3 web site design features to get your message across clearly and quickly, even for short visits

A Good Web Page Shows Meaning at a Glance

Web page elements that pack meaning-at-a-glance are:

  1. A picture & captions
  2. Headline & Subheadings
  3. Clear, easy choices

Most web page visits are very short – plan accordingly

When you set up a web page, you’re faced with some steep challenges based on known facts about how users read:

Studies show —

People want to move quickly — Users spend on average less than 1 second on a web page

People skim — People read only 20-25% of the words on a page

People choose what looks easy and useful, not what’s optimal – Users are looking a solution they can use and get to easily, not necessarily what’s best.

Visitors decide to stay longer if it seems worthwhile at first glance

In general, site visitors don’t want to spend effort figuring out where to click, or what a button means, or what a paragraph says. They work just hard enough to click on what might be useful.  Sometimes the ‘easiest most useful’ click is back out to another site.

The short attention span is a huge challenge to you as a business owner. You want to give your reader every good reason to stay on your site and engage. To overcome these user-behavior challenges, here are 3 things you can easily do on every page of your website.

1)      Choose a picture for the main message — Your choice matters. Users resent meaningless images.  Find (or make) a picture that shows the results your visitors are looking for.  Put it at the top of your page.  People land on your page looking for something for a problem they want to ‘make better.’  Show them this ‘better place’ on landing.  In some cases, ‘better’ is obvious – a lush garden for a landscaping service; a smiling child for a school or daycare center; a dancing youth for an .mp3 seller.

When your ‘better place’ is more abstract, consider symbols.  For a consultant, an arrow “going up” suggests improvement.  If you offer “more sales” or “more conversions from your contact form”, you’ll have to fit a literal image for a mental concept.  People sharing a handshake, people smiling, or a large check box with a big bold checkmark can get a concept across.  Add a caption to underscore your point if possible.  Users are likely to look at your picture, nearby words have a high chance of being read.

2)      Use good headlines and subheadings. A good headline starts out with the key words that matter to your audience.   It conveys the core of the promise you’re offering through your product, service, or organization.   A great title is also part ‘teaser’ it tells people what knowledge they’ll gain by reading on.

When you add subheadings, you make meaning-at-a glance possible. The subheadings show the main idea of each paragraph, and they invite the skimming reader to glance down your page.  If it looks easy to get at your message, more people are feel encouraged to at least try to get it.

3)      Make it easy to decide where to click. This is where your layout is important. There is some truth to the saying “The confused mind doesn’t buy.”

If you attract more than one type of target visitor, group your choices in related areas to minimize confusion.  Take advantage of conventions.  Use simple language as much as possible.  Part of the joy and success of Google’s search page is you don’t have to figure out how to use it.  There’s a blank and a button.  It’s that simple to go search.

Since it’s really really easy to try again, people are very quick to do it.  They only stop when they find something like what they want.

Your picture, headings and layout are 3 key places to show your visitors what they want from the first moment they visit you.


56 seconds= The average duration of a web page view, according to the Nielsen Company in this report: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/june-2010-top-online-sites-and-brands-in-the-u-s/

20-28% = how much (on average) users actually read on a web page, according to Jakob Nielsen in: How Little do Users Read?

“We don’t choose the best option — we choose the first reasonable option” observes usability expert Steve Krug, on p.24 of his book Don’t Make Me Think, New Riders press, 2006.

2 Responses to “3 web site design features to get your message across clearly and quickly, even for short visits

  • Definitely, I follow all of those features on my blogs, works well 🙂

    • Thanks, Ben. Nice blog. I like the way you show a generous 200px square thumbnail in your posts. It’s great looking and makes you want to re-visit