Maximizing Your Website Design
A website is a calling card for many companies, opening windows to a wider world.
Many businesses choose to invest in the development of websites to build and spread brand awareness, increase sales, provide improved customer support and to save money. Within your website, it is important to consider the marriage between image and information. In an article by Business Link, it was suggested that while your primary concern may be about the aesthetics of your website, your users most likely care more about how quickly and easily they can access information. In an effort to maximize the results of your website design, I am providing a brief summary of a few of the most important features of an effective website.
Your homepage is your most website’s “virtual showroom.” It is considered the most important page because it will receive more hits than any other page within your website. We recommend placing your most important information above the fold at 800 X 600 resolution (The MUG Center). Although approximately 88% of Internet users are now using resolution at 1024 X 768, we still recommend “playing it safe” with 800 X 600 until the gap between users is filled. When sorting the content of your website, the general rule of thumb is “the higher on the page, the better.” Moreover, your homepage should download in 10 seconds or less at the prevalent connection speed. In a survey conducted by Minnesota State University, the mean download time of 60 high profile home pages averaged to 2.8 seconds (WebSiteOptimization.com).
Consistency is one of the primary characteristics of an effective website. A consistent header and logo are highly recommended, in addition to easy-to-use, consistent navigation. It is also suggested that repeating information (such as the header, logo and navigation) use no more than 33% of available browser window space.
While one of the primary purposes of most websites is to educate and provide information it is also important to consider the overall balance and visual effect of your website. Comfortable balance between text, graphics and white space are highly recommended. So, although it may be tempting to fit in as much information “per square pixel” you will actually maximize the effectiveness of your content if you balance your information with images and supporting graphics within a healthy area of white space.
In addition to maintaining balance, another tip to increase readership is good typography. World-renowned advertiser, David Ogilvy, gives the simple definition of good typography as “easy to read” (Ogilvy). Creating contrast between text and background is essential in making your information readable. While reverse text (white text on black background) is sometimes critical in maintaining the “look and feel” of your brand identity, studies have repeatedly revealed that positive text (black text on white background) is more legible (Ogilvy). When color is involved, we advise using text and background colors which have strong color contrast. An example of this would be deep purple text on pale yellow background. Aside from color contrast, good typography is also large enough to read. The size of your website’s body copy should fall somewhere between 11-13 px depending on whether you are using a serif or san serif font. Web serif fonts such as Georgia and Times should be displayed at 12-13 px. San serif fonts such as Verdana and Arial should be displayed at 11 px. Including white space around your text will also help to increase legibility. You can create this by increasing the leading, the spacing between lines of type. In CSS, leading is achieved through the line-height property. Moreover, tracking, the uniform increasing/decreasing in letterspacing of text, can be achieved in CSS through the letter-spacing property. Kerning, the adjustment of space between two characters, is not currently possible in HTML or CSS. However, in many cases it is not needed as digital fonts contain their own built-in kerning tables (Bringhurst).
As mentioned earlier, consistent navigation is essential to making your website user-friendly. Navigation should be legible and concise. We recommend using no more than two levels of navigation as the attention span of the majority of Internet users’ does not exceed two clicks to reach a desired destination. On every page, we also recommend including e-commerce navigation including cart, my account and sign in. Furthermore, a page footer also helps users navigate through your website as it is available on every page allowing users to quickly jump to your most important pages. We include copyright information, RSS feeds (our current RSS feeds include News, Events and Products), site map and contact links. In addition, if you are involved in Direct-to-Trade, we also include a link for trade as well as a Direct-to-Trade button located in the page footer area. Among all of the best practices in web design I have come across, effective navigation is consistently rated as one of the most important features of a website (Morris).
“Best Practice In Web Design.” Business Link. 9 July 2007.
Bringhurst, Robert. “The Elements of Typographic Style.” 9 July 2007.
Chuck. “User Group Best Practices: Web Site Tips.” The MUG Center. 1 July 2007. 9
“Home Page Usability and Credibility Survey.” WebSiteOptimization.com. 5 July 2007. 9 July 2007.
Morris, Terry. “Web Design Best Practices Checklist.” Terry Morris Web Design & Instructional Technology. 9 July 2007. 9 July 2007.
Ogilvy, David. Ogilvy On Advertising. New York: Random House, 1983.