Web Design: Function Trumps Form

A well-designed site is important, but it will not be the key factor in determining your sales success.

It’s not uncommon for a business owner to turn to a design-oriented person to help create a website for his company. That may, however, be a mistake. Conversion specialists routinely find struggling businesses have let design elements become the focus at the expense of driving sales.

It’s not an art contest

“You must recognize a web project is a marketing project, not a graphic-design project,” said Practical eCommerce columnist and conversion expert, Mat Greenfield. “I understand graphic design plays a role, but putting design ahead of marketing goals sets up a business for failure. We view graphic design as a very effective key to a site, but can only accomplish what it can accomplish. People don’t buy products because of effective design. Design may help visitors stay on the site to see the message. It’s just a means to an end.”

Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of Future Now, Inc., says sites that are the most successful frequently have one thing in common: “boring” design.

Eisenberg’s company has been helping etailers boost sales since 1998 and, in analyzing a multitude of sites, he?s found that topselling sites have white backgrounds, links noted in basic blue and the sites’ color themes are often blue and green, colors generally regarded as trustworthy.

“Design has little impact on how people buy,” Eisenberg said. He noted that 80 percent of all web traffic drops off a site within three pages, so site design must be compact, direct and effective to capture more sales.

Kevin Gold, CEO of Enhanced Concepts, Inc., said successful sales sites usually are simple and follow a basic structure to allow a customer’s traditional eye flow. He said a visitor tends to begin in the upper left of a site, scans across the header where there are usually the global navigation buttons, and the eyeline lands in the upper right corner making that location one of the site’s most important. The visitor then generally moves diagonally across the center of the page toward the left where the local navigation bar is often featured. The standard eyeline tends to return toward the center of the page after the quick scan where a customer frequently focuses.

“A good amount of time is spent here in the ‘active window’,” Gold says. “Many sites put their best-selling items, new products or bigsale items here because there is a strong focus in this area. A buyer has a process to shop. A site has a process to sale. Good design tries to balance both to be successful.”

Go to school

Google’s “Conversion University” also advises etailers to keep it clean and compact. Susan Minniear at Google’s “Conversion University,” notes that font sizes on a site should never be less than 10 point and, since few visitors will scroll down a page, the sales message should be should be short, sweet and above the fold.

“Your goal is not to confuse your visitors, so your conversion activity should be in a clear and prominent location,” Minniear writes. “Don?t try to jazz things up with flashing buttons, overly bright colors or artsy fonts.”

John Skorczewski, publisher of, counsels etailers to avoid the temptation to cram web pages full of products. Just because a furniture store squeezes hundreds of products in its ad in the Sunday newspaper, doesn?t mean that formula works for the web.

“Each web page you build should focus on selling one thing,” Skorczewski writes. “Remove everything else from that page except your sales message for that one item.”

An ecommerce business has a few seconds to covert a visitor into a sale. Success depends on keeping your design simple.

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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