Website Optimization Details - Visitor Design Expectations
TL;DR -Takeaways for the impatient
Psychologists tell us that people tend to see what they expect to see, and don't see things they don't expect 1 . This is as true on the web as anywhere else in our lives. When visitors arrive at a web page, they look for the things they expect to see - a company name or logo, a title that assures them they arrived a page related to their search or direct URL, easily recognized navigation, and some content of interest, laid out so they can quickly get the information they came to see. Those visitors, conditioned by hundreds or thousands of other websites, also expect to see things like headers, navigation and content where those other sites put them. If your business is music or art, you may be able to have a wildly experimental site, with navigation options in a circle, or a single button on the home page, but for most businesses, keeping to established patterns will work best.
There is also a negative side to seeing what we expect. For example, web visitors have generally been conditioned by ads on websites to ignore images and blocks of text on the right side of the screen. Like TV ads, people may often ignore such content. Your web designer should be aware of this and avoid putting important content in such locations.
You can find many recommendations about using color on websites. Some of these represent academic studies with sizeable samples and others result from testing a handful of people. In all cases, what works for your website is what works for your ideal customer. Your conversations with customers and representive prospects will inform design decisions on virtually everything in your website. Read about the ideal customer and building websites for your ideal customer.
You can also find many recommendations about using images - especially those of people. There was a time when virtually every hosting company's ads included a photo of an attractive young woman. Why? Most purchasers of hosting were young, male web designers. Again, what will work best for your audience is what works for your audience. Test with a different mix of images, and try to keep them related to your business and content. Most importantly, don't try to pass off stock photos as your employees. People who see that same business person in magazine ads aren't going to be impressed with your honesty2. Speaking of honesty, we all see images in marketing, on cars, on letterhead, well everywhere, that are clearly the property of a major company, from Wile E. Coyote to Superman. Please, don't even think about putting someone else's creation or photo on your website unless you have licensed that use. There are cases where you can get permission in advance, but it can be time-consuming and expensive. As Curtis Newbold (The Visual Communications Guy) says, "If in doubt, don't use the image!"3
1Joseph T. Hallinan, PsychologyToday.com, "We See What We Want To See" (2014), http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/kidding-ourselves/201404/we-see-what-we-want-see
2Ryan Doom, Webascender.com (2014), https://www.webascender.com/blog/shouldnt-use-stock-photos-business-website/
3Curtis Newbold, Thevisualcommunicationsguy.com (2014), https://thevisualcommunicationguy.com/2014/07/14/can-i-use-that-picture/
Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think, 3d Ed., New Riders, Berkeley, CA (2014) ISBN-10: 0321965515 Buy it on Amazon.com
George Plumley, Website Design and Development-100 Questions to ask Before building a website Wiley Publishing (2011) ISBN-10: 0470889527 Buy it on Amazon.com