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Sorry, but I think your website is too busy!

Sorry, but I think your website is too busy!

By Jim Thompson

As website design has matured I hear these comments more and more often when presenting sites

  • “I love the design, but I/we think it’s too busy” or
  • “It needs to be more simple or clean” or
  • “There’s too much going on” or
  • “I’ve shown it to a few people and they don’t know where to go.”

It’s something that happens too often to be ignored and I’m intrigued by the reasons why people have this reaction when I don’t.

A few things perplex me. Like, “too busy” – what does that really mean anyway and what are they basing their opinions on, are they seeing something that I don’t?

I could take offence, thinking that they’re saying the information architecture is wrong, or the design is bad, or not thought through by people who are experts in the field, but I’m sure that’s not what they’re thinking.

My anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s because it’s being viewed in the wrong context. Primarily, it’s not being viewed or used as the target audience would view and use it.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind next time you’re involved in a new website development project.

View it with a purpose – like your target audience would

There are only 2 reasons someone is visiting your site, to answer a question, or solve a problem they have. They’re not just landing on your homepage and looking at it like you are, as the owner of a shiny new website.

Would your target audience really come to just browse around or to look at a nice clean creative design? No, hopefully, they’re visiting your site because they actually want something from you.

My best example of this is when, some time back, a past client emailed the new designs for an unnamed hospital website to the management team and asked for their feedback – nearly everyone said it was “too busy.” Why? Because they were looking at it without a purpose. I asked for it to be resent to the same people, but this time with a few calls to action i.e. ask people to find out what the visiting hours are in the maternity department. Everyone found it within a couple of clicks no problem. If that’s why you were visiting the site it was in no way too busy.

So, right from the start, work out what it is your target audience wants and what you want them to do and architect the site that way. It should be to generate new business opportunities and/or provide a service.

Remember, your target audience is most likely not going to be other marketing managers.

Maybe you have a lot going on and a lot to say

If you’re busy, complex and full of life then why try and hide that behind a wall?  Expose it, turn the organisation inside out! Demonstrate and expose your knowledge, look busy if you are!

What will deliver you more new business?

What do you think will deliver more business, a clean, cosmetically beautiful website or one that answers questions, solves problem and makes the user want to come back because it has good valuable content? In a B2B context, who would really put form over substance when looking for a provider of your services?

If you present professionally I don’t really care how clean your website looks, in fact it might even turn me off, if I really think you can help me I’ll call you.

Care more about what you say than what you look like

If we all cared as much about our positioning, content and what we say, as much as what we look like then our online presences would be far more effective.

When was the last time you decided not to engage with something or someone you were genuinely interested in because their website, in your opinion, was “too busy”? Did you ever even think that?

My honest answer is, I can’t ever remember doing that.

Yet, I have been turned off because of:

  • poor graphic design;
  • obvious lack of effort and seriousness about their online presence;
  • over-the-top creative;
  • outdated content;
  • not being able to articulate what the business does or its points of difference;
  • reading the same stuff everyone else says; and
  • never-ending menu trees with clever words that mean nothing to me.

Are menu trees really a better option?

If you’re an organisation of some complexity, with lots to say, then why would you want a “clean” homepage, what does that mean?

It means lots of menus, and there’s nothing worse than having to drill down through endless menu trees with meaningless or obscure titles. Give me calls to action, boxes and graphic elements or in other words “busy” any day. People don’t think in hierarchies so don’t structure yourself that way.

Websites have moved beyond menu and hierarchical site-maps.

They may be handy, but a user shouldn’t need to rely on breadcrumbs, a search box or a site-map to find what they’re looking for if they do then that’s an indication of bad design and unclear calls to action.

Your audience is smarter than you think

Pay your target audience more respect. They are (in most cases) smarter and able to navigate better than you give them credit for, they don’t need “clean”, just like you don’t.

Did someone have to give you a manual to work out how to navigate eBay, Facebook, The Age, Amazon? These some of the “busiest” sites there are.

Be objective, not subjective

Trust the experts. If you know more about web usability, information architecture and design than the people you’ve engaged to do the work for you, you’ve hired the wrong people.

Your developer is on the outside and therefore should be more objective than you are despite how hard you try.

There you go, I hope this has helped give you a different perspective and some key messages to take away are.

We all use the internet, but we all have different tastes and differing opinions on what we think makes a great website. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes, think calls to action, use cases and viewing with a purpose, you’ll probably see that your site isn’t “too busy” after all.

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