Category Archives: Web Sites

3 Simple Steps to Increase Time on Your Website

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Courtesy of Website Magazine

Most online marketers and website owners tend to measure the success of their online business by the amount of traffic they are able to generate (and, of course, revenue).

While increasing the number of unique visitors is most definitely important (and something that everyone should be concerned with), it is arguably only half the battle. Unique visitors and visits alone should not be the only means by which you are measuring success.

It is easy to understand that there is little in the way of benefit from attracting a visitor to your website that quickly clicks the back button and leaves. Often, website owners and online marketers spend more time thinking about how to attract people to a site and less on how to encourage those visitors to spend considerably more time on your website. Take heed – there is a a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a website and its success. So how can you increase time on site (and profits)? Follow these three simple strategies.

– Design Smarter (and Write Longer) –

Of all the different site types, it is the content marketers that either have the best or the worst time-on-site averages. While one suggestion might be to simply write longer-form content, another option would be to take the longer-form content you have or will develop in the future and commit to splitting it into multiple sections. This is a common approach that has been used on sites like About.com and many newspaper sites for years. For example, a 1,000 word article could be split into four sections of 250 words each. Some content management systems have this functionality built in, so explore that feature if available to you. Another benefit of splitting content is that it gives publishers the ability to generate more advertising impressions – a big draw particularly for those selling on a CPM basis.

– Create More Relevant Jump Points for Content Showcasing –

Would you rather feature content that is timely or timeless? There are arguments for and against both, but those publishers that concentrate on identifying areas where they can showcase their best information are those that often have the highest time-on-site averages. These jump points are areas where publishers can profile/push the most popular pages, the most heavily commented upon content items or most linked-to items. There are, of course, many places to do this, including at the end of articles/posts, within sidebars, and within the content itself. There is actually some SEO benefit to creating links to this type of content on your site as the number and relevance of links to internal pages is (arguably) an important factor in search engine ranking.

– Introduce Supplemental Formats: Multimedia & Applications –

Many content publishers, to their own detriment, opt to stay with the content format most familiar to them – whatever that may be. Consumers, however, often have very different demands when it comes to their consumption preferences – offering just one only gives you one chance for one type of visitor. Start introducing supplemental formats and you’ll be surprised about the positive effect it has on time on site. For example, if you’ve got a long-form article, why not fire up the webcam and produce a short-form video about that article’s key points or takeaways. If you publish a list of events, why not introduce a calendar application which is a terrific way to increase the number of clicks on your site as well.

When it comes to increasing time on site, remember the following: your website visitors are willing to be engaged with your site (and spend more time on it), but content publishers absolutely must commit to repurposing content into new design formats, providing jump points wherever necessary to expose them to content that should be showcased, and they should introduce supplemental formats to satisfy the Web’s diverse content consumption needs and wants.

Make no mistake – increasing time on site is no easy task. Keep these three simple strategies in mind and you will not only see significant percentage increases in time on site, but revenue as well.

Most online marketers and website owners tend to measure the success of their online business by the amount of traffic they are able to generate (and, of course, revenue).

While increasing the number of unique visitors is most definitely important (and something that everyone should be concerned with), it is arguably only half the battle. Unique visitors and visits alone should not be the only means by which you are measuring success.

It is easy to understand that there is little in the way of benefit from attracting a visitor to your website that quickly clicks the back button and leaves. Often, website owners and online marketers spend more time thinking about how to attract people to a site and less on how to encourage those visitors to spend considerably more time on your website. Take heed – there is a a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on a website and its success. So how can you increase time on site (and profits)? Follow these three simple strategies.

– Design Smarter (and Write Longer) –

Of all the different site types, it is the content marketers that either have the best or the worst time-on-site averages. While one suggestion might be to simply write longer-form content, another option would be to take the longer-form content you have or will develop in the future and commit to splitting it into multiple sections. This is a common approach that has been used on sites like About.com and many newspaper sites for years. For example, a 1,000 word article could be split into four sections of 250 words each. Some content management systems have this functionality built in, so explore that feature if available to you. Another benefit of splitting content is that it gives publishers the ability to generate more advertising impressions – a big draw particularly for those selling on a CPM basis.

