7 Deadly Design Sins That Can Kill Your Conversions Don't let design flaws scare away your online customers.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's a big difference between a well-designed website and a great-looking one. A well-designed site is one that sells! It leads visitors through the sales process without getting in their way. If it's pretty on top of that, fine. That's gravy. But don't confuse the two.

What you want your design to do is entice people to stay on your site when they get there, draw them into your message and make it easy for them to keep reading so they can make a buying decision.
I come across so many sites that do just the opposite. Check my list to make sure you're not committing any of these seven deadly design sins on your website--because any one of them could be killing your conversion rates.

Deadly design sin #1: Slow-loading pages and graphics
Count out three seconds. In web time, it feels like forever! If your home page takes that long to load, you've got trouble on your hands.
Web users are extremely impatient people. You must know--you are one. If they can't begin reading or viewing your page right away, they're going to leave and go to another, more user-friendly site.

If you absolutely must use large graphics on your homepage, provide a small icon that links to the larger graphic and warn people they may have to wait as it loads.

Here are a few things you can do to speed up your loading time:

  • Reduce the file size of the graphics on your page. A great tool to use for this is WebGraphics Optimizer
  • Specify the dimensions of your graphics files in your HTML code, with a tag that looks like this:

<img src="graphic1.jpg" height="240" Width="65">

  • Substitute colored text for a graphics file whenever possible

Deadly design sin #2: No eye-catching headline to grab your visitors' attention
So they've decided to give your site a try. Now you have to capture your visitors' attention right away and convince them your site has exactly what they're looking for. The best way to do that is with a well-formatted, attention-grabbing headline that's packed with intriguing benefits and compels them to read further.

Here's an example of a well-formatted, benefit-laden headline:

Discover the secret to eating as much as you want, whenever you want
-- And still lose all the weight you need --
While buzzing with the non-stop energyof a 9-year-old kid!

Note the benefits of "eating as much as you want," "losing all the weight you need" and "non-stop energy" are either bolded or underlined so they pop out at the reader. Compare that to the kind of thing you run into all the time:

Welcome to my diet site! I sell over 50 different weight loss products, from pills, to nutritional supplements, to popular weight loss books. Feel free to browse through my selection and find the product that's right for you.

Above and beyond the lack of formatting, there are no benefits listed in the second example at all. It talks about what the site sells, but not about what these products will do for the people who buy them.

Plus, by telling visitors they have to browse the site to find what they're looking for, you're putting all the hard work on them. Your copy should lead visitors straight to the solution they're looking for--not make them have to hunt for it.

Deadly design sin #3: Distracting banners and links
On your site, don't put up banners or links that send people to someone else's site (and that includes Google AdWords ads).

Everything on your site should directly relate to its ultimate purpose--whether it's to get more opt-ins for your e-mail list or to sell your product. Anything on your site that doesn't serve this main purpose should be immediately deleted.

Of course, if the purpose of your site is purely to promote affiliate products or sell advertising space, then obviously you'll want to include banners or links. But if you try to promote affiliate products on a page that's also meant to sell a specific product, you'll end up doing a lousy job of both.

Deadly design sin #4: Too many dizzying colors or fonts
Nothing screams "amateur!" louder than a dizzying mishmash of different fonts and colors.

To make your site look professional, use a basic color scheme with two or three colors and a couple of fonts. Look at any well-designed site and you'll see that it's pretty conservative with the colors and fonts it uses.

Deadly design sin #5: Patterned backgrounds
Make sure your background stays in the background! If you add textures or use dark backgrounds on your site, people won't be able to read your copy easily. And if you aren't making it easy for them to read your copy, you aren't making it easy for them to buy your product.

Tests have shown over and over again that the sites with black text on a plain white background--with colors limited to the margins--get the highest conversion rates.

It might seem boring from a design perspective, but better sales are pretty exciting from an income perspective.

Deadly design sin #6: Too many distracting graphics, animations, or video clips
Here's another amateur mistake: thinking that lots of images, fancy graphics, animated gifs or video clips will make your site more interesting.

Unless those visual elements help persuade people to buy your product by showing visitors what your product looks like, or demonstrating how it works, they're useless decorations that will distract your visitors and prevent them from following through on what you want them to do.

Deadly design sin #7: Huge blocks of text that are nearly impossible to read
What happens when you run into a giant block of text on a website? Do you read it, scan it or skip over it to something shorter?

If you want your visitors to read all the way to your "order" button, make it as easy as possible for them to do so. Limit your paragraphs to six lines. And make sure you vary your paragraph lengths so they don't all look the same. A choppy paragraph structure makes online text much easier to read.

If you're committing one of these fatal errors, start changing it today. You won't even need a designer.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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