Design & Development

What Makes A Site Effective?

A client recently asked me to do a quick-and-dirty analysis of a half dozen competitor websites. I decided to look at each competitor site and then give it a good/fair/poor rating for certain criteria. I thought that these criteria, and some explanation of what I was looking for, could benefit Practical eCommerce readers.

I had two main sections, with sub-criteria in each. My first section was “Graphic Design,” and I rated the following criteria:

Instant Affinity

This is a term that I use for the “that’s what I was looking for” reaction that we sometimes have when we find new sites. It’s an important (albeit subjective) measure because research has shown that visitors make a judgment about a website in a fraction of a second.

I have found that clean, crisp looking sites, with an appropriate image and a 7-12 word headline, tend to work well. I’d suggest shorter landing pages, so that no scrolling is required.

Credibility

We’re all wary of scams on the web, and it’s an interesting fact that people tend to equate quality of graphic design with quality of product. There is a certain level of graphic design sophistication that seems to convey credibility. The chances are if your design was “homemade” then it also looks that way. I’d always suggest using an experienced graphic designer when putting together any marketing materials.

Focus

I think we’ve all been to websites that had so many links, we didn’t know where to click. I feel that graphic design should contribute to usability by helping us to determine what are the obvious next clicks, based on what we are looking for. I’m a big fan of simplifying navigation options by predicting what the majority of your site visitors will be looking for, and then offering visually prominent links to those items.

My second section, entitled “Strategy,” consists of just two sub-criteria:

I believe that when it comes to information on products and services, we all want to be led by the hand. I suggest that a compelling flow would be something like:

  • Explain the context of the product or service – the problems/pain that exists.

  • Explain what results the product or service provides.

  • Explain how the product/service provides the results.

Depending on the nature of your products/services, this flow might take place over a series of pages, or each might be just a sentence or paragraph on the same page.

Offer

Once we’ve created emotional interest with the sort of compelling information flow listed above, it makes sense to capitalize on that by making an offer that takes the form of a natural next step. With many products, that will be a purchase, but in some cases it might be a free trial, whitepaper or other offer.

What’s important is that the offer is made at the right place, and is obviously the appropriate next step for site visitors to take. I’d also suggest that the wording of the offer is critical, and is something that should be experimented with.

As I said initially, this sort of review is just a quick look at some of the elements that impact site effectiveness, but they are also items that should be at the top of the list for any web marketer looking for improvements.

Mat Greenfield

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