Don't Start Building Your Website Till You Read These Top 10 Science-Backed Tips

Daniel Rosehill
Don't Start Building Your Website Till You Read These Top 10 Science-Backed Tips
If you’re designing a website and want to make it as effective as possible, the good news is that you can have more than your gut to rely upon. The scientists that study web-human interfaces have identified ways in which your UI design can reflect not only best practice but also scientific consensus.

These days most of the best website builders have enough wizards and templates to help you create the optimal site for your needs, but it’s still worth understanding the science behind how it all works. Here’s our list of the top 10 science-based tips you need to consider before getting started. 

1. Speed Is Key

Although it seems obvious, science confirms that if your server doesn’t have the technical chops to serve up speedy content, then people aren’t going to hang around for your pages to load. Microsoft search engine Bing has done research into this space and showed that even a 2 second delay in page loading time caused a drop off in user satisfaction with the website as well as reducing clicks. Make sure that your site is being hosted on a company capable of delivering good speeds to your users. 

2. Avoid Overcomplication 

When it comes to web design, less is more. Users don’t like being intimidated by a cluttered layout that pulls them in ten different directions. Instead, focus on simplicity and talking about one thing at a time. As any graphic designer will tell you, some whitespace is important too. Research into this area comes from Google who discovered that the more complex your website design, the lower the chances that your readership is going to regard it as beautiful

3. Users Don’t Mind Scrolling

“Users don’t read online.” We’ve probably all heard that one before. But here you are reading  this paragraph! Another pervasive rule in web design is the idea that users don’t scroll to read content. Crazy Egg once ran an experiment in which they contrasted a traditionally designed page with one 20 times its length. The surprise results: conversions actually increased when the longer page was tried out. The lesson here is that your readers will scroll if there’s enough enticing value to keep their attention. Spreading information across different pages is a good idea. But if it makes more sense to lay it out sequentially on one page — don’t be afraid.

4. Main CTA Above The Fold

“Above the fold” is an old newspaper term that referred to the idea that the most eye-catching content should appear above where a newspaper physically folded. It’s long been debated whether the concept should apply to website design. Research from CX Partners has thrown cold water on the idea that everything important needs to be above the fold — it showed that less content above the fold actually encouraged readers to continue exploring the page. Nevertheless, we think it makes sense to include at least a good CTA in the part of the web page that the user encounters before having to continue scrolling downwards. 

5. Other CTAs Later On 

Many designers prefer to intersperse a few different calls to action (CTAs) throughout the web page. Remember that users will continue to scroll down through a page if they find enough value to keep their attention. For that reason, it makes sense to include a couple of CTAs in the mid and footer sections of a long web page. Assume that your reader is still with you as they scroll and give them a couple of prompts to take the kind of action that you’re trying to encourage. 

6. Order Your Content Sensibly

It’s important to organize your content in some way that makes sense for your readership. Orbit Media Studios, a web design consultancy, has defined a visual content hierarchy describing which visual elements are more likely to capture a browser’s attention. Those which have high visual prominence should be displayed at the top of the page. Think video and movement. Items with low contrast should be relegated towards the bottom. It makes sense to guide the user’s natural navigation patterns by organizing the text in the most logical pattern that reflects their preferences. 

7. Carousels Ain’t Cool

Lee Duddell, the founder of WhatUsersDo, a London usability research and testing firm, has described carousels and rotating sliders as “next to useless for users.” According to Duddell’s harsh assessment users tend to skip over these because they look too much like advertisements. And who wants to voluntarily spend time starting at a billboard? These design elements are extremely popular with web designers. Common use cases for rotating sliders including displaying a list of past clients. While demonstrating social proof is vital (see our next point!), there are better ways to do it. 

8. Demonstrate Social Proof 

Social proof is essential to convincing prospective customers that you’re trustworthy enough to do business with. Research has shown that more than 90% of millennials trust reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends. So if you don’t have any section for your previous clients to sing your praises, then you’re likely missing out on opportunity. Common ways in which social proof can be demonstrated in a website include through a testimonials page or having pull quotes from happy past and current customers appearing in the navigation sidebar. These reaffirm browsers’ belief that you are a trustworthy and competent provider.

9. Don’t Overwhelm With Options: Hick’s Law 

Ever visit your local Walmart and face the daunting task of trying to choose between 10 different brands of painkillers all of which look to do slightly different things? If so, you may well have given up on the very idea of buying a medicine at all. Research has shown that when users are bombarded with too much choice, they tend to divert away their attention. If you’re an online retailer, then this is bad news for you. There’s even a formula to help you guess when this might happen. Provide just the right amount of choices to drive your readers to take action. But make sure not to overwhelm them with too many. 

10. Keep Your Designs Standard

Remember the Google study which we referenced above? It also found that users tend to like things with “high prototypicality.” When users navigate to a webpage, they expect to encounter a somewhat consistent layout based upon their previous experiences navigating that kind of website. So if you’re an ecommerce retailer, they’ll be expecting to find a shopping cart functionality and probably also a way to reach customer support. There’s still plenty of ways to make your brand or product stand out. But when it comes to basic layout elements, it makes sense to stick with a tried and trusted design.

Leverage Science To Build Your Next Site

User experience and web-human interface researchers around the world are continuously probing the way we humans interact with the internet. The insights they have gained can be leveraged to help build better browsing experiences for all of us. Use some of these tips to make sure that your next website is scientifically validated.

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Daniel Rosehill
Daniel Rosehill is a technology writer and reviewer whose experience includes leading marketing communications strategies at 2 SaaS companies. His interests include backups and disaster recovery, Linux and open source, and cloud computing.