– Create More Relevant Jump Points for Content Showcasing –

Would you rather feature content that is timely or timeless? There are arguments for and against both, but those publishers that concentrate on identifying areas where they can showcase their best information are those that often have the highest time-on-site averages. These jump points are areas where publishers can profile/push the most popular pages, the most heavily commented upon content items or most linked-to items. There are, of course, many places to do this, including at the end of articles/posts, within sidebars, and within the content itself. There is actually some SEO benefit to creating links to this type of content on your site as the number and relevance of links to internal pages is (arguably) an important factor in search engine ranking.

– Introduce Supplemental Formats: Multimedia & Applications –

Many content publishers, to their own detriment, opt to stay with the content format most familiar to them – whatever that may be. Consumers, however, often have very different demands when it comes to their consumption preferences – offering just one only gives you one chance for one type of visitor. Start introducing supplemental formats and you’ll be surprised about the positive effect it has on time on site. For example, if you’ve got a long-form article, why not fire up the webcam and produce a short-form video about that article’s key points or takeaways. If you publish a list of events, why not introduce a calendar application which is a terrific way to increase the number of clicks on your site as well.

When it comes to increasing time on site, remember the following: your website visitors are willing to be engaged with your site (and spend more time on it), but content publishers absolutely must commit to repurposing content into new design formats, providing jump points wherever necessary to expose them to content that should be showcased, and they should introduce supplemental formats to satisfy the Web’s diverse content consumption needs and wants.

Make no mistake – increasing time on site is no easy task. Keep these three simple strategies in mind and you will not only see significant percentage increases in time on site, but revenue as well.

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Web Design and the Rule of Thirds

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Courtesy of WEB DESIGN magazine.

Grid-based design provides designers a formal way to assess the communicative expression power of the UI thanks to the rule of thirds – a topic Website Magazine addresses in our July 2011 issue. But what is the rule of thirds and how can you use it to improve interaction on your own site?

Originally used in the visual arts field, the rule of thirds is adapted well to any design and any design format or device thanks to its simplicity. The rule of thirds identifies four focal points within compositions to where the human eye is naturally attracted. By aligning elements on dividing lines or placing elements at these focal points, a maximum amount of interest and energy can be directed to the most important elements of the page. While eye tracking and heat maps provide meaningful, empirical data on how the site was used in the past by users, applying the rule of thirds can be useful as the design takes shape to ensure you are meeting the underlying objectives initially set forth and within the boundaries of standard design practices.

To really understand how the rule of thirds can be used it is necessary to compare and review various websites to see what are they doing right and what are they doing wrong. WM reviewed homepages/index pages of three sites in the “Music/Entertainment” category including Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine and our very own WM Senior Editor Mike Phillips’ Chicago Music Blog, Sound Citizen. We’re looking beyond the homepage as well with an analysis of content pages on these websites and how the rule of thirds applies to their layout/structure.

Rules of Thirds on Homepages
When applying the rule of thirds to home or index pages, having site-wide objectives prioritized is of vital importance. In the case of the three sites reviewed, exposing content, profiling advertising, and encouraging “social” are the apparent core objectives of these sites when the rule of thirds is applied.

So how do the sites stack up? All things considered, pretty well. Some things that stand out at the outset are the predominance of advertising on Rolling Stone and Spin and how well they have done to balance advertising with featured editorial content. Sound Citizen’s focal points mainly target content and community features. Sound Citizen is also the only one of the three sites to employ a two column layout as opposed to three column layouts used by the others. The use of a two-column layout has different restrictions than that of a three-column. Rolling Stone and Spin are able to feature more content over the fold than Sound Citizen without losing site of the primary ad’s importance. Also, notice how much more linear (and in-line with grid based design) Rolling Stone and Spin are compared to Sound Citizen.

Rules of Third on Content Pages
When it comes to content pages, the rule of thirds once again proves useful. Keep in mind that the intersections of our “thirds” (represented by the blue dots) are not actually intended to be the the exclusive focus of our readers but also what is immediately around them.

So how do these pages stack up? Not very well, in our estimation. But there are some instances of abiding by the rule of thirds. Rolling Stone once again puts the ad in plain sight and Spin further exposes its most popular content to the lower right of the fourth focal point. Both, however, put the burden on the viewer to locate and consume the page’s content. Unlike Rolling Stone and Spin, Sound Citizen maintains its structure well. The design supports the primary objectives of the site (content and community) and it is carried over from previous pages visited by the user, such as the homepage. However, based on our evaluation, there is a great deal of room for improvement on all three sites.

