Design Advice: 5 Solutions To Common Problems

    September 23, 2003

Question: How can I make my home page ( more inviting to have visitors look at more content?

Answer: Overall, your site has a very nice, professional design. I like it! Here are two quick tips on making the main page more compelling:

1. You might want to change the main photo. Although the photo is very professional, it also looks somewhat forbidding. Also, for some reason, having the text on the photo doesn’t set well and leaves me with a slight negative impression, for some reason. These two things might have a subtle psychological impact on visitors, which might affect their desire to interact further with the site.

2. Connect your info with a visitor’s needs. You’ve done a good job of organizing the main page in a way that makes your news items and upcoming programs very obvious. However, the individual items are a little dry–there is no compelling reason to click on them. Try to establish what value there is to a visitor in clicking on each link, attending each event, or exploring each piece of information. Based on those needs, make it obvious to a visitor why he or she would want to read more. In other words, explain the benefits of reading further.

For example, your first link is labeled “Leadership seminars for Executives.” This title is not very enticing. Instead, try something that clearly identifies the benefit that will be received from these seminars, such as “Learn how to [fill in the blank with something that executives want to learn to do].” In writing your titles, use active words like learn, discover, and find out. Write in such a way that your visitors will be intrigued and curious.

In short, visitors want to know, “Why should I read this and how is it going to help me?” Answer that question, and you’ll have their interest.

Question: Webmap ( is a supplier of high resolution aerial photography over the capital cities and surrounding suburbs.

Our traditional markets are professionals in the following industries – telco, transport, asset management, local government, engineers.

Webmap launched its PropertyView site in September last year to target the public consumer and other non technical users such as real estate, insurance, architects, planners and banking. The site provides a downloadable image of an area of your choice for $20.

We are now redesigning the site based upon the feedback, some market research and what our peers are doing in the UK market (
We are now striving to reduce the options/functionality in order to simplify the buying experience. Where we used to allow the customer a number of size options for the enlargements they order – we are now limiting this to a single size. The other sizes are available as advanced user options to cater for our professional users that are used to using Geographic information systems. The new look site will have the option to
1/ order a photo print
2/ download a digital photo
3/ advanced options.

Question: When marketing to the masses is keeping it simple more important than abundance of choice?

Answer: You’ve brought up an excellent question. There’s always going to be a fine line between providing the options visitors desire without overwhelming them or distracting them by providing too many choices. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to figure out where that line is.

Based on your question, it appears that you have broadened your target audience to include a market that does not need as many specialized options as your former, more narrow audience needed. In this case, you should definitely avoid giving too many choices. Keep it simple and try to direct your visitors down a specific path. This type of visitor will be looking for a quick, easy buying process, and they won’t want to have to deal with a lot of choices.

However, since part of your audience needs more advanced options, you must accommodate them as well. In order to meet the needs of both groups, you should make the advanced options available for those who need them, but avoid cluttering up the buying process for visitors who don’t need them. The advanced options should not be a major focal point, and should be placed in such a way that your general audience can conveniently ignore them. Overall, plan the layout and appearance of each page to ensure that your general audience is easily channelled right to the next step, but that advanced options are readily available for those who want more choices.

Of course, it will be tough to strike that balance. But overall, you sound like you’re on the right track.

Question: My son and I designed and built a web site about a year and a half ago and haven’t had one sale. About three months after we finally had it placed with a few search engines I thought something was not right so I went through the process of purchasing some product from myself and it worked perfectly. At that point my son who was 15 at the time gave up and I’ve been just sitting waiting for some miracle, but that hasn’t happened. Where did we go wrong?

Answer: It’s difficult to isolate exactly why there are no sales. However, here are a few things that might be causing the breakdown:

1. The main page. Visitors have to click through two pages before they actually get to see your products. Both your splash page and the main page after that are “dead” pages. Visitors don’t get to see any products until they click to the third page. This is too long. Remove the splash page and send visitors right to the main page. Also, include product photos on the main page.

2. Lack of traffic. No matter how many improvements you make to your site, you won’t sell anything if you’re not getting any traffic. Although you indicated that your site is listed in some search engines, merely having a listing is absolutely no guarantee of traffic. I have no idea how many visitors you are getting, but traffic is one thing you need. And not just any traffic–you must have targeted traffic.

3. No clear indication that you’re selling something. The copy on your index page is not sales-oriented, especially at the beginning. If I didn’t know that you were selling something, I might not figure it out from your site, as it’s easy to ignore the menu at the top. The site has more of the appearance of a personal website about space than of an e-commerce site.

4. Difficult ordering process. As a first-time visitor, I found it very difficult to figure out how to purchase a particular product. When visitors find a particular product they want, there is no way to add it to their shopping cart directly from that page. So they have to click on the “Order” page. But on the order page, there is no way to select the specific lithograph they want. It looks like you don’t sell them individually. But what if visitors only want one? This could be a major issue.

Visitors will be very hesitant to purchase the matted and framed versions, as the picture of the frame doesn’t give enough detail for visitors to feel comfortable making the purchase. At the very least, you need to describe the frame, give some indication of its quality, and help visitors feel that they are justified in spending the extra money.

Question: Our site is Could you, please, check it out and say what is good and what are the mistakes.

Answer: I took a look at your site, and I have two main suggestions for you. These are both specifically for the main page, but they apply to others as well.

1. Reduce the complexity. Your site is extremely busy. There is information everywhere, and nothing stands out as a focal point. When I first visited your site, I had no idea where to look. This will be very overwhelming to visitors, as they will not know where they should direct their attention or what they should pursue first.

You need to cut out some of the information and better organize the rest. Get rid of at least one of your four columns. Also, although it is fine to have a plain design without a lot of graphics and photos in the main interface, you should use color cues to help visitors figure out where to look. Use bright colors for things that are of high importance, and use less intense colors for things that are not as important. Right now, the elements that use the brightest colors are the ads.

2. Reduce the number of ads. On a monitor with a resolution of 1024×768, eight ads are visible in the first screen. At 800×600, six are visible. Most of them are continually moving and flashing, which is extremely distracting. You should not have more than three ads, or four at the most. The way it is now, visitors can’t focus on your content. I realize that advertisers are probably a prime source of income for your site. However, if you reduce the number of ads, ad space will be more valuable, and you should be able to charge more for it.

Question: We’re considering using frames on a revised site. I’ve toyed with a navigation structure that opens various framesets depending on what’s selected on the home page and it all seems to work pretty slick. So far, however, I haven’t been able to figure out how to get back to the home page without it being displayed in the main frame. In other words, I’m trying to figure out how to dump the frames and just display the original home page itself without any frames at all.

Answer: You’re in luck–there is a very quick solution. Ordinarily, links that are in frame display the linked page in that same frame. This means the other frames in the frameset will be displayed, even if you don’t want them to be. All you need to do is include an extra attribute (the target) in your link tag to tell the browser to break out of all the frames and use the full window to display the linked page. It looks like this: target=”_top”. So your full link tag would be written as follows:

<a target=”_top” href=””>

Adding this attribute will get rid of all the frames. As an extra tip: Remember to add this same attribute whenever you link out to other sites, or they will be displayed in your frames as well.

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