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Website Design, Simplify Things.

Years ago when I was in school I had the same art teacher for several different classes throughout the day. He taught us a principle that I have heard over and over through the years in different settings. It is the KISS rule wich means: Keep It Simple Stupid. Some of you may have heard this same rule and hopefully try to implement it where you can.

Since the beginning this is a rule that we have tried to implement in our website design; not only on the user interface but even in the complicated lines of website code. The KISS rule is important for several reasons and I will explain why through examples of mistakes that we have made that violated the rule and the result of the violation.

First, a mistake we made in the user interface when we first started The Plan Collection. When we first started laying out the structure of our website we analyzed a lot of different ecommerce sites so that we could take the best features (in our opinion) and implement them all into one easy to use website. I think we did a great job with the majority of the user side of the website initially, although we have made several improvements to make it even better these days. The first major mistake we made was actually a common practice back in the late 90s. Most major websites allowed customers to create an account and store their credit card number on file to make purchasing as easy as possible you didnt even have to enter your payment information to check out. We thought it would be a great idea to do this as well, figuring it would give us some credibility by having a sophisticated system. Another neat feature we had was something similar to a wish list (like most major websites also had and still have today). Our wish list was called Favorite House Plans and was an area where users could store their favorite plans so they could return and easily find them in the future. The mistake we made was assuming that people would be comfortable setting up a full blown account just to store their favorites on our website. There were two problems. First, we were not a well recognized website like Amazon.com, Ebay.com or the like. This made people uncomfortable about allowing us to store their card information even though we had taken all the necessary measures to assure that their information was secure. Secondly, we required our customers to enter their payment information to set up an account where they could store their favorite house plans just so they would have it when they decided to make a purchase. The result of this mistake was that we had very, very few accounts being created to store favorite house plans. We were also taking way more orders by phone than on our website so that customers didnt have to enter the information online.

The Fix: Once we realized the result of our design mistake we simplified it and didnt require payment information at all until the customer made a purchase. The result was a lot more orders placed online, and many more customers using our Favorite House Plans feature. Just because something made complete sense to us as users on other websites did not mean it was a great fit for our company. There are many decisions you make as a business owner that if not considered carefully can negatively impact your business even though it works well for others.

This KISS rule also applies to SEO. Recently we received a call from a SEO professional who was trying to sell us his companys services. He promised high rankings on all the various search engines and gave us a link to a website he had recently worked with. His work with this website was a success and it was ranking highly on the search engines under their main terms. There was just one problem that immediately turned me off to the methods he was apparently using to achieve the high rankings: This website was so saturated with keywords that they were trying to target that there was no clear navigation structure. It took me quite a while sifting through hundreds of links to find what I was looking for. The website may have been ranking highly, but who really cares if you cant sell anything because your website is so hard to use. In addition, I think a website saturated with keyword links like this one was (all over the front page with very few images) will have a short lived high ranking in my opinion. Since selling is what most of us are trying to do online, our focus should be finding that fine balance of including enough keywords and information that the search engines will like us, but ultimately providing the most simple and easy to use website that we possibly can.

And finally, the KISS rule even applies to the part of your website that the customers dont see. Search engines like clean coded websites. They dont like pages stuffed with keywords that are invisible to the user, but embedded in the code. Search engines like concise titles for each page and accurate keywords and descriptions. They also like structured pages, appropriately used Meta tags and alt tags. Extensive keyword lists and keyword lists in your tags, titles and descriptions are not ideal. You can and should use keywords in each of these parts of the web page, but you need to give it some thought and do it wisely. This takes a lot of time and effort to accomplish, but it is well worth the time if you are serious about making your website a success.

I could give you many more example of using the KISS rule in your website design but I think you get the basic idea. It is sometimes difficult to simplify your website when you have an enormous amount of content to offer. We recently did a complete redesign of our website applying the KISS rule in several areas. We constantly have to sit back and think of the simplest way to present the content that we have to the user. As a result, what makes the most sense to us (because we are in the industry) is often not the best way to design it. So remember the KISS principle next time you work on a new page or redesign of a specific area on your website and Im sure you will have positive results.

February 13, 2008

website design

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