5 Must Haves for Every Small Biz Site

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by Ken Builder
Courtesy of Manta

I’ve put together a list of 5 must-haves that every small business website needs to include. Whether you’re building a website yourself, or have a web designer to do it for you, work through this check list and you won’t go wrong.

1. Contact details.

It might seem a bit obvious this one, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to add their contact details. Not only must you have your contact details–at a minimum your address, phone number and email address–but you must make those details easy to find. Don’t hide them away in the footer. Make the “contact us” page one of the most obvious ones. Because having a website boils down to just one thing: making more sales. And if your website visitors have a hard time getting in touch, then they’re not going to buy from you.

2. Map

A bit less obvious, but a must-have that can make a real difference to the number of leads your website generates. The nature of the Internet is anonymous–we’re all dealing with companies and individuals through a computer screen. And because of this, the Internet is a scammer’s paradise–it only takes a few minutes to build a website and pretend to be a company. So having a map of where you are adds a real reassurance to your website visitors. It turns a virtual interaction into something more solid, and gives your website visitors the peace of mind that you’re real people living in the real world

3. A Lead Capture Form

This is the next step on from adding your contact details. Many website visitors want to know more about your products and services, but are disinclined to give you a call or drop you a line. But they’re quite happy for you to get in touch with them. And in order to make that possible, you need a lead capture form. Think of this as a sales assistant approaching a shopper, rather than a shopper going out of their way to approach a sales assistant. A lead capture form allows your website visitors to leave their details and express an interest in you, without going the whole hog of picking up the phone. And since many people surf the web out of office hours, the chances are that the time that they’re actually on your website is a time when you don’t have anyone to answer the phone. Having a lead capture form allows you to give them more information when it’s convenient for you, and lets them express and interest when there’s no one around to talk to.

4. Photos of You and Your Staff

This is another great way of reassuring your customers about who they’re dealing with. In the same way that having a map gives your web visitors the confidence that you exist, having your photos on the website creates a personal connection between them and you. It’s so much harder to turn away from a face than a computer screen. Having a photo kick-starts a personal relationship with your website visitors, and it makes it much more likely that the visitor will then get in touch. The added advantage is that not many websites include personal photos, so get this right and your site will start to get head and shoulders over the faceless ones around it.

5. Newsletter Sign-Up Form

This option is a good opportunity to warm up future customers. Many people surfing the web for products and services will be in a “research” phase of the buying cycle. They’re not ready to get in touch or start buying just yet, but they are interested in finding out more information. Having a newsletter allows you to start to interact with them before they’re ready to buy. They get the opportunity to “‘taste” your service and personality, without having to commit to buying from you. You can start having a conversation with them, so that when they do decide to buy, that relationship already exists. And as anyone running a successful weekly or monthly newsletter will tell you, it can be the biggest source of new leads for your website. So add a newsletter sign-up form, and start emailing news about your company and industry to those signing up, and the customers will surely come.

5 More Must-Haves For Every Small Business Website

About the Author: The webeden.co.uk free website builder lets you build a website, even if you’re a complete beginner. Make your own website instantly with WebEden:You can sell your products, uploads your own videos and music and even integrate your blog.

Will the Dot Com Kingdom Collapse?

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Courtesy of Internet Business Law Services

Once ICANN approves the new super-powered gTLD domain names, what will happen to the some 200 million strong dotcom domain name kingdom? Will the new gTLDs and their massive sub-domain traffic of unlimited brand extensions create global cyber identity chaos? Will global trademark wars erupt on several legal fronts? Will cyber-squatting hit the fan? Relax no such things.

Surely, the sudden influx of 1000 new powerful gTLDs will create the biggest buzz, as overnight hyper-visibility and marketing coups of various old and new brands will steal the show. Currently, a regular dotcom costs USD $10, but this new gTLD about USD $500,000 each. However the markets will face some serious questions about this new style of hyper-cyber-branding poised for global market domination.

