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Why web designers should watch out for a woman in a gorilla suit

Published on December 17, 2008
Tags: Usability

Most good web designers already know the principles of good design, usability and which areas of a page will get the most attention. But how many give consideration to the woman in the gorilla suit?

For those of you that have watched Brainiac on the Discovery Channel, or can go back further to the study by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University you'll probably already know what I'm talking about. For everyone else, here's the quick recap;

A study was conducted whereby subjects watched a short video of two groups of people passing a basketball around. The subjects were told to count the number of passes made between the groups. During the video, a woman wearing a full gorilla suit walks through the scene, stops in the middle, faces the camera, beats her chest and then walks off. You'd think that's something you couldn't miss, right? Wrong. 50% of the subjects didn't see her at all because her presence wasn't expected and the focus of attention was elsewhere (counting the basketball passes). Arien Mack and Irvin Rock coined this phenomenon as inattentional blindness.

Wikipedia defines inattentional blindness as follows:

'... humans have a limited capacity for attention which thus limits the amount of information processed at any particular time. Any otherwise salient feature within the visual field will not be observed if not processed by attention.'

What's the relevance to web design? Hopefully, that's already becoming clear. When a site visitor reaches a web site they may well have an expectation of what they will find. It might be an expectation with respect to where they find the navigation on the page, or where they expect to find some particular information or product. Their expectation will likely be the focus of their attention. And if that expectation isn't met then they could well just move on to the next site - not ideal if your web site is meant to be generating you income.

Anyone involved in the design of a web site therefore needs to take care. Creating something 'out of the ordinary' in design terms might look wonderfully contemporary but if your visitor is expecting to find a left-aligned menu bar and instead the navigation is a small box in the right hand corner of the screen (OK - I'm being extreme to make the point) then that may be an instant block to them considering the site further. Why? Because their focus of attention is expecting the menu to be on the left hand side and if it's not then they simply may not see it anywhere else.

Let's face it - how many times have you visited a web site and couldn't find something even when it was practically right in front of your eyes. I know I have and I spend 12 hours a day on the Internet!

Similarly, overloading a page with content, graphics and links without consideration to visitors' thought processes will have a similarly negative effect. Consider if they are focused on finding 'Bed Socks' and on your site you have lots of text, graphics and links - one of which states 'Keeping your feet warm at night' that takes the visitor to a page on bed socks. How many mental steps does the visitor need to go through to find that link? First, they have to move their attention away from 'bed socks' to the problem - 'Why do I want bed socks? Because I've got cold feet in bed'. If they don't manage that shift, and because their focus of attention is honed in on 'bed socks' they may not even see your link. If they do make that attention shift to the problem, then they need to move to think about the solution to the problem - 'How can I keep my feet warm at night'. Then, finally they can search the page, might find the link and click on it. That's a long process and they might just give up trying. This particular problem might easily have been solved with a link 'Bed socks to keep your feet warm at night'.

I'm not for one moment saying that we should go out and created cloned web sites that are all the same. Simply, that we need to give due consideration to our visitors' focus of attention; that we must gear the sites we design to be as simple and straightforward as possible, with information laid out and presented in such a way that it is clear, consistent, unambiguous and able to match well with that focus.

By Chelsey Evans

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10 Secrets to Writing Web Site Copy that Sells

Published on March 25, 2008
Tags: Web Design London

It doesn't matter whether you are selling a product or a service, writing the copy for your web site is probably the most important thing you can do. It must communicate. It must persuade. It must sell! The average web visitor doesn't hang around long on a site. So, creating an impact in a few seconds is the key to persuading them to stay longer, investigate your products, and BUY!

  1. "What's in it for me"?

    Many web sites provide lots of detailed information about the company, their products, how excellent they are, and so on. But, why should the visitor buy? Let's take a hypothetical example:

    "The speedy hoover is 50% more powerful and cleans in half the time".

    This is a great feature but what can it do for the customer? For every product and service you sell, first sit down and figure out the benefits to your potential customers. Will it change their lifestyle? Will it save them money? Will it make them the most stylish person in the neighbourhood? Two quick answers for the example above might be more free time to do other things, and floors so clean they are the envy of the neighbours. Use phrases like "which means that you" or "so that you" to help link the features of your product or service to the benefits.

  2. Use a powerful heading

    Start your page with a powerful heading - draw the visitor into the page of information. Make sure, though, that the heading is a benefit not a feature. So, for example, using the example above a heading might read:

    "FREE to Every Busy Homeworker
    4 Hours A Week To Enjoy Yourself"

    Notice that every word in the heading is in capitals. This help to make sure that it is emphasized from the main part of the page.

  3. Draw them in with a sub-heading

    So you've written a powerful heading, now back it up with a sub-heading because the next logical question will be "Why? or How?".

    So, following with our theme:

    "Because When You Own a Speedy Hoover,
    You Will Hardly Ever Use It!"

    Then, you are ready to complete the main body of the page. But remember, always back your product features up with benefits. It is these that will sell!

