Why your website layout matters

Posted:  November 29th, 2012 by:  Laura comments:  1

From a usability perspective, layout has always been important.  If the tasks people come to do the most often are hidden, people leave your site, frustrated.  Recently, with the advent of mobile devices of all kinds, layout has also taken on a different facet:  it now has to not put up barriers to those using such gadgets and, ideally, present them with something better suited for them, entirely.

However, there’s an ongoing design trend that many libraries have embraced:  that of adding all kinds of widgets, icons, logos and graphics to the sides of their sites.  Many of these come from library vendors and services, and often they represent a more professional level of graphics than may occur in the rest of the website’s design.  However, aside from the fact that this usually makes for cluttered interface, there’s some very real reasons to reconsider this practice.

  1. Banner blindness.  Banner blindness means that users never look at any item that looks anything like an advertisement, due to either its shape or position on the page. This applies to logos and icons positioned on the sides of websites—which is typical placement for many banner ads on the Web. Guess what many of those logos and widgets look like, to your library’s end users?  This concept has actually been around for some time.  Jakob Nielsen studied it in 2007.  In the image below, a series of eye tracking results taken from his findings, the areas in green are completely ignored (so are areas with no overlaying color except grey).  Notice that placement is only part of the problem; if something just looks like an ad, it gets ignored.
  2. Banner blindness examples

    “Selective attention is very powerful, and Web users have learned to stop paying attention to any ads that get in the way of their goal-driven navigation. “ —Usability expert Jakob Nielsen

  3. Google penalizes you.  Google actually has a ranking system (algorithm) that will lower your Google ranking in search results if your site is too ad-heavy.  The algorithm, called the Google Page Layout algorithm, was introduced (albeit somewhat quietly–I just found out about this myself) in January of this year.  From the official announcement: “Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.”

What does this mean to me, Laura?

  • Check your analytics.  (You have them, right?)  Chances are very good that those side widgets are not getting used.  In many cases, they don’t get any, or get a number so low you might feel like you’ve been duped into using them. Rethink the ROI on those icons and widgets.
  • Rethink “above the fold.”  I, myself, have built a fair number of sites with larger header graphics–after all, that’s a current design trend.  However, knowing what I know now, I will be more aggressive in terms of convincing libraries to avoid these.

What do you think about this?  Will you be taking a closer look at your library’s site layout?

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  • 1 Comment

    Posted By: Cisop Sixpence On: November 29, 2012 At: 3:18 pm

    Not only with websites, but I’ve noticed I do this with TV as well. Maybe not called banner blindness in this case, but it equates to the same thing. When the commercial comes on, I zone out, or in the case of annoying commercials walk out of the room. During the most recent political advertising campaign I just turned the TV off.

    On the plus side, I was able to catch up on some books I had been wanting to read.

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