After all, the new gTLDs are never supposed to be for everyone, as they can only be custom fitted to very special type of business ventures with very specific features and combinations. On the other hand, the fanfare of massive influx gTLDs will further infuse renewed interest in global cyber branding expansion, enticing new ventures, putting higher demands for regular domain registrations. The dotcom kingdom will shine even more. The drama of gTLD approval will unfold making front page stories around famous and unknown name identities incubated to their overnight meteoric successes showcasing their smart strategies; equally some failures will also provide disastrous experiences and separate the winners and losers.

The other primal fear of dotcoms losing their power is based on the structural differences between the two types of domain names. Current $10 dollar domain like Sony.com is a suffix-based name, while a $500,000 GTLD, is a suffix-less, domain root like dotSony. No need to worry as the global markets will learn very quickly as they did in differentiating the @ symbol for email and the .com as
a suffix of a URL. A good educational campaign from ICANN is anticipated to educate the global audience. How and why the usability of this new type domain will bring revolutionary powers to a brand, huge savings of costs and image expansion time, while changing the future of the internet requires a very special knowledge.

Nevertheless, the gTLD game is sophisticated and requires a strong qualified team to play. Branding industry and trademark professionals, over and above their special craft should consider acquiring world-class nomenclature skills, to manage name usability, suitability and marketability issues with deeper understanding of global naming in order to have any authoritative say in this competitive arena.
The Trembling Trademark Owners

Why so much fear is being created against the gTLD in the name of protecting global trademark owners? Say, if ICANN, somehow, allowed a third party a gTLD called .panasonic, will the sky fall? No, not at all, as Panasonic, the true and rightful trademark holder will hit the unauthorized gTLD with a club and no judge would oppose issuing a cease-and-desist order. So are there enough empty
headed candidates to apply for such globally recognized and protected names? No, why would someone spend USD $500,000 and months to get such a name approved? The problem is not here, it is on the other side of the trademark spectrum where weak and deadbeat trademarks based on diluted names, but protected in narrow classification in search of a global presence are clashing with each other all over the world.

When ICANN issues a third party a gTLD ””””dot united””””, will all of the 113,647 existing large and small businesses worldwide using ””””united”””” name panic? No they cannot. Exclusive global ownership of the word ””””united”””” was never their cup of tea in the first place. It was always ””””disclaimed”””” in each and every one””””s trademark application for being a dictionary word.

They knew all along that there are over 100,000 identical names floating in the market place; United Airlines, United Bank, United Church, United Way, United Trust, United Bakeries, United Taxis, United Trucks, and United Logistics. Why will they hit the ceiling in rage now? They will not. Coy they will be, and embarrassed as they are, aware of the high dilution of their name they will stay mum. They will simply protect their own basic turf, under their specific classifications of trademark ””””wares””””, they simply cannot declare war and stop anyone using the name ””””united.”””

This is how the majority of the business names are. Open any trade directory in any city and the proof is right there. Somehow, the senior management always buries the name-weakness issues under the rug and keeps pushing the brand name even if it means losing its exclusive ownership in the long run. So long you can open a hotdog stand in the lobby of United Airlines, called United Doggies, as United Airlines has no exclusive ownership to the name ””””united”””” like ironclad
exclusive marks Rolex, Panasonic or Sony, diluted names are becoming a joke and a total waste of branding budgets.

So of the 100 thousand major businesses using United, who will end up owning dot-United gTLD and what will the other 99% do for their long term image expansion on the global front poses some very serious questions. The answer may not be forthcoming as the management of these organization were always convinced that they have been the true ””””united”””” name brand leaders, whether they exclusively own the name or not. Currently, 94% businesses around the world have such dysfunctional names and their branding agencies and law firms both have some serious responsibilities and challenges to find them the right strategies

Showrooms, not garages

If ICANN creates a gTLD garage, agencies should create cyber showrooms. ICANN, rightfully from its inception, is a very superior technical organization, surrounded by teams of highly intelligent people working on the long-term integrity of the Internet. Like a real high-tech garage full of engineers and mechanics designing high speed luxury cars, they are rolling out the great new gTLD program.

But what the image brokers and ad agencies now need are not garages but rather showrooms, where prospective customers could comfortably see the finished models, smell the interiors and take the cyber vehicles for the test drive.But there are two serious lingering questions, first, how to approach it with all the special prerequisite necessary to articulate such topics and what to recommend with solid and proven strategies to complete the full circle and close the deals.

