|I was going to stop in, but you seemed awfully busy.
Have you ever visited a web page and had to shut down your browser and restart because there was so much junk going on in the page a Craig supercomputer would have frozen over like a glass of water in the Antarctic? I have, which brings me to today’s entry.
This afternoon’s soliloquy is all about the basics of web site design, or rather the abuses made in ignorance of them. You would think in this day and age of commercial internet exploitation, that all the money being funneled into corporate websites would at the least be partially directed towards usability. Just about any primer on web site design is going to cover in its opening chapter the merits of keeping your site small, clean and fast. Yet there are loads of sites out there whose designers apparently skipped past that chapter and headed straight for the flashy stuff.
Heavy duty flash intro’s replete with music and action scripts, giant images resized into tables, auto running video and all manner of animated gifs are loaded into pages creating a nightmare of lag and processor loading. The sad part of it all is that I’m not talking about MySpace type pages where that sort of thing is the norm. I’m talking about actual corporate and commerce sites where getting information out is crucial and usability is key.
I can’t count how many times poor design has led me to exit a site as fast as I entered. I’m notoriously impatient, if I can see my cursor display it’s busy action for more than ten seconds I’m pretty much outta there and on to the next search result. Despite my own bias, I am fairly confident that no site should take more than fifteen seconds to load. I’m even more confident
that I shouldn’t have to shut down every single application except my browser in order to navigate a site. With online commerce having an emphasis on ease and availability, having a slow site is not only going to annoy visitors, it’s going to send potential customers running to your competition. Unless this prospect gives you the warm fuzzies, it would be a good idea to take an active role in your sites actual design if you are paying someone to create it for you.
First things first.
Don’t just take a bunch of content and hand it to a designer, then tell him to build your site. Clearly lay out your goals, request updates on progress, review the site as it is built if possible and be willing to refuse anything that seems unnecessary. For a commercial site, it’s best to set simple goals. Determine what message you want to send, what action you want the visitor to perform and the overall expectations of the site, then target your design accordingly. If you do this, you will find quite quickly that all those ideas you had about using the latest and greatest whirligigs suddenly seem extraneous and unnecessary.
A good design will have its emphasis on speed and readability. If your designer insists on using the latest flash apps, or wants to embed all sorts of applications without a clear reason to do so, you may want to reconsider using him if he is resistant to avoiding them. A good designer will already understand that what your business needs is effective presentation and conversions, not bells and whistles and will have no problem working with you to reach your goals. If you’re doing it yourself and have built a monster made of flash, java and media, then rethinking your sites intent and goals and redesigning accordingly might be a good idea.
Of sound and fury.
Make sure your images and graphics are as small as possible without becoming unviewable. Make use of thumbnails, resize images before inserting them into your page and use lower resolutions and file sizes. Make larger images available through previews, whether clickable thumbnails or user initiated slide shows. Give the user the option of loading such large files when they want to, instead of allowing them to drag down your pages load times. Avoid animated gif’s, animations and video snippets. If you need video, use screenshots with descriptive content linked to the files that your visitors can play if they choose to.
Don’t use sound in your webpage. As tempted as you might be to do it, most visitors are going to find it an annoyance. Considering that a lot of visitors might be using their work computer, having a page start blaring music in the middle of the office might be a problem they won’t appreciate having.
Now then, where was I?
Try to avoid building a giant main page. Concentrate on inserting your main content and making all your secondary content easily navigable. If possible, break up a large page into smaller multiples. Avoid forcing your visitor to scroll down three pages worth of content. Although there is some argument about whether or not long web pages cause negative perceptions in a viewer, it is without doubt a contributor to slow load times. Some studies have even suggested
that long pages requiring excessive scrolling can cause a viewer to lose track of his location relative to the pages content, leading to an exit from the page.
If you’ll allow me a moment of your time.
When it comes to displaying ads on your page, try to avoid the temptation to fill every open bit of page with them. Choose the smallest graphics and utilize text ads as much as possible. Avoid huge banners, Java apps, flash and just like with your own page, focus on presenting their message as simply and clearly as possible. I tend to load them into a table at the end of a page so that at the least, the main page can load before them.
It’s all so simple now.
Without going into all the specifics of code, these are just some of the basics that can help you to make your site not only an effective message medium, but an enjoyable place for your customers to visit. The point is that you want your visitors to have whatever they need available to them on your site quickly.
The benefits aren’t only in the improved load times, but also in how removing useless content improves the professional appearance of your company. When a visitor can find what they are looking for quickly and easily, they will view your company’s presentation favorably and the chances that they will be actionable greatly improves, resulting in improved sales for you. Great content is critically important. Getting that content to your visitors with the least amount of trouble is nearly just as important and should never be compromised by pointless glitz