One of the key goals of most websites is to communicate information – whether that’s information on your business’ services, your club’s events, or just a hobby you may have. Websites, however, are a passive form of information – your visitors need to read your information, watch your videos, and click your links… and the moment they leave your site, it’s no longer communicating that information.
So, logically, you want your visitors to stay on your site for as long as possible – this is why web developers pay such close attention to stats about the average length of a visit, and the ‘bounce rate’ (the number of visitors who see only your home page, and then leave immediately.) A well-made website should have a higher length of visit, and a lower bounce rate. So how do you make that happen?
The old adage ‘first impressions last’ is definitely applicable here. A quick google search will return pages of results on the subject. I’m not going to just reiterate what has written before, but this is one of the key factors in lowering the bounce rate, and it’s worth looking into.
More and more standout sites, though, are adopting unique and novel ways to present information in a way that engages their visitors, and keeps them on the site for longer. For business, this means a greater chance of converting a potential client into a sale. A lot of it ties into the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words – have a look at www.useit.com/ – and notice that whilst this site is a wealth of information, if it was a business site, it would see a very low conversion rate purely because it looks unappealing.
At the simplest end of the spectrum, imagery and videos placed properly create a visually engaging page with information presented in a variety of ways. At Morgan Creare, we actually offer ‘video presenters‘, made by our web video team, which communicate their information far more naturally than text – with a person speaking.
This doesn’t mean you should do away with text entirely – some information simply cannot be conveyed effectively using text, and a page that relies on images too heavily can easily become as visually distracting as one that contains none at all. Text also makes it easier to organise information, and is a lot faster to load than videos. It’s best to have a properly balanced combination of these three elements for the best effect.
Another aspect that can greatly increase engagement in a site is interactivity. This, however, needs to be used sparingly, according the the target demographic of your site. Younger web users tend to be more at ease with complex or unusual interfaces than older users, and if the interactivity gets in the way of usability or becomes frustrating to the user, they may leave on the spot.
The National LGBT Museum website is a good example of a site with interactivity that has simple fallbacks (the ordinary navigation bar at the top) to prevent confusion. The content is delivered in small but meaningful amounts which don’t overwhelm the visitor, and the use of a variety of imagery keeps the site visually interesting.
Both of the previous points, though, are somewhat mainstream in their application. Modern media has meant a much wider range of possibilities, and if appropriate to your site/business, they are well worth a look. This article on Kill Screen Daily is a very clever review of the PlayStation game Ico. Instead of an ordinary box of text interspersed with with a few pictures, like an ordinary review, it’s almost made into a game, unlocked by solving a number of simply puzzles and following breadcrumbs. By engaging the user so actively, it’s ensuring they will want to get to the end.
Obviously, this technique would not be suitable, for instance, on a website about window installations, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand – the writer knew his target demographic (gamers) and set out to engage them. Many users may find this site confusing, but for someone who is interested in the game Ico, it’s just right.
Ben the Bodyguard and http://danielsternlicht.com/ also use this game concept to great effect in presenting their information (about an Iphone app, and a developer’s portfolio, respectively) – importantly, they have fallbacks for users who aren’t interested in the game versions.
This cross-media integration means the web is becoming richer and richer. A nuclear fuel company called Urenco actually had an entire standalone game made for mobile devices to add another facet to their website.
On a more practical note, the rise of mobile hardware and browsing software such as IE10 Metro, and the increasing number of people surfing the net on their phones, new possibilities are rapidly becoming available. Metro boasts support for ‘flicks’ (swiping your finger across a touchscreen) and tilting the screen – meaning you could now do things like navigating though a site without clicking a thing. Iphones already support things like intuitive zooming and reorienting the view based on the tilt as well.
These new techniques and possibilities mean that many current sites will, in the future, become as out-dated as the text-heavy, static, colourless websites of the last decade – and outdated sites never inspire confidence in the company they represent. Web developers need to continue to push boundaries, think outside the box, and innovate, or they will end up outdated as well.