It””””s all about this colossal shift of the old methods of branding and marketing communication to globally accessible, instantly scalable and almost free digital medium where the domination of globally workable world-class cyber name identities provide the spearhead and hyper-visibility. To play the modern games of massive new customer acquisition, it””””s about, eat-sleep-work-local & think-market-play-global. Unfortunately 99% businesses names are not capable to expand globally. This creates a major opportunity to educate the corporate leadership on this new global reality and bring in positive changes.

Therefore, as a starter the global corporate landscape urgently needs professional Name Evaluation Reports to professionally lay out senior level discussion contents and openly tackle the name identity issues. What better way for branding agencies to bring in a massive re-organization of the corporate nomenclature on a grand scale and start helping clients with new vigor and power, and assist them professionally with right world-class tools to win the next layers of global wars of image and
name identity domination?

END.

Naseem Javed, is recognized as a world authority on global naming complexities. He is currently helping corporations on ICANN””””s new gTLD cyber-platforms and lecturing on corporate nomenclature frontiers and global cyber-branding. Naseem is also conducting series of exclusive webinars on how to achieve iconic name status worldwide. http://www.abcnamebank.com .

The State of Video In E-Commerce

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Courtesy of WEBSITE magazine.

Online video solutions provider SundaySky recently released a telling report about how the Web’s biggest retailers utilize the power of video. Or, more to the point, how they are failing to do so.

According to SundaySky’s The State of Video in E-Commerce, released last month and citing data from the fourth quarter of 2010, nearly half of the world’s top 50 online merchants have no significant video presence. While many of them may have begun to add video on their websites – which the study concludes was the focus for many retailers in 2010 – few of them are taking proper advantage of the opportunities the medium affords them, which should be a primary focus of 2011.

In terms of conversion rates, online videos can lead merchants to higher sales on a wider range of products, increase their websites’ stickiness and reduce return rates, to name just a few advantages. For SEO purposes, video results rank higher in searches than other content and drives more traffic to retail sites. Finally, YouTube has been the world’s second-leading search engine since 2008 and is currently the fourth overall property on the entire Web.

Using YouTube as the primary barometer, 16 percent of the top 50 had fewer than 10 videos on YouTube, 42 percent had between 10 and 100, 34 percent had between 100 and 1,000, and 8 percent had greater than 1,000. If a YouTube presence is defined as more than 100 videos, that means that less than half of the top 50 retailers are taking full advantage of YouTube.

Three companies praised in the study for their use of video are Overstock, Newegg and Buy.com. All three are considered pioneers in the space for launching video portals alongside their main websites, and Buy.com ranked third behind the Home Shopping Network (72,556) and Systemax (3,537) with 2,731 videos on YouTube at the time of the study. Newegg, meanwhile, saw its views on YouTube jump 133 percent from the third quarter of 2010 to the fourth.

Some of the suggestions for retailers offered by SundaySky include scaling product videos to include everything in one’s catalog; applying even simple video SEO methods such as proper embedding and a video sitemap, and syndicating videos to not only YouTube but also to other channels such as Facebook fan pages.

A Modern Definition of Landing Page Optimization

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By Brian Deagan  WEBSITE MAGAZINE

The term “optimization” is dangerously close to becoming a victim of overuse and relegated to meaningless buzz word status. But the word does retain a valuable definition that marketers and Web masters alike must internalize and apply. To prevent optimization’s definitional decline it is crucial to understand the meaning of the term in its evolved state.

The pillars of support for strong optimization are content testing and audience targeting. The effective combination of these two core direct digital marketing functions fosters success. Historically, however, many organizations have taken a divide and conquer approach to the roles and responsibilities of testing and targeting. As these organizational silos take shape, production speeds slow and landing pages are drained of their effectiveness.

The right approach to landing page optimization can be thought of as a triangle where the three points of intersection are labeled “data,” “testing,” and “targeting.” The data, at the top of the triangle, flows down to each function. A central location for the data is important because the data environment must constantly feed the content testing and the audience targeting.

Landing Page Optimization Starts with Data
The ideal data environment for landing page optimization is a universal profile management system. The system is designed to do two things. First it stores valuable data points like enterprise customer data and purchase history information. Second, it captures behavioral information like browsing patterns on a landing page affiliated Web site, and keyword or banner click entry points to the landing page. The combination of known information on authenticated site visitors and behavioral information helps marketers build unique segments and lay a great foundation for successful testing and targeting strategies.

