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The Definition Of A Good Site

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Site design: defining a good site
In the previous article we pointed out that web sites don’t lend themselves to the clear distinctions of text, visual, or verbal medium like print, radio, television, and movies do. Sites tend to be a mix of all medium. That not withstanding, there are four universal elements to making a good website.

1) a clearly identified objective
2) compelling content
3) ease of navigation
4) visually appealing
This information applies to sites in general as well as e-commerce sites.

CLEAR OBJECTIVE
Defining what you want to accomplish with the website is an often overlooked element of creating a good site. There is a tendancy to just jump in and start building a site while focusing on the look rather than the objective. This can lead to a confusing website which defeats its intended purpose.

To avoid creating a bad site at the outset, write down the objective in clear and specific terms. This isn’t simply “I want to sell widgets”. Although the term “sell” is a good start. The site creator must also state “how” they want to sell widgets.

For instance: “I want to sell widgets by presenting the customer with an easy to navigate site having lots of information on the variety and application of widgets.” Or maybe the objective statement is: “I want to sell widgets by presenting customers with numerous glamor photos of widgets in use by other people.” Knowing what will appeal to your audience will determine the “by” clause but, in either case, the creator must have a clear design objective.

COMPELLING CONTENT
What makes for compelling content? This depends on your anticipated audience. Compelling content is information that will attract the audience you want and keep them comming back. That is, content that provides value for your visitor.

For e-commerce sites, it goes without saying that the content must relate to the products you’re trying to sell. Pictures of naked girls might help attract an audience but, it’s doubtful that this will sell widgets. That doesn’t mean you have to provide abundant text information about your widgets, just that you must relate your audience and your product in some way.

As in the sample objectives above, the compelling content might simply be glamor photos of your widgets in use by other people. This is an often used technique to relate audience to product. Picture a garden tractor brochure. Doesn’t the front page show a happy person driving the tractor? It often does.

The above objective samples are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Using the garden tractor brochure example again, open the folder and the inside pages will usually show and describe the benefits of using this product. The back page will be devoted to setting out the specifications. Web sites can easily follow this example by devoting certain pages and locations to providing different kinds of information. Just as you won’t find specifications on the front page of the tractor brochure, your web site shouldn’t mix the promotional material with detail information pages.

NAVIGATION

Keeping the promotion and information functions distinct and still easily accessible is one purpose of good navigation. Differences in content of the two functions is frequently blurred but, the navigation plan itself shouldn’t be ambiguous. A visitor should have available a clearly defined path linking additional detail information on any item from promotional pages and back again. These links will often be of the “drill down” type where-in a visitor can proceed linearly, from a promotional page to subsequent pages of greater detail.

This technique keeps navigation simple and your visitor oriented and comfortable with using the site. Additionally, no page should be a dead end. Each page should have links to go back one level or return to the beginning of a section. These links are especially important for visitors that may have bookmarked a particular page and haven’t entered the site from the home page. For the e-commerce site, every product page, no mater how detailed it gets, should have “buy now” and “check cart” links. You want the visitor to have a simple and convenient method for placing an item in the shopping cart at any time in the navigation sequence.

One unique feature of e-commerce shopping carts vs. brick and mortar carts of the physical world is that placing an item in the cart isn’t a commitment to buy. Not until check out will the customer make a final purchase decision. This can be good or bad for the merchant, depending on the capability of site navigation. When making the final decision, a customer often wants to re-check item detail information. A link from the cart to the detail page and back can be a vital element in saving the purchase. Without easy navigation to more information, the customer is likely to simply remove the item.

VISUAL APPEAL
Just as we’re attracted to people that dress well, we’re attracted to web sites that look good. What constitutes a good looking site is not easily described but, we know one when we see it. Generally though the site should have a clean, fresh, uncluttered look. Color coordination and the use of a few images with minimal text on the home page will go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. Unnecessary gimmicks like clocks and scrolling text and sound tracks that aren’t central to your objective must be avoided.

Images for the home page of an e-commerce site should be what the design trade calls a glamor shot. They are that tractor brochure cover page photo: a good picture of a main item in your store. If the picture can naturally include a person using the product, this is even better. The glamor shot immediately conveys positive information about your site. If a person is shown using a product, a visitor may see themselves in the same situation. If you accomplish this result, you’ve already made it through the most difficult part of the selling process. The rest is a matter of providing reasons (excuses) for your visitor to buy.

In total, don’t be afraid to use images to convey information where possible and make liberal use of multiple pages in a “drill down” sequence to provide detail. Multiple pages keep each page clean, uncluttered, and focused on a specific intent. Further reading on site design can be found in an excellent tutorial at:
http://www.aksi.net/website-design-tutorial.htm

Mel Davey is the creator of ImagineNation (http://imaginenation.com/), a full service E-Commerce Application Service Provider, offering Storefronts, Order Management Utilities, and 3rd party credit card processing.

The Definition Of A Good Site
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This entry was posted in Business.
About Mel Davey
Mel Davey is the creator of ImagineNation (http://imaginenation.com/), a full service E-Commerce Application Service Provider, offering Storefronts, Order Management Utilities, and 3rd party credit card processing. WebProNews Writer
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