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How to Design Web Pages for the Way a Website is Really Used, Part 1

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As a web designer (or web site owner) we would like to think that our web sites are used exactly in the manner in which we developed them. We also would like to think that our visitors read everything on our site.

In this fast-paced world, the fact is that 99% of all web users today are only eye-ball scanning our web pages. As much as we would like to believe it, our visitors do not read the information on our websites like they would a book, magazine article or newspaper. This means that if what you are trying to convey does not catch their eye quickly, they will miss your point. You may quickly miss a sale. It is also true that every person who navigates your site, does so in a different manner. You may be very surprised to learn that most do not navigate your site anything close to how you intended. Yikes!

In Part 1 of our series, “How to Design Web Pages for the Way a Website is Really Used,” we will be painfully pointing out comparisons on how web sites are designed vs. how they are really used by visitors. Each consecutive part of this series will include more comparisons, so get ready for some valuable brain food.

It is important to note that the contents within this series will be rather controversial to some designers. Some may agree and some may not. This series is not meant to stir up a nest of hornets nor point thy finger. Its intent is to get the wheels turning in your own mind as a web designer (webmaster or website owner) on just how your website is “really” being used by your visitors. Most of us will be shocked to discover the truth.

It is as equally important to state that every website is unique in its requirements. The requirements for a website to be effective depends mainly on the site’s objective (Why is your site online?) and your web site’s target market (Who will mainly be visiting your site?). Take all of this critical information into consideration as you read through this article series.

So let’s get started, shall we? In your mind, physically imagine lifting your butt out of your chair right now, walking out your front door and down the street five block to a neighbor’s house that you have never met nor have you been inside their home before. Now suppose for a moment they let you in and leave you alone. You now sit your butt down into a chair in front of their computer that is logged onto the Internet and YOUR WEBSITE is on the monitor screen. How does that feel? A little odd, yes? Maybe a little foreign and uncomfortable but yet a little bit familiar because it is your site.

Are you ready for some in-your-face reality? Here we go.

SITE VISITOR: “Who are you? What can you do for ME?”

SITE OWNER/DESIGNER: “Welcome to my creative web site! Let’s play a game. Because I’m creative and want to impress you with my skills, I’ll hide who I am, what this site is all about and I’ve created a really unique navigational menu that will blow your socks off. See if you can find it, okay? Isn’t this fun? See how creative I can be?”

The first things you (hopefully) see at *all* websites you visit is the company name or website name. Hopefully, you will find this information at the top of the page. As a visitor to this site you are also hopeful that the site explains exactly the purpose of their product, service, information, etc., and you will easily be able to find the information you need through a familiar navigational system. Yes?

Now why did I use the word “hopeful” so often in the paragraph above? Because as humans we have the tendency to be “hopeful”. As a web designer we are hopeful and more often than not take for granted that our visitors will understand exactly where they can find the information they need. As a web site visitor we are hopeful that the web designer understands this may be our first visit to their site, and we need as much as help as possible because we are, of course, in a hurry. We want to be comfortable surfing their site and comfort allows involves “familiarity” especially when we are in a hurry.

The only two ways your site will seem “familiar” to your visitors are: 1) they have been there before, or 2) your site layout and navigational method is common to most “popular” websites that receive a high volume of “diversified” traffic.

Location, Location, Location: Company Name, Site Objective and Navigational Menu

We are hopeful that all of our site visitors will know who we are and what we do, regardless of where we put our company name. We expect our visitors will have the patience to look for this critical information, which we so proudly, and let’s not forget “creatively” located when we were thinking outside of the box.

Is the company/website name on your site at the top-left? Top-right? Left side, right side, middle of the page? Or is it at the bottom!? As creatures of habit, website visitors expect the company name to be located at the top of the page. If it is not, their brain raises an imaginary question mark. [Uh-oh, this results in Question Mark No. 1.] Their eye’s will naturally fall directly to the top left as the page loads.

If they do not find the company/website name there, their eyes will go directly to the top-right side of the page. Not there either? Hmm. [??]

Likely your visitors will then look at the top browser bar hoping to get a clue. Is your company/website name there? If not, oh dear. [???]

Your site visitors might then scroll downward hoping to find something about your company that identifies you and what you offer. I say “might” because if they are in a hurry (as are most people who surf the net) they may at this point simply leave your site. Or if they do not find what they need at the bottom of your page [????], they may try to view your source code. What’s that? There are no clues in the source code meta tags either? Oh dear, oh dear. [?????]

Often I’ve heard discussed between web designers that typical web site layouts that are predictable are ordinary and uncreative. That may be a tiny bit true, but if they are effective in providing your visitors with exactly what they expect and when they expect it, it is most certainly functional and effectively serves its purpose far more than a layout that is complicated and out of the ordinary. Most people who visitor your site are not there to browse your eye-candy graphics or guess about your site navigational menu’s structure. They are there for “them”. They are looking for something that will:

1) make them money

2) make their life easier

3) save them money

Period. That is the honest truth. And the point of this article series is to be honest with ourselves, right? As creative beings, we often confuse the idea of “web” design with “graphic” design. Another common problem is confusing what “we like” with what is actually functional for “our visitors” needs.

Remember when I told you to sit down at your neighbor’s computer and view your own website? I asked you to imagine this scenario so that you were to some degree a little uncomfortable (outside of your own elements). This is similar to how your site visitors will feel when they first arrive at your web site except they will feel about three time more uncomfortable if they have not been there before. If your company or website name and navigational structure is too creatively located, they will get very uncomfortable very quickly. The more question marks that are raised within their minds when they first arrive at your site, the less likely you will be to keep your visitors there to browse or get them to return.

The location and structure of your navigational system is just as important as identifying your company and explaining what you are offering your site visitors. Odd (sometimes referred to “creative and unique”) navigational menus will frustrate your visitors. Our next article in this series will discuss navigational menu locations in more detail and the various types of navigational menus.

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BasicTemplates.com designs Website Templates with External CSS and has been providing webmasters worldwide with affordable template designs since 1994. BasicTemplates currently offers 650+ designs which may be purchased individually or get complete access to all templates via an affordable membership plan. Most templates were strategically designed with interchangeable graphics and elements to increase the potential number of design layouts for the end user. Each layout utilizes an external style sheet for easy site maintenance and to ensure fast page load.

How to Design Web Pages for the Way a Website is Really Used, Part 1
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About BasicTemplates
BasicTemplates.com designs Website Templates with External CSS and has been providing webmasters worldwide with affordable template designs since 1994. BasicTemplates currently offers 650+ designs which may be purchased individually or get complete access to all templates via an affordable membership plan. Most templates were strategically designed with interchangeable graphics and elements to increase the potential number of design layouts for the end user. Each layout utilizes an external style sheet for easy site maintenance and to ensure fast page load. WebProNews Writer
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