  4. Write as you speak!

    Don't try to "formalise" your web site if that is not how you speak to your customers. Be conversational. Write as you would speak to them. Use small, easy-to-read words as there is less opportunity for confusion and misunderstandings.

  5. Avoid jargon

    Write at a level your audience will understand. For example, we sell web hosting. But, if we stated "You can use PHP, ASP, SQL", many of our potential customers would walk away - and who could blame them! Use language that is graded to your readers, that will make sense to them, and in which they can see the benefits to them of your product or service.

  6. Watch your width

    Why do newspapers have columns? It is not purely for aesthetic reasons, it is to do with readability. Reading a very long line of text is visually unappealing. Very often, the reader will get bored before the end of the line, and skip the message altogether. As a rule of thumb, keep your line length to less than 65 characters. It's true that with bigger monitors you have all that extra space, but that doesn't mean you have to use it!

    Go and have a look at a newspaper, magazine, or book and count the number of characters in a line and the importance will become apparent!

  7. Keep it clean

    Keep your copy short, and sharp. Don't waffle. If you can say it in one word, don't say it in ten. For example, why say "At this point in time" when you can say "Today"? Less words means an easier time for your reader - your potential customer. Start the page with your biggest benefit and work down from there. Split text with bullets, paragraphs, and subheadings to encourage readability.

  8. Let your clients speak

    Your existing clients can be your best salespeople - so use them. If they have been happy with your product or service, don't be afraid to ask them for a testimonial. Never make them up though!

    Don't place all your testimonials on one page where the potential client might miss them, but intersperse them into your pages so that they become part of your sales message.

  9. What do you want?

    OK, so your potential customer has got to the end of the page. They're excited by what you are offering. Now what? What should they do? Tell them - don't let them guess. Would you like them to order now? To book a no obligation discussion? To telephone your free phone number? Don't be afraid to ask!

  10. Proofread!

    Obvious, but so often missed. Once you have proofread your site give it to a friend or colleague to do. If you can, give it to several people. Ask them for feedback and don't be afraid to take some criticism. Before releasing your pages, sounding it against some trusted friends can make all the difference. Maybe they'll spot a typo you missed, or maybe they think the copy could be improved in one or two places. Their help could be invaluable before you launch your pages on the global community!

By Chelsey Evans

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New UK legislation could mean you need to update your web site and emails

Published on January 2, 2007
Tags: Web Site Law

On 1 January 2007, new legislation came into effect that could mean changes to the information you currently include on your web site and in emails you send out.

This article is to advise you of the information that you must include on your web site and in emails as a UK statutory requirement. The new legislation only applies to limited companies although if you sell goods or services online then previous legislation also applies even if you are not a limited company.

Business Emails

All business emails must now include:

  • Company registration number
  • Place of company registration
  • Registered office address
  • Business Web Site Address

All business web sites must include the following. These do not need to be on every page and can be limited to an 'About Us' or 'Contact Us' page.

  • Your company name and trading name, if different. Any difference should be explained; for example "ABC Widgets is the trading name of ABC Enterprises Limited."
  • Company registration number, place of registration and registered office address
  • VAT number (even if the site is not being used for e-commerce)
  • Membership details of any trade or professional associations
  • Privacy policy and general site terms and conditions.

E-Commerce Web Sites

All web sites that trade goods, services or information online must also include the following. These requirements apply even if you are not a limited company.

  • Geographic Address. If you are a company this can be your registered address. If you are not, this must be a full postal address. A P.O. Box address is not sufficient.
  • Email address. Even if you have a contact form an email address must be provided.
  • Terms and conditions that form part of the purchase contract with the ability for the customer to print or save them.
  • Details of the technical steps required to complete the purchase
  • An option to prevent personal details being stored and used for marketing purposes.

What You Should Do Next

  • Examine your web site and emails to make sure that you comply with the above. You should look not only at emails you send from your mail software, but also any emails that your web site automatically generates.

  • Contact us if you require any changes made to your site or email templates. We will then provide you with a small quotation for any changes required.

  • We can also undertake a full assessment of your site for £99 excl. VAT. The assessment will normally be completed within 5 working days and we will then provide you with a report of any missing information together with a small quotation for any work needed to update the site. Again, please contact us if you are interested in this service.

By Chelsey Evans

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Where's the Flash?

Published on June 15, 2006
Tags: Web Design London

By the time you reach this web site it is likely that you have already visited a significant number of other web design sites. On many of them, you have probably been met with a beautiful and enticing Flash presentation that enriches the site, but Ampheon don't have one - why? It is because we can't do Flash perhaps, or do we have a valid reason for omitting it? Read on to find out...

Think of this real world analogy - you want to go shopping, you know exactly what you want to buy, and now simply want to go to various stores to get the best deal and the best service. In some stores you walk right in and find the product you want, sometimes a friendly shop assistant helps you too. In others, when you walk in you are told to watch a 30-second television advertisement about what the store can offer you - only then will you be allowed to locate and purchase your product. In this scenario, which store are you more likely to buy from?

