A Site Layout That Works

How are you putting your website together? No, not how are you coding it or what platform are you using, but literally, how are you laying it out?
As far as visitors to your site are concerned, it doesn’t matter if you wrote your site in HTML, PHP, or Japanese. It doesn’t matter if you’re using WordPress, Joomla, or handwritten code of your own design. There’s something much more important to them.

Finding the Things That Count

Your user, the site visitor, has come to your site for one reason, and one reason only – they want to learn more about what you have to say. They may be intrigued by pictures and videos that you include to support the text content, but if they’ve found you on a search engine, the most likely reason is they want to read what you have written. This may culminate in a product purchase, an ad click, or any number of other things, but if they can’t find what they are looking for, they will leave without a second glance.
It’s important for the user to be able to find things quickly and easily, and to be able to read the information you are giving.
This breaks down into three parts.

1.The User Interface and Navigation

In order to move around the site successfully, the interface must be clear and simple. A nice clean menu with logical options works well. Submenus should be used where necessary, but not to excess. Putting things in less obvious places, essentially hiding them, is a bad idea – you may be able to find things quickly, but a visitor with no prior knowledge of how your site works will struggle.
A simple test is to find someone who hasn’t used your website before, and ask them to locate a particular product or section. If it takes them more than a few seconds, you might need to reconsider your menus. And if they find a page that they think is the one you asked for but it turns out to be something different, the way in which items are labeled may need to be revised as they could be misleading to your visitors. Don’t worry – this isn’t a crime, it’s not misleading in the legal sense, but it could cause problems for your visitor and lead them to choose to visit your competitor’s site instead as it is easier to understand.

2.The Page Hierarchy

Like the menu system, the page hierarchy should be simple to follow. Maybe you sell gadgets, and there are different sizes and colors of gadget. You can logically break the menu and page hierarchy into sizes, eg 1-2 inch, 2-3 inch, and “larger”, and have subgroups in each one for each color. Alternatively, break it into red, yellow, and green, with subgroups for sizes.
Don’t have a group called “Yellow 1-2 inch” and “Yellow 3-4 inch” and “Green 1-2 inch” and so on – it will make it harder to navigate, harder to maintain, and if you expand your range much harder to manage.
Similarly, if you have an “About Us” section, feel free to include “Our Mission”, “Our Story”, “Where We Are”, and so on – but bear in mind that “Contact Us” should not be kept in this section, as that is a tool for communication not a description of you or your business.
Above all else, rely on logic to get the job done.

3.An Uncluttered Approach

The last thing a user wants is to have the information they are looking for hidden in plain sight. The use of advertising throughout the page, especially if it involves pop-ups or animations, can be very distracting and even obscure the information the user is looking for. Simple, clean lines, content front and center is the way to do it, even if your website makes its money from advertising. Tasteful adverts with static images work better as they do not distract, but can be powerful when not overused.
Many websites use sidebars of some sort, often with links to other pages or further information. If this is provided elsewhere on the page, for example underneath the main text, it may be worthwhile in minimizing the re-use of this content. There is no benefit to including the same link multiple times within the same page.

Improving Your Search Rankings

A simple uncluttered site with good navigation and sensible page layout will actually be ranked higher than other sites. Ranking of sites, particular within the Google index, is partially based on user experience and page load time, as well as “content above the fold”, which is the content you can see on-screen initially without having to scroll. Having more adverts (and potentially scripts due to this) will cause a delay in loading, will affect your above-the-fold content, and pop-ups and the like will detract and distract from the user experience.
A well-optimized site that is straightforward and to the point will do much better, both in the eyes of the search engines and the users.

Different Devices, Same Answers

This applies to every device you may view the site on – the recommendations in this article are platform-agnostic. However, with the mobile-first design trend being backed by search engines, it is worth noting that user experience on lower bandwidth devices with smaller screen sizes is even more important now than previously. If an advert occupied half the screen of a desktop computer, it could easily fill the screen of a mobile device, and that is a most unwanted behavior.

A final thought

Always design your websites with the end-user in mind. You may know what you wanted to achieve, but your visitors have not been inside your mind and may need a little guidance in order to get the best from your site.

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