Small businesses are notoriously stingy in their use of online ad and marketing technologies - oftentimes for the very practical reason that they have limited resources to invest. One area where they shouldn't hold back, however, is in their ultimate landing page: their website.
A recent survey showed how quickly visitors judge a site's creditability based on its design, writes Brooke Howell, SmartBrief's small-business editor, in a blog post. According to comments made by Tiffany Jonas, president of Aio Design, during a presentation at the National Association of Women Business Owners' 2010 Women’s Business Conference, 75% of web users admit to making such judgments, with some researchers finding that 50 milliseconds is the average amount of time render a decision about the visual design.
Tips she offers for sites to look legitimate and customer-friendly include shying away from pay-for-click ads as well as unprofessional or clichéd images. It is also important to have a site that is intuitive to navigate as well as easy-to-find privacy policies and general corporate information.
On the other hand, sites should weigh any decisions to change design carefully - assuming the changes are not fixes to obvious errors or bad design. Users are notoriously resistant to change, especially if a site has become familiar. Just ask Facebook, which routinely has dealt with user complaints over its changes. A more recent example is Google' short-lived introduction of screen-sized photos on its front page. It was unclear whether this was an experiment, or a 24-hour initiative - but Google was bombarded with complaints from users when it sprung the giant photos on them without warning.
"I am on Google a gazillion times a day and was shocked at the drastic 360 they took with the new background pages," Terri Slater, president of Healthy Lifestyle Publicity told TechNewsWorld. "Do not like at all. No reason for it as far as I can see. [It is] distracting and of no value."
What Google had was working, Paula Selvidge, VP of PerfectForms, told TechNewsWorld. The white, stark front page - and the doodles - was its brand and they forged an emotional connection with users. "I really think Google underestimates how much people look to the doodles," she said. Google may have been thinking that more customization options would make the page stickier, she guessed - "but I think this is an error."
Not that most small businesses have even a fraction of Google's traffic. However, it wouldn’t hurt for them to consider decision-making methodologies for design changes that large shops use. Formalizing the decision-making process can be very effective in the design process, writes Smashing Magazine, which lays out in excellent detail several processes and how they can be applied to the design process. "Most people in the Web design industry regularly work on teams, whether with other designers and developers or clients. These collaborations often come with very large communication barriers, such as remote working and teleconferencing and even language differences, each of which has its own problems."