Effective Web site Communication - Part 1

Challenges to developing clear communication on a website
In order to build a website that effectively and clearly communicates with visitors, a number of challenges need to be overcome. Not all websites are the same, so challenges may differ from one website to the next, but the challenges discussed below are some of the most common (Smashing Magazine).

1. Too Much Content One of the biggest challenges that designers have to overcome is simply deciding on the amount of content and information to use. Of course, having a lot of quality information is a good thing, but it can also get in the way and make it difficult to communicate clearly with visitors. In many cases, websites with less content have an easier time effectively communicating a particular message to visitors because there is no excess to get in the way.

Think Web 2.0... sites such as Flickr, Facebook, and even blogger.

Simplicity is key. By trying to fit a lot of content onto a page, the website owner can very easily create a cluttered page that confuses visitors. Primary messages are often overpowered by the busy-ness of a page, and sometimes the content may even send mixed or unclear messages.

From my experience, so many sites built with Content Management Systems run into this problem. It takes a lot of consideration and strategy to determine the main messages and prepare verbiage that is clear, concise and makes sense to the average visitor. Web maintenance and updates should be given the same consideration.

Every Visitor is Different!! When developing websites, one needs to keep in mind that each visitor is unique and that it is impossible to classify all of them in the same group. Websites are designed with their target audience in mind, but even within that group of users, some diversity will still exist. These differences can have an impact on the communication of the website, because not every visitor will respond in the same way or understand the same messages.

How are visitors different? Demographics, age and sex are important factors. Beyond demographics, not every visitor will have the same purpose in visiting the website. They may be looking for different things or have different agendas on the website. Visitors will also come from a variety of sources, and visitors from one source will not always have the same characteristics as visitors from another source. Additionally, not all of your visitors will have the same level of knowledge of the subject of your website. All of these things make each visitor unique, and they all have an impact on the communication between the website and the user.

Another factor to consider is user personality types: functional, sensory, or social. This means your navigation must be clear, information/text must be relevant, and the imagery around this all must be attractive and inviting.

Clarity
Communicating through a website is easy. Every website communicates in a number of different ways, even unintentionally. Communicating with clarity, on the other hand, is much more of a challenge. Because of the short amount of time that a new visitor is likely to spend on a website before leaving, there is a strong need for the website to quickly and clearly communicate. In order for a message to be clear, there must be a clear purpose and priority of the website that is understandable to the visitor; there must not be too much noise or clutter; and the message must be communicated in a way that it can be understood by the visitor.

Sounds tough, right? Your web designer should be able to offer recommendations and a content editor can help strategize the exact wording.

Keeping Communication Brief, But Complete
Because of the need for clarity and the benefits of communicating quickly, there are advantages to keeping messages as short and concise as possible. A brief, clear message will generally be most effective for communicating quickly online. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as situations where in-depth articles are used to provide detailed information to visitors who are interested in such information. Keeping a message brief and complete is a major challenge. One of the reasons taglines are so effective is that they can communicate something significant about the company or the website in a brief statement that, ideally, leaves a memorable impression on the visitor.

Proper use of bullet points, heading and sub-headings also help with message clarity.

Having Personality
Online communication is unlike forms of communication that allow face-to-face interaction between two people. In online communication, the human visitor receives a message from a website, not directly from a person. However, the most effective communication generally occurs on websites that show some kind of personality in that communication. The website is a representation of the company or the person behind it, and showing that in the communication is important.

Digital Mash, the portfolio website of designer Rob Morris, shows some personality with the tagline “Hero for Hire.” While there are tons of designer portfolio websites out there, Rob’s stands out in part because this statement shows some personality. 

Graphics and overall design should demonstrate your personality. Other elements, such as Flash or Javascript developed interactive pieces help show personality and add interest for the end-user.

Not Overpowering the Communication with the Design
The design and appearance of a website should be used strategically to enhance the message of the website, but it can also become an overpowering element that hinders communication. The content of the website is of primary importance, while the appearance of the website should be used to make the visit more pleasant, memorable and easier. The design of a website should not become a priority over the content, or else the website will suffer in usability.

Web design should be created to compliment and enhance the message, not the other way around.

Getting and Keeping Attention
If you have an audience with a very short attention span and that is quick to close the browser or visit another website, getting and keeping its attention is a necessary prerequisite to effective communication. This also goes back to the issue of having a clear and concise message that communicates to visitors before they get confused or bored with the website. If visitors arrive at a website and cannot easily understand its purpose or what it offers them, they’re likely to move elsewhere.

It is also relevant to consider page load-time also here. These days, most users have a quick speed Internet connection, but heavy images or other elements may lose the attention of your audience before your page even finishes loading!

Article Source: Steven Snell on Smashing Magazine outlined the importance and breakdown of clear and effective communication online. It is worth repeating the key points. This information is relevant to any and all web sites with a purpose.

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Contact TBH Creative for professional, full-service web site solutions. TBH Creative is based in Indianapolis, Indiana and specializes in web design and creating effective online messages.
Tatum

About the author | Tatum Hindman

Tatum is the president of TBH Creative and is responsible for building long-term client relationships. She enjoys the strategy behind web design and sitting down with clients to define online marketing goals. She likes to blog about questions or topics that clients ask about as well as sharing new tricks.

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