child standing in front of vending  machine looking at all of the choices
PHOTO: Egor Myznik

Designing a website can at times feel like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. A busy website, one laden with flashy graphics and excessive choices, can overwhelm customers. Too few choices may result in missed sales opportunities. What's the perfect medium?

We spoke with marketers and website designers for their advice on how to balance having enough choices without too many.

'Fast, Responsive, Intuitive'

“For a web design to be successful, it needs to be fast, responsive, and intuitive so users find what they need quickly,” said Brian Cairns, CEO of ProStrategix Consulting. “It is easy to get caught up in all the design and performance that we lose sight of why people use websites. Hubspot reports that 70% of users say ‘finding what I need quickly’ is the most important attribute of a website. A similar study by the NN Group found that 60% of users bounce because they can’t find what they need.”

A website must have a clear vision of what people are looking to find, and a means to get them there as quickly as possible, Cairns said. First through clear navigation. Then, by clear page design with a clear information hierarchy where the most important items are largest and the least important are smallest. 

Even though Amazon offers an overwhelming amount of choices, it does so through a clear, focused organizational structure, Cairns said. “If you log-in, you see that its organizational structure is pretty clear. The first box to the left (what you see after the header) is recommendations for you. Even if you browse that whole page, the moment you make a choice, that second page is laser-focused on that choice, and you can buy immediately from it. You can be in and out in 30 seconds — fast, responsive, and intuitive.”

Related Article: How Information Architecture Improves Customer Experience

Keep Important Details Above the Fold

“Above the fold” is a newspaper term for starting important articles on the top half of a page, particularly the front page and front pages of different sections.

The idea also applies to website design, said Justin Smith, CEO of OuterBox. “Keep your most important information 'above the fold' so a buyer doesn't have to scroll to see your call to action (CTA). Above the fold refers to the part of the page that loads as soon as you open the page so it’s always a good idea to keep your main product highlights, an image, and information on how to buy, front and center. If the information displayed on the initial page load doesn't capture the buyer's attention, there's a good chance they are going to bounce from your page and continue searching elsewhere."

Smith also recommended consolidating category pages where it makes sense — consider if you really need a separate category for women's soccer shoes, women's tennis shoes and women's basketball shoes, or if you could just use "women's athletic shoes" instead. While it's great to get really specific with your content, having too many category pages clutters your navigation, making it more difficult for users to navigate. When it comes to your category pages, it's a balance of being specific and targeted without creating unnecessary clutter.

Related Article: Design Ecommerce Experiences to Handle Increasing Demand

Eliminate UI/UX Elements With Lowest Conversion Rates

Good tracking is necessary to analyze click-through reports of every possible user’s click and other actions, said Gleb Hodorovskyi, co-founder of Conversionrate.store. “But don’t delete elements based on those reports alone, as correlation doesn't always mean a cause-and-effect relationship. So make an alternative simplified version of web-design based on collected data and then A/B test its impact.”

Hodorovskyi also advised against blindly follow UX best practices. For example, many CRO and UX experts recommend having only one call-to-action per page. But users may have a number of goals and jobs to get done. Or people may prefer different solutions to accomplish the same goal.

Related Article: Design Workshops Are Killing Your Design

Big Website Trends for 2021

Advances in AI technology and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on how customers use the internet are two chief influencers shaping website design in 2021, said Brian Byer, vice president and general manager of Blue Fountain Media, a Pactera EDGE Company. The five most dominate trends he is seeing:

  1. Algorithmic experiences: Standard practices developed around a passive user experience will give way to those that help place users in the driver seat.  Algorithms will facilitate a user-centric, immersive, experience, responding to the increasingly sophisticated demands of web site navigators. Watch for website design to be less about engaging looking pages and more about anticipating the needs of users and extending their capabilities to do what they want, when they want to.
  2. Parallax is fading in popularity: Users have since found the technique of moving backgrounds interferes with page navigation and readability (especially on desktops and laptops). Parallax, when used creatively, can make for an engaging landing page, but using it for anything other than that will probably send your site visitors bouncing off to a competitor’s site.
  3. Increased recognition of Dark Mode Users: Mobile device makers are encouraging users to choose “dark mode” to help conserve battery usage on their devices. And users are complying. For website designers, this provides a new opportunity to let your important design images “pop” against the black background. Use it strategically to capture more engagement and improve page navigation.
  4. Embrace customer transparency: To feed the algorithms that ultimately facilitate a better, more personalized user experience, you need to collect information about your customers at virtually every touch point. It’s important to know customers, but equally important to be transparent about the information you are collecting and why you are collecting it. Not only is this a regulatory requirement; it also makes good business sense. Users value a brand that is forthcoming about its data collections methods.
  5. Modular design and dev elements rule: An emerging best practice is to enable reusable modules that can be deployed across various enterprise web properties — without starting over. The key is that these modules will be readily modifiable by the users, to create distinct interface options and user experiences — without disrupting the apple cart.  

Related Article: Immersive Experiences: Be There or Be Left Behind