Plan your site to sell.
Build it to sell.
It will sell – by design.

The other day, a web-design acquaintance sent me to a site with the comment “Told ya! Design rules!” The alleged proof of this outlandish statement was a consumer study conducted by one of the hallowed halls of U.S. academia. The question was asked and, yep, there it was… 41% of respondents indeed stated that site design influenced their perception of a site’s credibility. But methinks my pixel packing pal doth celebrate too soon. By any content meister’s measure, the evidence is plainly flawed.

“Design” is far too open-ended a criterion, unless one takes it to mean all elements of design… layout, colour, typography, graphics, navigation &c. And we can never know whether any or all of the 41% had this appreciation of design. I confess to doubt.

So, now that we’ve put design in its place again, it’s fair to ask what is design’s place in the scheme of things? And will designers ever bow to the tyranny of targeted content?

If it doesn’t help the conversion, what good is it?

Simple answer – maybe a hundredth part of what you paid for it! Site design that does not work to drive conversion is bad design. No defence. Period. And that, in turn, ordains that before there can be design there has to be a plan.

Consciously or subconsciously, we all evaluate the design of sites we land on. I suppose there are sites where violently purple velvet drapes are appropriate wallpaper. But must we suffer yet more sites festooned with a collection of everybody’s good ideas – but you can’t find your way to information without a compass? Or, my fave peeve, sites where designers have created a work of art and refused to sully it with content?

None of the above could happen if there’d been a plan. A very simple plan. Describe exactly what the site is to do. How it will justify its existence. What target traffic it must attract. And what conversion behaviour you want it to provoke. Maybe half an hour’s work. Sounds simple and it is. So simple that it’s seldom done. Hey… everybody knows what the site’s for – right?

One way or another, your site has to perform and create business. And every last thought and nail that goes into its building should cleave to that single-minded purpose… written down, front and centre on all site development docs. Make it the measuring stick for everything from content and design to SEO. If it doesn’t help sell, don’t buy it!

Targeted functional design is content.

I’ve beaten the Content is King drum in other articles. Instead, let’s look at design as content. Forget all notion of design for its own sake. Think of it instead as one of three wires in a twined cable that plugs you into your market – Content, Design, SEO.

Any designer worth their crayons can create good global templates for sites. Most problems arise from how they populate the sites with content. Typography on the web is generally quite poor and all too often just about as bad as it can be. Content elements are often arranged with more concern for the aesthetics of the layout than for the information-exchange with visitors. Type is crushed down to unfriendly sizes to shoehorn it into a prefixed design.

And the maddening thing is, none of this is necessary. Why wouldn’t the good designers take the challenge of functional design? Bring them into the loop. Have them there with your content honcho and SEO folks at that first meeting when the site mission tablet comes down the mountain. Set up ongoing communication as content is developed. Explain your sales strategy and be open to any design solutions that directly serve it. As content reaches final draft, share it with design and SEO so they can be thinking of solutions until you have sufficient prime content developed for design to begin (60% at least).

Now your designer has to work with your content and SEO people to create the most effectively targeted, SEO-friendly synergy between design, text, and graphics. If content and design work in harmony, the reward will be superior SEO, the sound of traffic roaring through your gate, and the conversion bell ringing off the wall.

Thus, in much-abridged version, the front-end, and middle. I’ve saved the poison pen for the dumbest mistakes on the web… the mistakes made at the point of conversion. Limp calls to action and invisible contact points – and impossible order forms.

Do you want to talk to these targets or not?

It beats me why any site owner wouldn’t have an invitation to contact, or an Order link, templated on every page. Isn’t it our entire purpose to make it as easy as possible for targets to convert themselves? It doesn’t even have to be a rubber stamp thing. There are many ways to theme a contact invitation throughout a site. A series of product/service/industry “Ask us abouts…” or “Did you knows…”, for example.

Again and again, it all comes back to turning click-thru’s into converts. And anything that can be done to support that within the realm of design and content should be done. Such as making it easy to order.

You’d think this would be a Duh! No vendor in their right mind would make it harder rather than easier to place an order. And that makes it kinda scary every time you visit a site where even finding the place to place an order is a matter of serendipity and landing on the right square. Or you find an order form with info boxes deliberately arrayed in some form of Ancient Norse puzzle… or another that scrolls vertically long enough for you to go put the kettle on. Or those infuriating sites that collect your information one or two bits at a time and send you thru a dozen Nexts.

Make your Order page the most visitor friendly of all. Design it for the least possible confusion of eye or mind. Be as helpful as possible with explanations and directions. Don’t make the target scroll to the page bottom to find out whether you accept credit cards. And don’t risk losing a conversion two-thirds thru the form because something wasn’t clearly understood. Check and recheck that there’s no ambiguity.

And beware the ambiguity of ivory-tower research.

By Bryan Pinn/SitePosition

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