This analogy paints a very real picture as to how many web designers feel Flash should be used. It also gives a real indication as to how the majority of Internet surfers feel. It has been demonstrated that the average Internet surfer will wait no more than 15-20 seconds for a site to load - if their Internet connection is costing them money, the last thing they want to do is spend unnecessary time locating the information or products they need. So, by adding a 30-second Flash presentation to the front of a web site, you are likely to lose many potential customers before the Flash clip has even finished - would you really want to do that? Would you want to stop customers as they walk into your store and say "hang on, before you can buy, you must watch this video". How many people will walk right out again?

Flash is currently being used very much like television advertising - to promote a brand, a product, or the company. But where do you watch television advertising - on TV of course, and at the cinema. You don't watch it as you walk into you local store prior to buying something because by that time you already know what you want! Unfortunately, the medium of television advertising and the medium of the Internet advertising have become a little confused in this respect.

This is not to say that Flash does not have its place on the web - it does. It is just not the best medium to promote a web site if you are aiming to sell something on your site. Flash is great if you have a strong brand (such as Vodafone or Coca Cola), where you are able to use Flash to promote that brand. It is also good where you already hold a large market share and want to highlight your product (such as motor manufacturers). On education, gaming, and some business-to-business sites, it can be used to great effect to enhance the visitor experience. But, if you are in a competitive market where time is truly paramount, don't build a brick wall in front of your potential customers that they must first navigate, because more than likely they will leave and go to the next web site - your competitor!

In a real-life example, one of our clients asked for a 20 second Flash presentation to be integrated into the main front page of the site. It was to load alongside the menu bar and the page graphics. We informed them that this would slow down the site load time, but they asked to proceed. A few months later they came back and asked us to remove it - why? Because their potential customers had e-mailed the client complaining that the Flash was slowing down the site and they couldn't be bothered to wait (moreover, the visitors were so irritated, they actually wrote to tell the client!). We removed the Flash - instantly the amount of time each visitor spent on the web site increased dramatically - the visitor experience actually became better when we removed the very thing that the client thought would improve it!

The final concern is the search engines. If you build a beautiful site in Flash, with all your site links in Flash, remember that none of the search engines can read Flash files. As such, they will be unable to navigate through your site, and therefore your site will not be indexed. What does this mean? It means that the chances of you being able to obtain a top-listed site on the search engines, and that is able to attract large amounts of visitors are significantly reduced.

So, when choosing your web design company to prepare your web site, think carefully if they recommend using Flash on the site. Are they offering you just a beautiful site that will live on the Internet, but that nobody will actually want to visit, or are they offering you a site that people will also be able to find and will want to buy from.

By Chelsey Evans

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First impressions count on the web

Published on March 1, 2006
Tags: Web Design London

"Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors"

Professor Gitte Lingaard
Carleton University, Ottawa
Source: Nature Journal

A study in January 2006 suggests that visitors to your web site will make up their minds about the quality of your company within a twentieth of a second - that's not a lot of time to make your first impression!

So, take a close look at your current web site. First, the design needs to be usable, and easy-to-navigate. Imagine that you know nothing about your organisation, and then take a look at your site with fresh eyes. Can you understand how to get to the site information immediately upon arrival? Can you understand from the site text what it is you do? Did you have to wait for ages for the site to load because your site is running on slow servers, or because your site is graphics-heavy? All of these things need careful consideration, and as a starting checklist we recommend:

  • If you're not comfortable writing the text for your site, employ a copywriter. You only get one fleeting chance to impress a site visitor and the first couple of paragraphs they read will be the most crucial.

  • Are your web servers fast and reliable? If ýour site doesn't start to load within 1-2 seconds from the moment you enter your web page address until the moment the site text or images first become visible in your web browser, consider moving to a new hosting company.

  • Does your site load quickly or are there lots of images or animated Flash files to download? If your site loads slowly because it is image-heavy, consider optimising your images (making the file sizes smaller without compromising quality), removing some unnecessary images, or having the server cache the images. Be critical - images should serve a purpose; if the images aren't necessary to support the page, then you probably don't need them.

  • Does the design look professional and better than your competitors? With the global nature of the Internet you need to stand out - your potential site visitors will judge you by the quality of your site. Does your site look professional? Is it better than those of your nearest competitors (the sites that rank closest to you on the search engines)? If the answer is no, consider having your site redesigned - image is everything. You don't necessarily have to have the flashiest, most animated site - but you do need to have a site that will appeal to the visitors you want to attract.

If all of this goes over your head, or you just don't have the time to dedicate to looking at your site this closely, no problem. We're here to help and can give you a clear assessment on the current state of your site, and what would benefit from improvement. We've undertaken hundreds of projects to upgrade sites, probably just like yours, so contact us today for a free no-obligation discussion.

By Chelsey Evans

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Disclaimer: The contents of these articles are provided for information only and do not constitute advice. We are not liable for any actions that you might take as a result of reading this information, and always recommend that you speak to a qualified professional if in doubt.

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