How to Design An Active Commercial Web Site & How to Avoid the Hamlet Effect
How many times have you entered a commercial website and been immediately overwhelmed by chaos, by a seemingly random morass of disorganized content and graphics? If you’re like me, the first thing you experience when encountering such a site is vertigo; the second symptom is paralysis; the third, an impulse to flee. Admittedly, designing a storefront can be a tricky, nuanced task, but if a potential customer is immediately stunned into immobility, their next step is likely to be escape. And to be precise, the customer has just experienced the Hamlet Effect of poor web design.
Hamlet, as we know, was the ‘Prince of Inaction’. Overwhelmed by disorder and confusion, he fell victim to despair, paralysis – – and surely, despair and paralysis are the last symptoms we want our online clients to experience. It’s clear that customers won’t stay long at a site if they are not given a compelling reason to do so, but if they are over-stimulated or subjected to a chaotic storefront design, the net result may be the same: flight. And the last thing we want a customer to do is sigh and, echoing Hamlet, remark: "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this website."
How to Avoid the Hamlet Effect
Site aesthetics are important – and image and design are probably the first things to register in consumer awareness.
The goal of compelling, effortless navigation begins with three design principles: Organization, Precision and Restraint. Like an actor who overplays his part, an overwrought web page can blast potential customers into a state of confusion and immobility, and ultimately drive them elsewhere – on or offline. The following is a list of strategies designed to forestall this Hamlet Effect.
Sound Organization – Make your storefront manageable for the reader with streamlined directories and indexes that lead the customer directly to their shopping goal or specific area of interest. This may seem obvious, but one needs only a cursory survey of Internet sites to realize that the storefronts of many online companies overwhelm with disorganized content and unnecessary graphics. Sometimes, even the directories demand too much effort on the reader’s part. Here, subtlety is the key and calculated restraint is the modus operandi. Information is the whole point of your site: but content must be scaffolded in a strategic way that both welcomes and educates customers – and entices them to read on. A storefront should be streamlined, partitioned into a clear, cogent format that highlights exciting offers and provides manageable pathways that quickly guide customers to the products, services, and information they desire. If your site is complex, think about a catalogue search directory that can move a client directly to a product or product category. The sooner a customer feels oriented and in control, the better.
Economical Graphics – Providing dynamic, sharply designed graphics is essential in stimulating customer interest. However, over-stimulation and unrestrained art design can also invoke the Hamlet effect. Site aesthetics are important – and image and design are probably the first things to register in consumer awareness. But don’t fall in love with your graphics tools – and don’t let flash get in the way of content. Products should be displayed in an impressive, alluring fashion with the larger goal of organization in mind. Similarly, logos and design formats should remain consistent between pages so the customer stays oriented and on familiar terrain. Think of your page format in terms of branding by establishing a uniform and uniquely memorable template.
Here, another factor in avoiding the Hamlet Effect is: never try the patience of your customer. Animated graphics, as impressive as they may seem, may test the attention span of clients – and many potential customers may not have the requisite connection speed to download fireworks – especially if your product is targeting an international market. So take the melodrama out of your graphics.
Content Excellence – Compelling, clear, professionally written product copy is of utmost importance. If your storefront does not exude expertise and professionalism, potential customers will sense it – so all copy must be tight, compact, forceful. Content should create a tangible image in your customer’s imagination and should explain the virtues of your product. Always remember who your audience is and adapt your writing style accordingly. Profession- alism and clear evidence of human care are the first steps in establishing your online credibility and gaining the trust of the buying public – and sloppy or disorganized writing signals a fundamental weakness that may undermine consumer confidence.
Lastly, if customer action is your goal, give your customers an incentive to act. Unlike Hamlet, you don’t want your customer waiting till Act V to make a move. Once your site is organized and streamlined for business, provide a call to action – appeal to emotion – give customers a reason to make a move. Offer a crisp text button that says more than just "order". Provide a language of action. If you are selling Star Trek paraphernalia or Science Fiction, give your audience a Make It So button. Again, adapt your language to your target audience. Be unique, dramatic, and offer a clear incentive to act.
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