Myth: “If you build it, they will come.” With everyone competing for the attention of your audience, how can you ensure that you are creating a website that appeals to your target audience?

I like to compare the homepage of an organization’s website to a house’s front door. If someone is shopping for a “home” to invest their resources in, the first thing they will judge is the entry way. If you have 2 houses standing next to each other and one has a fancy entry way and the other has either a boring, paint-peeling facade, a potential buyer is going to be more attracted to go in the nicer entry first.

If you are considering building or redesigning your site, there a few key things you should consider before diving into the graphic designs and implementation. Many are listed in the presentation I gave at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (access the presentation below). Here a few of the main takeaways:

  • Analyze any prior web traffic: If you use Google Analytics or another tool, look and see where traffic is going. More importantly, find out where users aren’t going. With this information, you can make decisions on how to consolidate information in to other locations, reorganize your site map or identify links to external sites that may be drawing users away from your site.
  • Refer to the scientists: There have been many website eye movement tests that analyze what attracts a viewer’s eye and where the “valuable real estate” on a page is. Conclusions included that the upper left of a page is the highest viewed area, headlines draw eyes before pictures and more. 
  • People look for the 5 Ws on a homepage: Who (are you)? What (do you do)? Why (should I be interested)? Where and When? (if related to an event). Consider your homepage your visual “30 second pitch” or “Elevator Speech”. You have a limited amount of attention from a visitor. Use it wisely to convey your main message.
  • Colors are important: Not all people see things the same way. In our eyes, we have the least amount of receptors for the color blue. As we age, the blue receptors are the first ones to go. This doesn’t mean don’t use blue, it just means that you have to be careful of blue text on certain backgrounds like green, grey, etc. Before you pick your site colors, test out the different font color options and make sure that they can be read by all audiences.
  • Keep it simple: If there is too much going on when someone views the homepage, it is likely they may miss the key message or action item. Chose your top 2-3 actions that you want your audience to take (i.e. Donate, Register, Request More Info, etc) and highlight them with graphic buttons and repeat it in the navigation. Make it clear what the call to action is and you will find your users gravitating towards it.
  • Make it even more simple: Yup, it’s so important I am highlighting it twice. Not only does this apply to your homepage design, but your navigation. Try to limit the choices people have and ensure they don’t have too many options to try to find information, otherwise they will get frustrated or lost. For example, try to keep all general information about who you are on one “About Us” page instead of breaking it out into multiple pages: Our Mission, Our History, Our Staff, Our Story, etc. You have the power to funnel people to read the main messages that you feel are important.

Many times as designers and technical people, we get caught up in the fancy tools, tricks and capabilities of advanced technology these days. But the key to building or redesigning a great website is to make it easy for a user to visit and do or get what they need. So as you are making your plans and choosing between fancy flash, images and simple buttons, keep asking yourself if your choices make things better for your user.

PS – If there is only one thing you take away from this, or are looking for one Twitter appropriate sentence, let it be this: Web Design – Because you can? Or because you should?

This entry was adapted from my presentation at the 2010 NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference.


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