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How Your Website’s White Space is Costing You Money

Jan09
A recent study by Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. and one of the world’s foremost experts on user interfaces, shows that most of the home pages of major ecommerce sites are wasted with – nothing! Just empty or irrelevant space. And this sad state of affairs has been around almost since the dawn of the business website itself.

Don’t be the typical business website. Here are a few things to think about when it comes to improving your site design and making your webpages more impactful.

Nielsen has been looking at Web design for many years, and teaches various in-person seminars around the world on what to do and what not to do. He used the same analysis methods that Jeremiah Owyang performed several years ago for the top blogging news sites.

Nielsen’s report says that many home pages squander their real estate and fill up space with things that most users ignore: blocks of color, self-promotions and ads. He argues that most pixels go to waste, which is a shame, considering how many millions of dollars are spent on that square foot or so of space. Nielsen compared the top business websites of today with those that he examined more than a decade ago, and found that most of these sites are still giving content and navigational elements short shrift. He recommends that sites “cut the fluff and spend the pixels on design elements of interest to users – mainly content, but also navigation.”

“A homepage has two main goals: to give users information, and to provide top-level navigation to additional information inside the website,” Nielsen said.

But, how many sites deliver on these two goals? Not many. Witness how many navigation bars are hidden in odd corners of the home page, or have confusing labels that make it hard for visitors to figure out where to find things on the site. Indeed, back in 2001, navigation took a fifth of the real estate on a home page: now it is about a tenth of the space. That isn’t a good trend.

The more useful your pages are – meaning the more content and the easier the navigation you provide readers – the more likely that visitors will return, bringing with them increased sales and better revenue potential. Providing quality design and content, rather than this empty white space, will make much more efficient use of this space.

It is easy to examine your own home pages, and those of your competitors. Just do a screengrab and print it out. Then get a piece of tracing paper or clear acetate and color in the areas according to Nielsen’s categories: navigation, useful content, ads, and so forth. Use different colored markers for each category. Then count up the areas used by each color. Take a look and see how much space is devoted to useful content. You might be surprised.

And while you are at it, Nielsen offers another helpful suggestion: “invent page designs that can stretch across widescreen monitors and still adapt to smaller screens.” You might as well take all the real estate you can!