Test and Target in Tandem
Once the data situation is properly setup the optimization process can begin. The most important truth to understand about good landing page optimization is that testing and targeting must work in tandem. When launching a new landing page project, a strategy conversation that begins with an initial need to test content may end by identifying a real need to target shipping rates based on geographic region. The ability to be flexible and easily add testing or targeting strategies to the landing page environment is important to meet conversion goals and adapt to a constantly changing consumer.

Selecting Landing Page Optimization Software
Like anything else in the on-demand software business, optimization tools fall on a continuum of low cost and capability to high cost and complexity.

It is easy to love Google because they offer helpful tools for free. But it is important to understand that free means there is a trade off somewhere. In the case of Google Optimizer, the trade off is a free testing tool for one that is incapable of targeting. Low (or no) cost tools are tempting, but the combination of testing and targeting is mandatory for landing page optimization success. The trade off just isn’t worth it.

On the other end of the spectrum, many tools that provide both testing and targeting cost a fortune in money and time, given their complexity. As usual, the right optimization software falls in the middle where reasonable cost meets up with a full feature set. The middle spectrum optimization tools are the ones technologists seek because they are easy to use. Marketers need them because it is easy to update copy or swap images without ongoing input from an already stretched IT group.

An Optimized Landing Page Example
Without sacrificing anything regarding the load time, here is an ideal setup for a landing page that takes advantage of the best optimization strategies.

Our example landing page has eight different dynamic content zones. Six of those zones are identified as content testing zones. The testing zones can rotate many different versions of content based on the data available about the page’s visitors. The content variations can range from a few lines of copy to different product offers. The remaining two zones are setup for audience targeting. Both zones use geographic data, one to populate a localized phone number and the other zone targets on the daypart to display local store hours. This example is a single landing page, but it is completely optimized for every unique visitor, dramatically increasing the page’s chances of success.

Extend Landing Page Optimization by Learning From Other Channels
While these optimization principles are outlined primarily within the context of landing pages, they also apply to each function of direct digital marketing. Good optimization in email marketing, mobile marketing, and onsite targeting improves overall direct digital marketing campaign performance. But cross-channel optimization also adds valuable data points that can be leveraged to create better landing page experiences. Remember that landing pages are one part of an overall direct digital marketing strategy. The data that powers them, and the data they record, must connect to a central database that focuses on the site visitor and coordinates the experience across the entire direct digital marketing landscape.

Achieving Optimized Landing Pages
A successful landing page creates two outcomes for marketers. The landing page conversion translates either to a lead for other marketing programs to nurture, or an immediate transaction that triggers a retention/up-sell marketing cycle. Data powered optimization is the best and most proven approach for achieving both outcomes, whether a transaction happens immediately or must be nurtured for several months.

Next generation optimization software platforms do not view testing and targeting as separate functions. Both share the same focus – optimizing the landing page experience for each individual site visitor. When data, testing, and targeting all have a seat at the table, a more complete and effective landing page strategy is served.

Once a central database environment is properly configured, develop a landing page strategy that is not beholden to the limitations set by specialist vendors that encourage silos. Software tools exist to help avoid silos and prevent trading off testing in favor of targeting, or vice versa.

Web masters and marketers control the landing page optimization software market. If content testing and audience targeting are demanded, vendors will adapt and supply. The end result of applying a thoroughly defined landing page optimization strategy is a more coordinated user experience that dramatically improves conversion rates and performance. That outcome is as important as it is feasible. Don’t settle.

About the Author: Brian Deagan, a thought leader in direct digital marketing, is cofounder and CEO of Knotice, a direct digital marketing solutions company.

Four Essential Elements for Creating Captivating Websites

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Courtesy of Website Magazine

The four principles of design are balance, rhythm, emphasis and unity. Each one of them is essential for bringing together the different visual elements that are necessary to achieving a strong design, which, in turn, is imperative for a website to succeed on any level. What follows is an examination of each principle, with insights about how to incorporate them into your own Web design for optimal results.

Balance — Different colors, shapes and sizes can create different degrees of what is called “visual interest” on a Web page. It is important that pages are designed to hold a user’s interest without overwhelming them or causing distraction away from the elements most important to conversion goals. As such, distribution of this interest needs to be controlled and balanced by considering each element in a layout and its “visual weight” — determined by its size, shade and thickness of lines.

