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The Secret Formula of Online Marketing

Braxton Tulin - Friday, April 27, 2012
Today’s online businesses must face a simple fact: Clutter is the enemy of conversion. While simplicity in website design doesn’t always equate with a minimalist design aesthetic, it is true that the most effective (and profitable) sites are free of all unnecessary elements -- including design, content and code. And while “minimalist” sites generally fit this criteria, there are many websites that aren’t considered minimalist, yet still fit the definition of simple.

Most businesses realize they need a better web presence, but they’re not sure how to go about it. They’re not aware of the secret formula -- AIDA, a framework pioneered in 1898 by Elias St. Elmo Lewis that describes consumer interest and behavior. It is more relevant than ever today.

-Awareness (Attention)
-Interest
-Desire (Decision)
-Action

A successful web strategy must start with an exceptional website. Your homepage is your first step to conversion, or awareness. The sooner consumers reach the specific goal of their visit, the better.

It’s not all about how many visitors come to your site; what really matters is conversion. Visitors need reassurance that their needs will be answered quickly. Most homepages on the web try to fulfill multiple objectives, often leading to disarray and content scattered all over the place. With no singular message emerging, this is a surefire recipe for disaster.

Consider Apple - Their website has one image that takes up 75% of homepage “real estate”. There is a simple, minimalist navigation bar and four smaller message boxes. That’s it.  The wireframe for their website hasn’t changed in the past 10 years. It quickly shows products or services of interest and desire to the user, and it commands them to take action to learn more.

Always consider your homepage from a business perspective. Is using a multimedia graphic or video the best way to communicate your message? Or should you try a brief copy excerpt to tell your story.

It helps to look at your homepage from a visitor’s perspective. Your goal should be to create a simple environment for visitors to absorb your message quickly and take action.

Designing for Conversion
Graphic designers rarely consider conversion. The best designers pride themselves on thinking outside the box, challenging themselves to create something wonderful on every project. This approach may be great for a print ad, but it doesn’t necessarily bring value to converting users on the web. Over-the-top visual elements, background colors, large photos, distracting text treatments in headlines and buttons, as well as interactive video, are all unnecessary. That’s because they immediately draw attention and can easily overshadow a conversion action.

When designing a homepage, always remember one key tip to landing page optimization: Unless a visual element directly supports a key conversion action, it should be removed.

You should always consider design from a business perspective. Ask yourself whether multimedia graphics or video is the best way to communicate your message. Try using brief copy to tell your brand story, while focusing your layout to move visitors to content that they need.

Simply put, your goal is to lighten the load of your homepage. Make few people in your organization accountable for the design, and create a very simple environment for visitors to digest your message. Stay focused on getting more people through the first step of the sales funnel (Awareness). Ultimately, conversion will always trump cool, and a clear and simple homepage will generate an increased conversion rate that will translate to measurable bottom- line increases.

Simple is Better
Here are the benefits of simplified website design, as well as techniques to make your site simpler, more engaging and lucrative.

1) Get rid of extraneous information. In other words, lose the clutter. Simple sites have fewer pages and sections, making it easier to find navigation elements.

-Use only one main navigation menu
-Use subnavigation for individual sections, thus simplifying the main nav

2) Simple designs result in smaller file sizes, which load faster. By keeping your code simple and streamlined, you’re less likely to be calling multiple stylesheets, a boatload of JavaScript files and other content that increases the number of HTTP requests your site makes. Here’s the point: Faster-loading and faster-responding websites make for a better user experience.

3) Content should be king. When there aren’t myriad decorative elements, content is more “scannable.” 80% of users scan web pages, while only about 15% read every word on the page. Putting content front-and-center makes it easier for visitors to quickly scan what’s there. User-friendly sites are more likely to attract visitors multiple times.

4)  Simplify code. This way, it’s easier to find bugs. If something isn’t working and you have a stylesheet with 300 different properties, it’s going to be a nightmare to troubleshoot and fix. You can make stylesheets markedly shorter by combining CSS properties and definitions.

5)  Remove unnecessary graphic elements. If the visual element serves no purpose, get rid of it. A clean site is an appealing site. Lose the image borders and drop shadows. One or two images will suffice.

6)  What is absolutely important? Can’t live without it stuff. This applies to every element -- design, content and code. Ask the question. Often you can combine things to simplify the page.

7) Make sure the back-end is simple, too. Don’t just focus on the front-end. Make sure the markup for your site is as simple as you can make it. Choose a CMS that offers only the functions you need or allows you to turn functionality on and off as needed.

*Published in Utah Business Magazine, May 2012

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