Designing an eCommerce site is more than making it pretty.
You have certain desired actions you're looking for from your
visitors. You have specific things you want to be sure they
see and hopefully act on. Now, there's some research that
can guide your design. Certainly you want your site to look
professional, but you want it to do its job as effectively
as possible too.
People are surprisingly alike in some of their basic visual
behavior. It's been argued that our evolution as hunter-gatherers
has shaped much of our ingrained visual patterns. Whether
you buy that particular argument or not there are still important
Typical behavior on initially viewing a site is to do a fast
scan of the entire visible screen with short focusing periods
around the areas that attract attention. First pass tends
to include headlines, the page logo, photo captions, subheads,
links and menu items. And the big hot spot is the upper left
corner of the screen. I haven't seen any definitive research
on whether these patterns also hold for users with native
languages that read any way except left to right, but I'm
assuming most of you are building sites for left-to-right
The clear message is that your most important real estate
is in that upper left area and that the lower right (particularly
if it's below the fold) is the least likely to receive much
How you use your words in a headline, paragraph or link can
make a huge difference in your success at capturing a visitor's
attention. The concept is called frontloading. Wherever you
can make sure your critical terms appear at the very beginning
of headlines, links and other text. It's still got to make
sense, but the first few words are far more likely to be at
least scanned then the middle or end of a headline or link
or the inside of a paragraph.
The exact same words can have drastically different capture
rates depending on their order. You want to maximize the probability
that the visitor will read a whole headline or link and then
act on it. So put the most significant, enticing words first
- the ones that are the best grabbers and convey the subject
You don't have a lot of time to mess about. It's been reported
that a typical surfer may be off your page in well under 14
seconds unless something grabs his or her attention fast.
Remember the upper-left? You want to do an especially good
job with headlines, link and text in that area.
Dropcaps (where the first capitalized letter in a line is
in a different, often unusual, font and extends below the
normal text base-line), bolding, font changes and color changes
can also serve as strong eye-attractors. If you try these
techniques you need to be careful that you don't overuse them
(your page will look like a mess), and it's extremely important
that you test whether or not they're actually doing what you
want. Annoying as it may be, running tests is the only way
to make sure it's an improvement.
Do you use lists? Have you made sure that they're in-line
and as close to the left margin as possible? Don't ever use
an outline format with multiple indents. People scan down,
not across and they tend to scan close to the left margin.
Indent too much and it might as well be invisible.
An interesting testing result that I read somewhere said that
somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of site visitors don't
even see centered headlines. Sure they look nice and a lot
of sites use them, but if they're totally missed by even 3
percent of your visitors, you're paying a major price to look
good. Suggestion? Put those headlines up against your left
This also applies to links. Put those links up against the
left margin, not inside a paragraph, centered or off to the
right. And if you want any clicks on a link, never put it
in that nearly unseen lower right area. Might as well just
leave it off your page.
How about indented paragraphs? Now there's a great way to
start an argument. Some argue that it attracts the eye, it's
different, few sites use it so you stand out. Others insist
that you're far better off staying left justified and frontloading
each paragraph. There's only one way to resolve it for yourself,
yeah, run some tests and see what works with your visitors
on your site.
The bottom line is that once you get beyond the basics of
placement, frontloading, and left-justified links and headlines,
you need to test if you want to fully maximize the effectiveness
of your website design. I wish there were a simpler answer
too, but in the end only testing will tell you what works
best for your site.
by Richard Keir