Online Storefront Design Basics
“An award winning website does not happen by chance. Popular websites, and sites that consistently generate a lot of traffic (and perhaps a lot of revenue) have a series of design principals in common. When properly executed, a website design will be easy to navigate, load in an acceptable amount of time, provide needed customer services, and leave the potential customer with a desire to return at a future date.”
is important to the success of your Miva Merchant online shopping cart to follow some basic site construction guidelines. We have documented here 10 design guidelines that we have found to be most important to many of our customers.
- The design of a website should be consistent with its objectives. If you're trying to sell a product or service it should attract the customers you want, keep them coming back, present all the information they need to make a buying decision, convince them to buy, and make it easy for them to order and pay. The site should make money for you. Similar truths apply if you're providing information, advocating a cause, or signing up members. This is our "Prime Directive." All further design rules follow from and support it.
- Content is the single most essential factor in the success of a site. High quality, frequently changing content is what causes customers to keep coming back to your site. It's what gets your site listed on the most important search engines.
- A site should contain only those design elements that are necessary to the achieving its objectives. We believe that the use of technology for technology's sake (because it's there!) generally hinders the achievement of Rule Number 1. The majority of people on the Web today have browsers that don't support DHTML (which Netscape and Microsoft are implementing differently) or Cascading Style Sheets. Some are using browsers that don't support Java, ActiveX, or even frames. We deplore the gratuitous use of any technology which does not directly support the objectives of the site.
- Knowing the target audience is essential to a successful site design. The tone of the content and the technology used to present it must be appropriate for the people it is supposed to influence. There's a parallel here with the design of retail stores. Ralph Lauren Polo and The Gap both sell men's, women's and children's clothing, but their store designs are entirely different. This is because the customers they're trying to attract are different. Ralph Lauren is aiming at a smaller, more upscale market seeking exclusive styles and the highest quality, while the Gap targets a broader customer base looking for current styles at prices that represent good value. If you're targeting software developers using state of the art equipment, a higher level of technology and 16 million color graphics may be appropriate. But a similar site could be virtually unusable by school librarians using 486 PCs with 256 color monitors.
- Pages, especially the home or entry page, must load rapidly. About two thirds of Web surfers are using modems that download at 14.4 or 28.8Kbps. At these rate, an overly "artistic" page 500K in size will take two to five minutes to load. One recent study suggests that, on average, first time visitors to a site make a stay or go decision within the first eight seconds of the page beginning to load. This has enormous implications for the size of page files, and particularly graphics files. The designer must use every trick in the book to minimize file size while maintaining quality.
- All the design elements of the site must be consistent with the product being presented. The typefaces, color scheme, background and graphics on a museum site should be different from those on a site selling stereo equipment, just as the design of the Smithsonian is different from that of a Circuit City store.
- Text must be persuasive, free from errors and written in a style that fits the product and the audience. Your website is an advertising vehicle like any other. Expert copy writing and editing are essential parts of the design process. Errors of any kind are unprofessional. Visitors will perceive any quality problems on your website as indicative of the quality of your product or service and the people behind it.
- Visitors must know where they are on your site at all times and be able to find easily whatever they're looking for. Consistent, intuitive navigation tools are needed to do this. For a site of any size, an internal keyword search engine should be included.
- It must be easy for visitors to take whatever action you want them to take. Whether the aim is to get visitors to sign up for a membership, subscribe to a newsletter, download a piece of software, or place a credit card order for a product, every opportunity should be provided for them to do this.
Exiting your site should be a win/win proposition for you and the visitor. Every visitor leaves sooner or later. But you need to maximize the probability of the visitor returning, and arrangements should be made for the visitor to leave happy: a little going away gift or a choice of interesting links to sites that complement yours.
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