An effective website doesn't block users

Do you want an effective website?

Of course you do. But what does this really mean?

How does one think about the design, functionality, and structure in a way that produces an effective business website?

And what is “effective” anyway?

All good questions, questions that could each be a book, but we will try and provide a couple of ideas that you can work with.

An Effective Website is a Fulcrum

Let’s start big. We have this conversation with customers all the time. They come to us talking about their brand and show us examples of beautiful websites. As the discussion develops we ask them to ask themselves two questions.

How will the website be useful to your business? What’s the primary objective of the site?

and

How will the website be beneficial to your customers? What’s their primary objective when they visit the website?

I guess this is four questions but let’s not quibble. The point is that an effective business website will be more useful if it’s thought of as a means to an end. If it’s designed and built to deliver both objectives efficiently, it will create value for the business, and it will create value for the customers.

Every design and content decision should be made with this dual understanding in mind. Do the design and content deliver value, do they maximize the impact of the page for the user and for the business? Does the content help the site be more useful? Does the design help users find what they want, or does it get in the way?

Please note, a website isn’t a branding vehicle. It can and should support your brand, but by the time a user gets to your site they are looking for something tangible. Give them what they are looking for.

What do we mean by all this?

The Five-Second Rule

We have what we call the five-second rule.  Every page in an effective website assumes users have five seconds to do three things: tell them that they are in the right place, give them a benefit-oriented reason to stay and make it clear what they should do next. This is another way of saying, “Don’t make me think.” designing pages with this in mind will help you deliver on the objectives.

The five-second rule is essential for an effective home page and primary navigation landing pages. It’s less important as a user gets deeper into the site. Interior pages should be content rich. The thinking is that a user who has arrived on an internal page is invested in their search and will value more information.

The five-second rule is our rationale for not recommending sliders on primary pages and why they often make sense on secondary pages. Sliders are distracting. “Oh look at that, and that, and…” Primary pages should be designed to guide users to their destination. On a secondary page, where more content is valued, a slider is a useful tool when you want to deliver a story.

Conclusion

While people have and will write books about this topic, it comes down to two things: effective websites create value by being useful, and they make it easy to find the value. Don’t let your site stand between you or your users and success.