In the quest for the perfect website sometimes we overlook the obvious and forget about aspects of the web that make it enjoyable. We get caught up into whats cool or what our competitors site has that we lose sight of usability and ultimate visitor happiness. Ultimately less is more on the web and by keeping it simple we can retain our visitors and give them the info and services they need without driving them away.
The web is built around information and people want to find what they are searching for fast. They dont want to wade through page after page to get to what they need. This is still the case though because so much good info is buried under bad design. After all the search engines are not perfect and even they have a hard time sifting through all the excess. Here are a few tips on making both visitors and search engines happy.
All good web design starts with a clear idea and is sketched out into categories. Separating information into a hierarchical structure is key here. Your site should include a few main categories under which all subcategories will follow. This should be built into the navigation so that there are few choices to start then gradually grow into more subcategories as visitors delve into your site. These subcategories should be clearly visible in the main navigation usually under the main header or left column. Using breadcrumb navigation links near the header such as home / category / subcategory is a good choice to let people know where they are on your site.
Using clear tags to show what each page is about is essential. It also plays an important role in search engine optimization. All pages should focus on one subject at a time with interspersed links to pages that are about ulterior topics. The title tag should be the same as the main h1 title of the page. H2 and h3 tags should be used only if they relate to the main h1 tag. An example of this is if your h1 tag headline says search engine optimization tricks then your h2 tag subtitle should say something like search engine trick #1. This just means your h1, h2, and h3 tags should be closely related.
What you want to create is a clearly definable page that is easy to navigate and read. Text font and size along with background color play a role in how readable a page is too. A white background with dark text is still the best choice because it is easier on the eyes allowing for longer read times. Larger text is also better then 10 point fonts still used by a lot of todays webmasters. At high screen resolutions these fonts can appear to be tiny so take this into consideration. Ultimately you will have designed a font resizing feature into your pages allowing for users to resize the font to their liking.
Text links or link graphics should be clear and descriptive. Instead of ending article snippets with read more make them descriptive such as article title which includes the actual article title. Never use click here for link text. Use a title that tells people where they will be headed once they click on a link. People know that a blue underlined link must be clicked on to continue. Making text links descriptive will help with search engine optimization as well because text links describe to search engines the pages they link to. If graphics are used as links be sure to include alt text as you would use to describe text links.
Only use graphics or photos if it is absolutely necessary. A good use of imagery is when it helps to have a graphical representation of what you want to get across. Displaying unrelated graphics or photos not only ads to page load times it also distracts visitors from getting the info they want. All graphics should be optimized and where necessary include a link to a larger version.
Adobes Flash previously known as Macromedia Flash should only be used in special cases. This would include anywhere complicated user interaction is required. Having your sites header in all flash is really unnecessary. Most Flash headers I have seen also include repetitive music that in no way adds to user friendliness. There is nothing worse then visiting a site where brash music immediately starts playing. Its a guaranteed way to get your visitors to leave.
Even though a large portion of browsers come with Flash preinstalled it still leads to user frustration when they have to install a new version just to view your site. This goes for all media that requires special plugins. Most users wont go through the hassle of installing a plugin to view your site, they will just head for the nearest exit. If including media such as Flash or Quicktime is a must be sure to let your visitors know what plugins they need and put the media on a separate page away from textual info you want them to easily access.
Remember when flash intro pages were all the rage? I do and I still see people using them. The music starts playing and the text slowly flies in with some cheesy effect. The skip intro button is the first thing I look for just to get a glimpse of what gem could be behind such a well thought out intro. Flash intro pages test visitors patience as well as kill search engine interest. They do absolutely no good at all.
A well designed site should be clean and unobtrusive. The best sites have a focused topic that is split up into hierarchical categories. The text is easy to read and broken up into bulleted points along with descriptive titles. Good design doesnt fight us, it is friendly and it immediately make us feel comfortable. All websites should follow good design principles if we want our visitors as well as search engines to be happy.