Structure your website to help visitors find what they need
A website is like a physical store or trade show booth without people to help visitors find what they need. In that way, websites have to anticipate what tasks, information, problems and needs visitors will have and then design (and continuously adapt) the site to operate to help people for these situations (called scenarios or workflows in the web world). In the web world this is referred to as “information architecture”.
This article focuses on just one phase of creating a website – website design, navigation and structure.
From our experience: There are “beautiful sites” and there are “functional sites”. The best websites are both functional and attractive.
1. How many web pages do you think you’ll want? 6 – 20 pages? 20 pages or more?
How many web pages you will begin with and want to manage five years from now is important to know when deciding how to structure your site and what approach to use to design and build your website. Once you’ve committed to a particular approach (e.g. using a template, or a web service, or hiring a web designer or agency to build a custom site) the switching costs can be high.
2. How will the pages be linked together?
What will be the primary or main navigation areas? Think of these like “aisles” in a store or rooms in a house. You don’t want more than seven (up to ten) primary sections of your website. Look at website site maps for websites you admire for examples to see how they are set up.
Remember that if you optimize your web site for the search engines, people will be entering your website through “back doors” and “side doors” (specific articles) and not all through your home page.
Focusing on the tasks (called scenarios in web design) that you want visitors and customers to accomplish will help you in designing the site structure and navigation.
3. How will your website help prospects at all the stages of their learning to buying process?
Be sure that your website is effective for users at all stages of the purchase process.
Tips on website design
1. Use colors and icons to help visitors with navigation
2. Make sure the web pages are easy to read
Websites with black or other dark backgrounds and reversed-out white type are hard to read and print (but they sure look cool!). That’s an example of the trade off between what’s functional and what’s beautiful.
3. Concentrate on being consistent
When you are in a Target store, you understand intuitively what an “aisle” is and what a “display” is at the end of an aisle and where the bathrooms and check out counters are.
4. Put the most important pages near the top.
5. Eliminate extraneous words in the copy.
6. Use headlines, icons, bullets, boldface words and color to draw attention to important content.