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Desirable website attributes – and the not so desirable!

Site visitors on average will only spend a few seconds on your site before deciding whether or not to move on. This is why it is important to know and follow best practices for website design and to know what customers consider as desirable attributes in terms of content, functionality and interactivity.

Note: some of these factors will be universal in nature and some may be very specific to the industry in which you operate. You need to know about and address both.

Much research has been conducted into what users want from a website. If you have the time you can delve in detail into many aspects of design and content such as the optimal font size to use and the order and placement of various items and functionality.

Attributes of a good website

Below is a summary of the most common findings from the many studies on this topic:

1. Personalisation

This is when a website treats each visitor as an individual, recognises visitors when they revisit and delivers information based on the visitor's preferences (this is done technically through user registration and login, cookies, customisation of dashboards, etc). Personalisation enables greater targeting of information, increases relevance and enhances the user experience.

2. Interactivity

Empowers users with the ability to determine what, how, when and why they consume content as well as the ability to create their own content. Interactivity not only enhances the user experience, but also encourages users to contribute to your brand, forging stronger and more loyal relationships. Some studies show that the higher the degree of interactivity, the higher the website's attractiveness and that the level of interactivity can be important when trying to convert site visitors from "lookers" to "buyers".

3. Informativeness

This refers to the degree of usefulness that the information provided is perceived by the user. Is it what they were looking for? Is it easy to understand? Does it address their question of "what's in it for me"? In other words, how your offering will benefit them.

Increasing the usefulness and relevance of site content can be done simply through providing product/services support information, contact details, regularly refreshing content, removing expired information, including relevant keywords so the user can quickly determine the relevance to their search and a clear 'call to action' so the customer understands what the next steps are.

4. Navigation

Refers to how easily users can find what they are looking for. Generally speaking, the more complex and difficult a site is to navigate, the lower the user's attitude towards the site.

5. Privacy and security

This relates to how customer and transaction data is collected, processed and used. Ideally, websites should provide security and privacy statements, secure payment gateways and have full disclosure statements for warranty, returns policy and liabilities.

6. Entertainment

Many researchers have suggested that the effectiveness of a website can depend on how well it engages the attention of visitors by being fun, exciting, enjoyable or entertaining. This can also encourage visitors to continuously return to the site and spend longer exploring the rest of the site.

7. Accessibility

This is the ease by which visitors can reach the site. Factors such as poor download speeds and long lag time can be a source of irritation for users, which then may also reflect negatively on your brand and offering.

Undesirable website attributes

  • Irrelevant content and clutter
  • Key information that is buried (if it is three paragraphs down, it will probably be missed)
  • Poor design features including photos that are squeezed or stretched out of proportion
  • Poorly written and edited content
  • Over use of flash animation, "splash pages", music videos or similar – these take a long time to download and make reading a headache
  • Use of too many graphics. Excessive graphics become time-consuming to download and may cause the visitor to lose interest
  • Focusing on artistic merit and creative or funky design to the detriment of the site's objectives or good content
  • Differing types of navigation used on the same site
  • Poor use of links or broken links
  • Coloured background graphics or textures that make it difficult to read type
  • Background graphics that are inappropriate for the content of the site (e.g. clouds on a site selling bookkeeping services)
  • Text blocks that are out of alignment.

All of these factors can contribute to not only a poor user experience, but may negatively impact on your brand, increase your bounce rate (when visitors soon leave your site because it is deemed irrelevant) and reduce your ability to convert sales.

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