We often get asked what is the key to a conversion-based website design? It turns out that the answer is to build a website and make it’s website design as simple as possible.
In 2012, Google performed an in-depth study relating to website design to assist them with their product development. The study found that users consistently rate visually simple websites as more beautiful than complex and ‘hyperactive’ web designs. What was quite striking, was that prototype websites, or those also known as wireframe designs, were considered more beautiful by design even though they weren’t finished. This is why whenever you use a Google product such as Google Search, Google Mail, Google Calendar and others, the design is just so minimalistic. It is by design. Google have learnt that beautiful simplicity in effect, converts traffic into customers.
In simplifying design, we are engaging the web user to take their time to focus on what we want them to focus on
Let’s look into this in more depth and discover why simple website design works.
The Power of Association
Right now, answer this (out loud if you like). What colour would best represent a boy? Which colour would best represent a girl? I am quite confident that most of you would say blue for a boy and pink for a girl. However, if I asked you that same question in the mid 19th century, you would have surprisingly answered the other way around.
Why? It’s because our brains have seen this combination in modern times so frequently over our lives that it has effectively created a shortcut. It’s categorised this information. By creating such shortcuts, it helps your brain process information as quickly as possible. These associations and shortcuts enable our brains to make sense of the world around us.
This very same concept also applies directly to website design. We see trends in design grow fast online. Design concepts get copied. This will be things like layout and features which then we see replicated across other sites despite the outcome and goals of the website being different. If a layout, function or element works well for one business promoting their clothing range, you can be pretty sure that very soon competition and competitors will catch on and you will start seeing similar designs pop up. It starts building the power of association. For example, older website designs offer lots of options. Modern websites provide just one. The user gets guided where they want them to go, thus controlling the user experience on the website. Why does the user know to click the button? Because that’s what they have done before on other websites. When initial designs work well, they get copied.
This is exactly what happened with what has commonly become known as the ‘burger menu bar’ that you see on mobile devices. It’s those three lines you use when browsing a website on your mobile phone. Someone made it work, someone saw it, and then it became standard design. The menu bar evolved through trial and error as mobile website usage increased and we got used to knowing where to look to access the mobile menu.
This is an example of how categorizing and association grows to represent things, which then in turn becomes a vital feature in how we navigate the internet. Here’s another example. We will all have an idea in our heads of what a search engine should look like. Thanks to Google, we will expect to see a simple entry field and pretty much not much else until it shows us the results we’ve been looking for. Facebook has shown us the way in determining what a social media website should look like. eBay has shown us what an online auction shop should look like and Amazon, despite being full of product, what an easy to use eCommerce website should look like.
Because of these categorisations, our brains are wired to accept or reject website designs which don’t fit within these moulds for those types of websites. It’s why we sometimes jump off our chair when we see something completely out there or against convention. Sometimes it can work, but most of the time without a large marketing budget to back it up, extreme web designs can backfire. In effect, if a website which does not fit the perceived standard design format it will not be perceived as beautiful as others and may well not be as well trusted either by the potential customer.
Why Does Simple Website Design Perform Best?
The reason why simple website design performs best is because the web is just so busy. In simplifying design, we are engaging the web user to take their time to focus on what we want them to focus on. Another way of looking at this is via the TV. With so many TV channels available to us, how often do you find yourself scrolling through Netflix, Sky or Prime programmes trying to find something to watch, only to find yourself completely unhappy despite having flicked through hundreds of programs? Simply put, too many options, equals an unhappy ending. Keep it simple.
In keeping the design simple, it enables your responsive web design to respond to the devices loading the website much more easily. Imagine a cluttered 35 inch screen converting down into an iPhone screen? Your thumb would go numb from all the scrolling and you’d likely just give up and visit another website.
It’s not just simple website layouts that perform best. Keeping things simple with minimal colours is also recommended and best practice. Your best keeping things to 2 or 3 colours maximum. Too many, and the users eye will struggle to focus on important information.
The same goes for website logos. The simpler and smaller the better. Your website is better off focusing on the content you are providing, the message than having a large logo which doesn’t really say much about what you’re offering. If anything, a poor, large logo can sometimes complicate the message!
Research published by the Blue Corona group stated that 48% of web users determine the credibility of a business based upon their website design alone. In other words, a messy website means a messy service. Clarity and simplicity sell more online.
Another reason why simple design works is because people just do not have a lot of time. They don’t have the time to get into an in depth 10,000 word article with lots of heavy paragraphs and minimal white space.
According to Adobe, 58% of users will skim articles if they’re constrained by time. Simple website design has proven to increase engagement because people can skim over the information quickly by looking at the areas on the page which interest them. This means ensuring the design uses clear titles and font sizes, enough white space and line breaks and clear subheadings throughout.
The moment someone arrives onto your website, the goal of your website design is to guide your prospect on a journey which drives them to ‘covert’. This doesn’t mean their religion or beliefs, but to effectively get in touch with you so you can talk to them further and find out their needs about how you can help them.
Those who take the time to plan their website carefully will greatly benefit here. In planning the customer journey once they arrive on your website, you gain control over what you want them to do next. Whilst this might seem a waste of time, once you have defined your customer journey, what you have really done is define a process. The step by step process they will partake in over and over each time they land on your site. This means your website can be productively working for you 24/7 converting leads into contacts and onto your sales pipeline.
There are many ways in which this customer journey can be improved by design.
Many eye tracking studies (which follow what a user’s eye does when they are viewing a website) found that a user’s eye follow a particular pattern. After reviewing heatmap results, the eye movement of users follows a clear F shape. This is where the use of white space and spacing comes into play. This is the method in which text, images, headers, and layout are all combined into a carefully crafted design to get maximum impact from each prospect on your website.
