Designing Web Sites for Fewer Eyeballs

by mqholt on January 7, 2009

Most of what you read about good web site design is meant for sites that aim to draw in thousands of viewers. These sites can afford to do research and have focus groups and interview many users.But most sites aren’t like that.

For most sites, a successful day will see the number of visitors in the dozens or hundreds, not the thousands. I’m talking about web sites for small or medium sized businesses, or even fairly large businesses that don’t rely on consumers to purchase products. And of course many non-profit web sites fall into this category, although most of them wish they were getting hundreds of online donations each day, so they often try to appear larger than they are.

How does design for the smaller market web site differ from large market sites? In many ways, it doesn’t. The users’ needs have to be placed first, and the content that you want to viewer to see has to be presented in a straightforward way that is easy to access.But do all the complex rules regarding heat maps and “invisible” banners and mystery meat navigation (I guess that one has been thrown out anyway) apply? Well, first remember that following any “rule” doesn’t change your web site performance from 0 to 100. It’s more like 67 to 73 or something like that.

But the most important difference in a smaller web site is that more of your first time viewers have some commitment to getting information from your site. For example, if you are using your web site as an online calling card, which is a good use for a small web site for a landscape architect say, then most of your viewers probably have heard your name somewhere, and are looking for more information about you. They are going to spend more than two seconds looking for that information, as long as the first impression (mostly look-and-feel in this case) leads them to believe they have found the right site. But then you have to prove to them they are on the right site. An easy to find physical address is one way, and if you have a geographically designated header or headline, even better. And of course a very clear and easy to use navigation is a must for any site, large or small.For these smaller web sites, a large number of people just want to know how to contact you. A big “Contact Us” link is critical, with clear phone number and email address information on that page. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to hide your email address to avoid spam. If you are extremely spam-averse (and I don’t blame you if you are) then use a JavaScript tool to make your address difficult for computers to read—but not people.

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