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Make Your Own Rules

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, September 27, 2004

Must you annoy your visitors? Is there no way to avoid this?

No, there is not. But you only need to do so once. When you make your sales presentation. Of course the better it is, the less it will annoy. But in general, people do not rush into a sales pitch for the fun of it. There is at least hesitation. And often a sense of, "Darn. Here we go again."

In order to assure your visitors "agree" to read your presentation, it's critically important that all else on the site be clean, simple, and positive, without anything that may offend or irritate.

Discovering The Rules

Do you like blinking text on a website? Flashing banners?
I don't. But what you and I think about them is meaningless.The question is what do our visitors think about them.

There are lots of rules about website design. Lots of dos and don'ts. Unfortunately, on almost any point you are likely to find a considerable difference of opinion. Probably the best approach is to develop your own set of rules. It isn't all that hard to do. It requires honest thought, is all. By honest, I mean you must take yourself out of the picture, and think only of your visitors and target.

Collect Check Sites

Begin by checking your bookmark or favorites file. Move the URLs of those sites you believe your target would enjoy visiting into a separate folder. How many is enough? Hard to say. If you feel you need a couple more, go find them. And when you stumble upon another, be sure to add that URL. Whatever, these become your check sites. State a rule, then see if most of these sites follow it. If so, then live by it. If not, restate the rule.

Building A Rule

Back to blinking and flashy elements, it is clear many do not like them. Visit your check sites. Do they use them? Again, this takes more pondering than work. And again, it's a matter of looking at all from your target's point of view.

In this case you will probably note that blinking and flashy are not used much, if at all. If this is your finding, then our rule may be stated as: Don't use them unless you must.

Checking Colors

Consider colors. If you approach this honestly, you will find white or off-white is the preferred background color.
Does this mean your rule should be to use white?

Not really. But it does mean that if you choose a different background color, you will need to be extra careful elsewhere.

Making Your Own Rules

If you work at this a bit, you can come up with some neat notions of your own. For example, I was recently struggling to find a third shade of blue for a page template. I spent more time at it than I would care to admit.

While I do not know it is true, I suspect three shades of the same color on a web page means at least one will clash with one of the others.

Am I right? Can't say. I can say, however, that for me the rule is to not use more than two shades of the same color on the same page. I'll stand by this rule. But also remain open to changing it if I discover something better.

Don't Buck The System

Readability of content is an area often overlooked. It seems odd to me that this is so. Given all the drive behind getting youngsters to become good readers, be assured there are mountains of research. And that mountain has been growing for scores of years.

To not follow these rules is a great mistake. Don't listen to me on this point. Check it out with your list of sites and see what they are about. Do they use red text on a blue background? If not, you should not do so either? Do they have 100 characters in a line? If not, you should not either. (Incidently, the answer to this "quiz question" is 60!)

In short, use rules demonstrated to be correct.

Let's Get Comfortable

Forgetting rules and building good ones for a moment, let's look at comfort and such. In your list of check sites, you undoubtedly have some you like better than others. Pick a time when you are feeling aggressive or creative or both. Then visit each in turn. Try to answer questions such as the following.

Why do I like this site?
Why do I feel comfortable here?
Why do I want to stay a while?
What is it about this site that makes it special to me?
What makes me think these people are successful?
Why do I feel I can trust the business behind this site?

It's easy enough to add several dozen such questions, but hopefully the above gives the idea I had in mind.

To the degree you can answer such question and determine guidelines to be used on your site, you will be making great gains. I find this very difficult to do. But I also find it very enlightening. For me, it leads to ideas common to good sites. And these ideas lead to very helpful guidelines or rules I follow.

An Example

Visit some sites offering merchant accounts, or some way of taking credit cards. If you have struggled as many do in trying to find such a service, there's no reason to look again. Nothing has changed.

Now visit WellsFargo.Com . I don't know what your reaction will be, but I immediately felt several positive things. These people are for real. They are successful. And within seconds, I felt I could trust this operation.

All quite appropriate for a banking site. Also appropriate for mine. I spent quite a long time at WellsFargo.Com, trying to figure all the little bits and pieces that gave me such an immediate positive feeling.

What It Boils Down To

A lot of the rules we hear remind me of political sound bites. They don't give us a sufficient understanding without the context. I'm certain a lot of "rules" we hear, come from trying to answer questions such as those above. But there is not sufficient time or space to give the reasoning. So what we get is a rule without the context.

Rather than blindly following any rule, we can check it out and decide for ourselves. And in doing so we build our own set of rules. A set that collectively forces us to produce pages we are confident our target will enjoy.

When we then introduce them to our sales presentation, any annoyance that may arise, will quickly fade. If we have been bugging them since they arrived, they will never see our pitch, for they will have long since clicked off the site.

About the Author
Bob McElwain
Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe to "STAT News" now!
Web marketing and consulting since 1993
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Phone: 209-742-6783


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