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Website page footers are not a wastebin

As long-time readers know, I have so many problems with ‘conventional’ website design, it’s hard to know where to begin. Rather than offering you a selection of layouts, website designers – who know what sells – invariably offer you a selection of differently-styled versions of the same layout. So the fonts and colours may change, but the majority of business websites all stick to the same format …and it’s not even a good one.

At the top is the company logo. That’s fine. Visitors may be landing on the site on that page, and it’s the accepted way to get to the home page.

Then there’s a horizontal row of links under this, leading to different sections of the site. I’m not sure who decided the first thing visitors to a page should be offered is a selection of other places to go, as if they were on the wrong page, but this design feature is so commonplace that we can at least ignore it. There are probably only one or two links which visitors might actually want; any others will just be there to fill the space pointlessly. Some sites even cram in two rows.

Then, down one side of the page (or – horrifically – down both sides) there are even more links. Again, they’re given undue prominence, as if accepting that the visitor is in the wrong place, and will probably want to go somewhere else before reading that page. It’s true that desktop PC screens are too wide for text to run edge-to edge, but if we’re going to fill the space either side of our comfortable text column, we might as well fill it with something like a related offer.

Finally, comes the worst crime of all: the ‘footer’. In site after site, I just see a big area where any old stuff has been thrown in, just because the designer said: “There are two or three or four columns here where you can put some other links”, but nobody could really think of what needed to go there.

The end of the page is, in many ways, the most important element of the whole story: it should be the call-to-action. You’ve read what we’ve got to say, now DO SOMETHING. We’ve spent loads of money getting you to this point, and it’s time to close the deal. And yet in 9 websites out of 10, all we see is: “Legal notice” or “Privacy policy” or, for goodness’ sake, “Tweet this page”.

Some people will be quite happy about the call-to-action they’ve got at the end of their main content, and I applaud that. But even so, isn’t that where things should stop? Why let the eye wander down to loads of really trivial stuff underneath? Your best salesperson, at the end of a presentation, will ask a prospect to shake on the deal. They would be quite annoyed if a colleague arrived just at that moment, offering to take the coffee order.

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