Just who has your website been designed for?

Your website probably has links across the top of every page. And down one side. Or both sides. Oh, and probably at the bottom too. Why? Seriously, why? For every page on your website, there is a strictly limited number of pages where you want the visitor to go next. Or, indeed, where they will want to go next. So why are you offering them dozens of irrelevant links? Every additional link on a page reduces the probability that your visitor will choose the one that you actually do want them to click.

If you’ve just spent a lot of time and money getting somebody to your website, and you want them to read about your latest product, why are you filling up the page with temptations to visit pages about completely different subjects? It’s as if you’re saying: “Thanks for coming all this way to our showroom to see the demonstration of our Blue Widget. Let me take your coat. Would you like to look through our catalogue instead though? Or perhaps be told about our mission statement? Or hear our latest company news? Or be told about another division of the company? No? What was that you said? Just get on with it?”

It’s just lazy design. Instead of assessing each page on its merits, and working out where a visitor might need to go next, a website designer trying to cut corners has said: “Let’s link to the entire rest of the site on every page, and cover every possibility that way. Then we can just throw the same links around every page and it’ll save us a lot of time and effort. Pub, anyone?”

Things gets worse. In order to then fit in these hundreds of possibilities, designers came up with the idea of hiding many of them behind huge great awkward foldy-out menu-things, which expand open and cover up the page when clicked-on. And your visitors don’t get any warning. They click on “Products”, expecting to be taken to a page which has a nice display of the company’s products. Instead they get a horrible text list, in the form of an expanding menu. Not only is it far less attractive than a product page, it’s harder to click on the items, and it probably doesn’t even work on mobile devices. And all this just to avoid taking people to a new page. What, are we still in 1996, when a new page took two minutes to download?

I haven’t finished. All that stuff, hidden behind menus? To fit in as many links as possible, the designer says that the menu has to be a label of no more than about 10 characters. The first one can be done quite easily: “Products”. But “Applications” is a bit long, could we compromise on “Markets” perhaps, even though it doesn’t make much sense? And so on. What about all the odd bits? Shall we have a menu item called “Miscellaneous”? Nobody’s ever going to click on boring labels. That link at the top which says “Downloads”? What does that hide? Will anyone bother to find out? If you don’t like the idea of a zero percent click-through rate, don’t look at your Google Analytics page overlays.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Using a template to keep your website design consistent makes sense. But the template should be for the layout, not for any content other than one or two site-wide elements, such as the logo. After that, you need to assess what really needs to go on each page in isolation. If somebody wants to read your terms and conditions, or find out the accounts department’s fax number, they can go to the home page and find a site contents section. It’s not a problem.

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