Any salesperson will tell you it is exceedingly difficult to recover from a bad first impression. If we think of a company’s website as their online salesperson, the challenge of first impressions becomes even more difficult. In a face-to-face encounter, there is at least a chance for the salesperson to make up for a limp handshake or off-color remark; online, if visitors are turned off, they will exit and find a competitor’s website more to their liking.
Making a great first impression is fundamental to a website’s ability to convey a positive brand image and generate sales leads. Here are four suggestions for designing business websites that will impress visitors from the moment they arrive:
1. Responsive Design
Much has been written lately about the importance of responsive design, because Google is about to implement a major algorithm update to put more emphasis on website mobile-friendliness. However, if it takes Google and concerns about SEO to motivate a company to make their website mobile-friendly, that company is not thinking hard enough about pleasing their customers and prospects.
Delivering a poor mobile website experience is bad business, period. When mobile users are frustrated because of the need for pinch-and-zooming and horizontal scrolling, when they cannot find information because the navigation text is roughly the size of the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, they are not likely to bookmark the site and return when they are in front of a desktop monitor.
In contrast, if mobile users land on a website with simple navigation emphasizing key activities (such as scheduling an appointment), concise, relevant, easy-to-read text and informative, original imagery, they are likely to schedule that appointment, fill out that online form, or take whatever form of action the website is designed to encourage.
Even at this late date, it’s possible to gain a meaningful competitive advantage by going responsive. Data suggests that upward of 80 percent of websites have not yet implemented responsive designs. If 80 percent of your online competitors are making a poor first impression, you have a window of opportunity to secure more than your usual share of sales leads.
While horizontal scrolling contributes to a horrible mobile website experience, vertical scrolling is accepted because it is inevitable. Now that users are conditioned to vertical scrolling, the need to cram information and conversion elements “above the fold” is a thing of the past.
Instead, Web designers and copywriters can take advantage of vertical space by laying out a company’s brand and value proposition through the time-tested, tried-and-true technique of storytelling. Stacking blocks of content with “chapters” of the story — e.g., the elevator pitch, testimonials, case study highlights, more detailed product/service descriptions — users are drawn in as they are spoon-fed key points of information in a logical sequence that is rather difficult for them to deviate from. (Contrast this to the old style design approach where users were confronted by a myriad of randomly placed messages and design elements above the fold.)
Besides telling the story, stacking content blocks allows designers more flexibility and variety in imagery, color and overall design, making Web pages more vibrant — and making users more curious about what is to follow. Learning about a company is transformed from a chore and a challenge into an almost recreational activity, promoting lead generation and strong brand affinity.
3. Static Header Image
Not all design techniques that promote great first impressions are “big picture” concepts like responsive design and storytelling. Something basic like a static header image on the home page contributes mightily to the cause.
Again and again and again and again, rotating banners (also called sliders or carousels) have been judged to undermine first impressions — as well as thwarting conversions and SEO. Rotating banners tend to confuse users, cause key message elements to go unnoticed and reduce accessibility.
In contrast, a static header image enables designers and copywriters to present a strong, concise and memorable presentation of the brand and value proposition. Companies gravitate to rotating banners in an attempt to cram too much information into too little space. Given the potential for storytelling covered earlier, there is really no excuse for using sliders. Nevertheless, websites with banners seem harder to kill than Rasputin, so replacing yours with a static header image may give you a powerful competitive advantage.
4. White Space
The centuries-old saying “silence is golden” could have been coined by a Web designer. White space is not only a design element, it is an exceptionally powerful one.
- White space draws users attention to key text, imagery and conversion elements.
- White space improves the usability of website forms.
- White space conveys a brand as being sophisticated and efficient.
- White space improves scannability.
- White space improves comprehension and retention.
- White space strengthens overall website usability.
Similar to rotating banners, a lack of white space often stems from an urge to convey too many details. It’s important to remember that a business website designed for brand presentation and lead generation is not supposed to be an encyclopedia. Instead, the goal is to present just enough information, reinforced by strong design, to inspire users to make contact or make a purchase.
If you want to understand the power of white space, look no further than www.apple.com. You won’t see pages of technical specifications. You won’t see Rock of Gibraltar-size blocks of text. Instead, you will see elegance. Sophistication. Creativity. Simplicity. Coolness. Why? Because these are the things Apple customers are buying.
What are your customers buying? If you really think about it, you’ll discover they are not buying a product or a service, but instead are buying peace of mind, convenience, more time to vacation or more money to spend on that vacation. These are ideas that can be conveyed most powerfully against the backdrop of white space.
Bottom Line: Start with Mobile Design
Over the last year/year and a half, our agency has moved from desktop-first to mobile-first design. This definitely appears to be the trend, as it is easier to make a good mobile page design work on a big screen than vice-versa. Pundits are already predicting the demise of the desktop, and they could be right, considering 90 percent of American adults own a mobile phone.
Though even if desktops survive, there is no doubt B2B and B2C Internet users will continue to use mobile devices in growing numbers to research products and services, vet suppliers, communicate with companies and take actions such as scheduling appointments, downloading brochures and a multitude of other key conversion activities. Put mobile users first in the design process, and a company’s website will make a winning first impression no matter what device the visitor is using.