White space plays an extremely important part in design. Often people want the white space filled but in reality, simple design requires more white space, which ironically produces greater website conversion. A website which is cluttered and overloaded will not get the same results, despite the feeling that you’re giving your prospects all the information they could possibly need.
Another effective way to get users to look at the information you want them to be, is to use contrast. This helps users organise visual elements into groups and categories so that they can better understand the story or meaning behind the words and images shown. Without careful use of contrast, a web users eyes will lose focus and thus interest in your site because it becomes too difficult to follow and maintain concentration on.
This is why familiarity in web design plays such a big part. Knowing what a website ‘should look like’ such as a social media site versus an e-commerce website, helps a user’s brain categorise and understand information faster as well as help them access what they’re looking for faster too. This forms continuity in the brain of the user which leads to closure, which for you means a conversion into a sales lead or online purchase.
It should therefore come as no surprise that 46.1% of people say that a website’s design is the number one criterion for determining a company’s credibility. Finding them online for social proofing and verification is the first-place people go.
Website Design Tips
There are a number of features that can be applied to a website design to not just assist with converting customers who land on your website, but also search engine optimisation benefits too.
Here we focus on:
- The Fold
- Hick’s Law
Each of these plays a key part in keeping your website design clean, professional and engaging. Let’s take a closer look…
Speed matters when it comes to website design even though you might not think it is related and is just a techy thing. The faster your website loads, the longer someone is likely to stay on it. This means that all images need to be compressed and that the code is clean to enable maximum speed. Your website also needs to reside on a reliable web host so that you don’t keep going offline. This all has to be ‘designed’ too.
Research has proven that website speed impacts the bounce rate and potential revenues which may come your way from people purchasing from your website. No one wants to hang around long. A slow website also doesn’t build confidence. Search engines such as Google also value websites highly for a higher ranking. You need to make your website as fast as possible.
This is an ongoing debate as some argue that with responsive design the fold of a website no longer exists. However, that said, the fold (the first part of the website that your users see) is where most users will spend their time. It will also dictate whether they will continue to scroll down or not to the other information on your website. 74% of users will spend their time in the top half of your page, so the fold really matters to get attention and your story across. This means you need to prioritise your content to grab their attention and ‘hook’ them in with call to actions to get them to perform your next step on the sales funnel.
The Application of Hick’s Law
Hick’s Law is simple. It states that the more choices a user has, the longer time they will take in making a decision.
A study was completed which highlighted this very fact and the findings apply greatly to website design. People in a supermarket were given more or less varieties of jam to try. The people that had more jam to choose from were much less likely to actually purchase any jam, than those who had less choices! Less, really is more!
These findings can be applied to your website design because you can limit the options available to your users on an given page. Too many buttons, and your users may get confused which ones to click to proceed to your next step.
You need to keep your website design as balanced as possible. This means that you keep both sides of your screen equal. The easiest way to achieve this is to apply a grid design to your website. These are a series of horizontal and vertical rows and columns and help you compartmentalise your content and page features.
Just like in a newspaper, columns help users make sense of a page’s content and ensure that it is more readable. Rows help ensure that the content flows logically and applies appropriate spacing. The rule of thirds makes everything much easier on the eye and for the brain to digest.
If you haven’t heard about the rule of thirds then you’ll find this interesting. The Rule of Thirds and Golden Ratio account for why features such as sidebars are often about a third of the width of the page and why the main content area is roughly equal to the design’s width divided by 1.62. That’s why it’s vital to stick to well known, recognised design principles and to not go too far away from ‘social norms’.
Colours need to be carefully considered. They can make or break a website design. Some colours go well together whilst others don’t. This is why the role of colour palette’s play a key part in website design. If colours don’t mesh than neither will your users with your website. They’ll simply leave because your site might look too painful to look at – literally!
There is a lot of theory about what colours work well together. For example, blue is often seen as calming and red as more vibrant and related to danger. But the key is to experiment to see what colour pallet’s work for your website and your brand.
A health website would do well with some nice earthy greens, whites and vibrant colours whereas a medical website might be better with some cool blues and calming contrast. Some of our colour is often biased too when it comes to design. For example, when we think medical, in the UK we associate this often with the NHS (blue). When we think nature, we might associate this with the National Trust (green). This is all part of that built in sub-conscious that leads people to accept (trust) and reject (dis-trust) websites.
You need decent graphics and photos on your website. A picture paints a thousand words! Poor graphics will not serve you well. They will hurt your design. Imagine a dark and dingy product picture, it won’t promote your business well at all. You only need to look at the care and attention that Apple place in their product shots to realise how effective a good graphic can be.
Graphics can also play a part in connecting your users to you. Warm, smiling happy people, give the impression that you can be trusted and are good to work with.
Great web design doesn’t need fancy graphics all the time, but poor graphic choices will definitely hurt a design. Graphics add to the visual message.
Website Design Summary
We hope this article has helped you understand some of the fundamentals, and the importance of simple website design. The impact this design approach has on conversion, and the importance of getting your message across clearly, simply and quickly.
When building your websites, keep them clean, simple and easy to follow. By following the design tips above, this will help ensure your website performs better online and more consistently across multiple platforms. It’s tempting to want to put in lots of animation and make it look amazing, but whilst it might look great, it could be turning a lot of people away. This might be from decreased search engine ranking in Google or simply be turning people off because it’s too cluttered and difficult to find anything. Choose your text and graphics carefully to get the maximum benefit from your web design, it might all actually be much simpler than you think.