Symmetrical balance is achieved by placing elements in the design evenly. If you place a large, heavy element on the right side, you will have a matching heavy element on the left. Centering is the easiest way to get a symmetrically balanced page. But be careful, as it can be difficult to create a centered design that doesn’t look flat. For symmetrically balanced design, it is better to create the balance with different elements — an image on the left and a large block of text to the right of it, for example.

Asymmetrical balance is an arrangement of unlike objects of equal weight on each side of the page. Color, value, size, shape and texture can be used as balancing elements. However, asymmetrically balanced pages can be more challenging to design, as elements are not matched across the centerline of the design.

For example, you might have a large element placed very close to the centerline of the design. To balance it asymmetrically, you could place a small element farther away from the centerline. If you think of your design as being on a teeter-totter or seesaw, a lighter element can balance a heavier one by being further away from the center of gravity. You can also use color or texture to balance an asymmetrical design.

Sometimes the purpose of the website itself makes an off-balance design the right choice. Designs that are off-balance suggest motion and action. They make people uncomfortable or uneasy. If the content of your design is also intended to be uncomfortable or make people think, a discordantly balanced design can work well.

Rhythm — Rhythm in design is also known as repetition — a pattern created by repeating elements that are varied, allowing your designs to develop an internal consistency that makes it easier for your customers to understand. Once the brain recognizes the pattern in the rhythm it can relax and understand the whole design.

Repetition (repeating similar elements in a consistent manner) and variation (a change in the form, size or position of the elements) are the keys to visual rhythm. Placing elements in a layout at regular intervals creates a smooth, even rhythm and calm, relaxing mood. Sudden changes in the size and spacing of elements creates a fast, lively rhythm and an exciting mood.

Gestalt is a general description for concepts that make unity and variety possible in design. The mind has the ability to see unified “wholes” from the sum of complex visual parts. Some principles of gestalt are proximity, similarity, continuance, closure, uniform connectedness and 1+1=3 effects.

Emphasis — Emphasis (or dominance) in design provides the focal point for the piece, enabling the most important design element to stand out. To draw the reader to the important part of the piece, every layout needs a focal point.

Generally, a focal point is created when one element is different from the rest. However, to maximize emphasis, it is necessary to avoid too many focal points, so as not to dilute the dominant effect. When all elements are given equal emphasis, it can make the piece appear busy, at best, or even boring and unappealing.

Emphasis can be achieved in the following ways:

• Using semantic markup to provide some emphasis, even without styles.
• Changing the size of fonts or images to emphasize or de-emphasize them in the design.
• Using bold, black type for headings and subheads and much lighter text for all other content. Placing a large picture next to a small bit of text.
• Using contrasting colors. For example, using a series of evenly spaced, square photographs next to an outlined photograph with an unusual shape.
• Placing an important piece of text on a curve or an angle while keeping all of the other type in straight columns.
• Using colored type or an unusual font for the most important information.

Unity — Unity (or proximity) helps all the elements look like they belong together. Readers need visual cues to let them know an article is one unit — the text, headline, photographs, graphic images and captions all go together. Elements that are positioned close to one another are related while elements that are farther apart are less so.

Unity can be accomplished through the following methods:

• Being consistent with the type font, sizes and styles for headings, subheads, captions, headers and footers throughout the website.
• Positioning elements so that those close to one another are related, while elements that are farther apart have less of a relationship.
• Using only one or two type styles and various size or weight for contrast throughout the site.
• Repeating a color, shape or texture in different areas throughout.
• Choosing visuals that share a similar color, theme or shape.

Web users rely heavily on visual clues when making decisions about a website — whether to click and explore, consider a purchase or sign up for a service. This is even more pronounced for first-time visitors when the decision to stay on-site or abandon is made in just a few seconds. Follow these four design principles and you can be sure that your users and new visitors will stay engaged with your website.

About the Author: Guillermo Cedillo is responsible for the design and implementation of modifications of different Web, desktop and mobile applications as a User Interface Designer for Sieena. Sieena is a Nearshore software development firm specializing in Microsoft technologies, with operations in Los Angeles and Monterrey, Mexico.