Imagine your web site grabs a chair at a small table and sits directly across from someone it has never met before and has five seconds to make a great impression. What would your web site do?
Web site design is often compared to dating and courtship. Each species of life on our planet goes about attracting candidates for relationships in a variety of ways and so do web sites. Web designers have one mission, which is to attract and keep web site visitors on the web site. It’s an enormously difficult assignment.
The perfect web design convinces first time visitors to stay in the first few seconds and for the next 30 minutes leads them on a blissful journey inside the site where every click is in the correct spot on a page and each step presents them with something they want or better, didn’t realize they wanted. This perfect web site is relaxing to browse and offers surprise gems and delights along the way in each task. It leaves a lasting impression on each visitor, who in turn, bookmarks it and shares this amazing web site with their friends on Facebook and Google Plus.
When I was 18 years old, my family moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania because my father was offered a job there. The move was traumatic for me because we sold our horses and small horse farm, moved away from all my friends and into a brand new house in a housing development outside a city. My mother took advantage of this new life by getting tickets to see the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. It took some convincing to get me, a work boot barn girl who wore cutoff jeans shorts with horse patches on the pockets to go with her, but she convinced me to give it a try.
From my first time sitting next to my mother listening to music I knew nothing about, I was hooked and always wanted to go when she invited me after that. The music, of course, was incredible. But more than that, I was fascinated by how each musician worked together. They had one eye on the conductor and another on their music. The result was magical.
I’ve used this experience as a guide for evaluating web sites. Successful web sites have one eye on the site owner, who directs the purpose and establishes the priorities for the site. The rest of the design is solely for its customers, who read each note so they know exactly where to go next. It’s rare to find a web site that is designed in a perfect symphony of parts that when pulled together create a lasting, memorable user experience.
So, how will your web site impress the person sitting across from it at that small table during a speed dating session? How can it make a positive impression in under 5 seconds? What should it say? What should it do? How should it look?
It would start with an opening line that introduces itself and offers a quick clue about what’s about. This is best done by a text tagline in the header where it is easy to see. The web site, if it was smart, would avoid talking about itself right away and instead acknowledge who it is conversing with. It will ask questions such as “What are looking for?” and “What things do you value the most in a partner?”
The web site would also be attractive to look at. It would also understand that it is meeting many different types of people, each of whom come with their own expectations for this web site. It will show compassion for anyone with special needs and be easy to read for those with eyesight problems or are colorblind. This web site would not dream of being too flashy, nor would it would provide too many images or moving objects in the first few seconds because it knows that it may be speaking with someone who is easily distracted.
If the web site gets past the first 5 seconds and the person in the opposite chair is still sitting there looking interested, it will offer a quick bullet point list of its best features and point out one or two gems that make it interesting enough to want to know more.
The web site always listens intently and does not dump a boatload of information about itself in one big rush. Rather, it presents enough information for the person sitting across the table to make decisions about it. When this “date” agrees that the web site has potential, the web site is prepared by presenting a persuasive call to action and way to contact it.
If your web site is less of a symphony orchestra and more like the Woodstock festival, you can still survive. However, the Woodstock experience is partly memorable because it rained and the fields turned to mud and soon people were naked and sliding in the mud. They all came for the bands, so they came with a goal. They didn’t expect a city of people on a farmer’s land where the leading tasks were finding food, bathroom and a joint. (The latter of which was likely the easiest task.)
Your web site may feature the absolute best products or services and totally muck up the entire project with a poorly planned information architecture, featureless images, confusing layout and no signs whatsoever of being credible and authentic. Your web page could feature a famous brand name product, just like Woodstock did with its incredible list of musicians, and still not be prepared for your guests.
How will you know for sure if your web site is ready to meet its visitors and establish long lasting relationships? You invest in building it properly from the ground up or if it’s already on the Internet, have it tested and analyzed inside and out.
There’s always room for improvement.
Both photos taken by Kim Krause Berg at a local farm.