Last month, I addressed one of the main questions I am asked by prospective clients, namely, "Why do most web sites look similar?"

In the web design business, if a site is to fulfill the client's purpose, it must appeal to the site's visitor, and keep them around long enough to either buy a product or make contact.

Last month I covered why color schemes are important in creating a subconscious connection with the visitor. Equally as important is the visual layout of the site.

On the web, there are no apparent limits to page layout, so why would page elements in professional sites all seem the same? One phrase I regularly hear is 'cookie-cutter looking.'

As with the colors used, layout is important for very basic psychological reasons. Humans have thousands of years of visual experience and expect things to be in certain places within their field of view.

This history has dictated that western people expect to see things with a certain flow, left to right and top to bottom. This has to be planned for. When the design is created, the flow is extremely important as it will lead the viewers' eyes to the information they need to see, without having to over-analyze or search through the page. This is where creativity has to mix with conformity if the end result is to get the viewers' attention.

The major layout rule is to keep things easily scannable. Rather than having 20 blocks of text scattered around a page, merge content down to two paragraphs, giving the main elements pertaining to that page's subject. If necessary, create links to pages giving more information.

The reasons for keeping minimal are many:

1. Most web users are in a hurry, trying to find the information that fills their requirements. With this in mind, things need to be spaced out, so content can be scanned over quickly.

2. More content is harder to skim on responsive (mobile compatible) sites, such as a cellphone. 3. Visitors from search engines will exit the site and move on to the next result if they cannot find the content they searched for within a few seconds.

A major issue is when a designer tries to be 'original' by putting elements like navigation in unexpected places. When this happens, the site's owner seriously risks losing visitors, especially more impatient or inexperienced web users.

In closing, one very important point refers to the search engines. Searches that use robots to scan sites have been programmed to expect certain things in certain places. If something is not where is it expected to be, the robot may not see it at all.

If you have concerns with your web presence reaching your widest customer base, now is the perfect time to look into our WebUpdate system sites, which take advantage of advanced SEO, social, and responsive features to give your business the best competitive edge online.

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