you might think, especially when it comes to the design (packaging) of your web content and calls to action.
- No hoops, please. Focus the readers attention on a single task. Ask people to do something (preferably just one thing) and make it easy to achieve.
When designing your page layout you should be aware of how people scan a web page. The findings from the Nielsen Norman Group’s usability studies defined an “F-shaped pattern for reading web content”. This valuable information can help you put your important content where your readers will see it and act upon it.
The eyetracking heat maps above also show that people don’t navigate websites in a linear fashion and they tend to scan rather than read pages. This can be hard to accept knowing the hours we’ve spent crafting our awesome content. On the bright side, this understanding can help us concentrate on a few good design principles to help keep the reader engaged.
- Remember the F-shaped pattern. Don’t put the most important prompts in places where readers are unlikely to go. The top-right banner section and all the way down (scrolling … still scrolling) at the bottom of your page should not be where you have your “Sign up for my Free Newsy Newsletter!” button.
- Consistent, clear navigation. Although the home page may be more of a “squeeze” page and have a different layout than your sites inner pages, make sure you use the same names for navigation and key concepts throughout the site.
- Keep the text and ideas simple. Not simplistic, just focus on the primary purpose of the given page. Don’t try to be all things to all people. If this is your “home” page, there might be a few distinct calls-to-action but you want to be aware that there is a user capacity ceiling. We humans can only do one thing at a time, too many options will overwhelm your reader and it becomes increasingly likely that they will guess wrong and leave.
- Design your pages in blocks of easily digested, satisfying content. Clear topic headings, concise writing and illustrative graphics/photos will help break up your content and allow readers to scan your page easily.
- Make doing things super-easy. Provide a simple prompt to help the reader find what they are looking for and complete the desired actions. For example, at the end of a blog post, add a text prompt or button to subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed. Helping your reader find what they are looking for quickly and easily makes them feel smart!
- Use CSS buttons for important action links within your page content. People understand and like buttons.
- Test it. Check out the Website Optimizer, Google’s free website testing and optimization tool. Google has loads of resources through their Website Optimizer blog, YouTube channel and “Google Conversion University”.
And, finally, all web designers and developers must read Steve Krug’s fundamental (and refreshingly short) book, “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”. This is also an excellent resource for website owners to educate themselves.
* This is somewhat variable depending on the type of website.