Don’t let a lackluster website become a missed opportunity.

Is your website warmly inviting potential customers to learn more about your business or is it leaving them stuck at the gate? Design plays a pivotal role when it comes to customer buying decisions, and with today’s consumers bombarded with more information, advertisements, and offers than ever, businesses must truly stand out to hold a user’s attention long enough to make the sale.

For many businesses, the purpose of a website is not merely to serve as a passive “brochure,” but rather to guide them into a purchase or a sales meeting. Although it can feel like the hard part is over when a visitor arrives at your page—after all, they’ve just discovered you in a sea of competing businesses—the truth is that the customer journey has just begun. Now, it’s up to you to prove that you’re the perfect business to solve their pressing problem.

The amount of time you have to do this is continuing to shrink: According to inbound marketing platform Hubspot, the majority of users spend less than 15 seconds on a page.

What you need to do to keep users on the page, in theory, is simple—just make your website more engaging. But while what to do sounds easy enough, there are several considerations that must be made when it comes to the how behind it.

Fortunately, there are myriad tried and tested strategies one can employ to nudge customers in the right direction, with sound design principles underscoring all of the ones we’ll cover here.

Avoid cluttering a page with too many elements

According to an in-depth Adobe study on digital content, a whopping 38% of users will stop engaging with a website that is “unattractive in its layout or imagery.” To borrow words from hit professional organizer Marie Kondo, "A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective.” Similarly, a dramatic redesign of a website can lead to remarkable changes in user behavior as they see your offerings clearly articulated and elevated. The results speak for themselves: The Weather Channel, for instance, increased conversions to premium subscriptions 225% after it cleaned up its site.

Ensure a clear, urgent call to action

Have you identified exactly what you want your users to do next, and is your website compelling them to take that action? A clear call to action is a must on any website, whether it is to “buy now” or (more subtly) “learn more.” Or perhaps you already have a call to action, but it is too difficult for the user to find—it may be buried on a secondary page, at the bottom of an endless scroll, or camouflaged by other elements. Remember that the ideal placement for a call to action button is where a user is most likely to click on it; to understand exactly where this is, you must both put yourself in the shoes of your customer and understand current widespread norms. For example, eye-tracking studies show that most people scan web pages on desktop in the shape of an “F,” which dictates that the most important information on a page ought to be at the top and down the left side.

Sometimes, the call to action is clear and visible, but it’s just not urgent enough to lead the customer to a next step. One thing to check before addressing design is to read your website copy through the eyes of your customer. Has it effectively spoken to their pain points and reassured them of your expertise? If yes, then consider adding design elements, like shopping cart timers, and creating scarcity by revealing how many products are left in stock. You may even consider using the color red to signal urgency, and one-time offers in exchange for an email address.

Use contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity

These are four general design principles that readily apply to business websites. Important information should stand out—contrast—from the rest of the content on a page. Patterns make it easier for the user to understand how to navigate a page and take action. Use proper alignment to guide the eye, and group similar items together in order to help the user process information more quickly.

Reassure customers

Your website must prove that your business can provide the best solution to your customer’s problem as well as pass a credibility test with flying colors. Businesses may employ certifications and badges to prove authenticity, but be cautious, and use only highly recognizable badges that signal widespread trust as today’s consumers may actually be more apprehensive of a website with too many third-party icons.

An elegant, cohesive, and fully functional website with high quality original content will create a pleasant environment, and it is within this atmosphere that we are naturally inclined to feel safe and ready to buy. Clear images of products, typo-free copy, testimonials, and even pictures of happy people (ideally not stock images) all help the human brain to understand that “yes, this is a trustworthy business.”

Engagement trumps volume

One trend we’re seeing today is the “endless landing page” with sales copy that goes on and on, yet studies reveal that the length of a webpage is far less important than how engaging the content actually is. This is why knowing your target demographic is so critical: Your audience might enjoy long webpages with lots of text, and perhaps they will hit the buy button at the end, or maybe your audience would rather be presented with information in a more visually engaging way and a subtler call to action. Make informed design choices by digging into your target market’s behavior, testing, and iterating on their feedback to discover what they find most engaging.

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