Four Things You Think You Want (But Really Don't) For Your Web Site
I'm sure many of you remember the short story, "The Monkey's Paw" from English class. For those of you who may have skipped class that day or have trouble remembering, it's about a cursed monkey's paw that grants wishes. There's a catch: the wishes are granted in horrible, unexpected ways. For instance, one character wishes for 200 pounds (it's a British story) and the wish is fulfilled when her son is killed and she receives 200 pounds as compensation.
Often during our early meetings for a new web site, this story comes to mind when the client begins listing items they'd like to have on their web site. Most of the time, these objectives are reasonable, but sometimes they lead to unintended ramifications or sacrifices.
Below I've listed some of the common requests we get and why they may not always be a good idea.
1. "We want everything to show up on one screen with no scrolling."
This is probably the most common request we hear. Clearly, the intention is good. There's just one problem: it's next to impossible to accomplish. The problem is that screen sizes are more fragmented than ever. My home computer monitor is 42 inches, but I also use my cell phone to browse the web, which is 2.8 inches. There is simply no way that a single design will accommodate the wide range of Internet-enabled devices. Even if you use a special design for handhelds, you are still going to be limited by ultra-mobile laptops that keep getting smaller and smaller.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that scrolling doesn't matter as much as you think. Study after study after study has shown that web site visitors have no problem scrolling to see more content on the site. In fact, visitors were just as likely to view the whole page on short pages as they were on long pages. The best solution is a simple one. Use only content that is relevant and interesting.
2. "Let's put an animated news ticker on the home page."
We get asked about news tickers and other similar "animated" content from time to time. Usually, this is brought up for one of two reasons. Sometimes, the client feels like there needs to be movement on the page; other times they have more content for the home page than what can reasonably fit. "Let's just make it scroll across the screen" is a convenient shortcut for making any amount of content fit any space.
The major thing they are overlooking is basic usability. It's a similar problem with the news tickers on any major TV network. Usually, you don't even pay attention to it, but if you actually DID try to read it, the experience is often very frustrating. If you missed the first part of the article, you'd have to wait for the whole thing to come back around again.
Here's the question: Is this content important or not?
If it IS important, people shouldn't be frustrated while trying to read it. In this case, redesign the page to allow the content to naturally stretch the page.
If it's NOT important, than it shouldn't be there; it's just distracting your visitors from what's important.
3. "People should make our site their home page."
This is simply a matter of trying to do too much with one's web site. Often people request that their home page provides stock updates, local weather information, links to other sites and all sorts of content that is only marginally relevant to their company. Yeah, sure, it would be great if your target audience came to your site every day, but the chances of that are usually VERY slim. That's just not how the Internet works. If I want to get weather information, I'm going to go to weather.com, not a company's home page.
Often these people are trying to build THEIR perfect home page, and assuming that everyone else would have similar interests. This is misguided.
Instead, we always recommend eliminating any extraneous information from your site that is available elsewhere. Your company web site should be focused on the things that your customers are looking for, the things they CAN'T get elsewhere.
Personally, I also think that it's outdated and presumptive to have links on your site that are anything close to "Make this site your home page" or "Add us to your favorites".
4. "What if the pages fly around and then zoom to the left…vroooOOOOM!!!"
When used appropriately, animation can improve the visitor's experience on your site. However, poorly executed animation actually gets in the way of the visitor and becomes annoying. It's easy for marketing people to fall into this trap; we tend to like flashy things. However, the vast majority of your visitors did not come to your site for a demonstration of your animation skills; they came to find information or to accomplish a task.
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