Let's recap Shari's 5 Basic Rules of Web Design:

1. Your Web site should be easy to read.
2. Your Web site should be easy to navigate.
3. Your Web site should be easy to find.
4. Your Web page layout and design should be consistent throughout the site.
5. Your Web site should be quick to download.

[Scottie]: #3 is "easy to find." A lot of Web professionals insist that every site should have a search function. Do you think that's necessary?

[Shari]: Absolutely not. Smaller Web sites with good site architecture do not need a site search. Larger Web sites with a lot of products to sell probably do need a site search function.

I don't think the issue is whether or not a site should have a search function. I think the issue is having a GOOD search function. People use these free search engines without thinking through the whole search process.

First, you have to determine how your search engine results pages (SERPs) will look. Are you going to use the Title tag for the hyperlink? If so, how many characters will you display? Are you going to use the Meta-tag description underneath the Title tag? If so, how many characters are you going to display? Will you use Meta-tag content to determine relevancy?

Second, you have to think about how a "keyword not found" page is going to look. A lot of developers forget about that.

Third, and most importantly, when you have a site search you have some great data. Usability experts consistently say that with most sites, using the site search is a strong indication that people are unable to find what they're searching for based on the site architecture.

What you do with the site search data is very important. If people come to your site and consistently search for specific keyword phrases, then you know you are not making those keyword phrases obvious to visitors. So you might have to rewrite and redesign sections of your site to make them more obvious.

Additionally, if people are performing a search and not clicking on the most relevant result, the Title tag and Meta-tag description (if you use them for the SERP) might not be effective.

[Scottie]: #4 is "consistent in layout and design." What are the most common problems you see with lack of consistency?

[Shari]: One of the biggest problems we see is lack of consistency between Title-tag content, headlines, and navigation buttons. If you call a navigation button "Shopping Bag," use that same term throughout the site. Don't change it from page to page, or from section to section.

Most of the sites we do follow 4 specific design templates. All product pages will have the same layout. Headlines, product photos, product descriptions, calls-to-action (i.e. Add to Cart) will all be in the same place. One product description might be longer than another product description, but they will be in the same place on every product page.

Consistency in layout and design communicates credibility and trust, and every site needs to communicate that in order to make a sale. If you make it easy for visitors to form a mental model of your site by making your page design templates consistent, you will have higher conversions.

[Scottie]: #5 is "quick to download." Do you have a favorite resource for testing download times? Or do you just maintain a dial-up line and an older computer for checking?

[Shari]: For usability-testing purposes, we do maintain a dial-up line. But there are also some great online tools. Andy King has a great tool available. We have also used NetMechanic.

I know I'm beating this usability thing to a pulp, but it's so important. A top search engine position is not the be-all-that-ends-all in search marketing. You have to get people to your site and convince them to take an action (subscribe, buy, enroll, register, etc.). Usability is a huge part of that equation.

Ideally, if a page downloads between 5 and 12 seconds, that is great. However, usability expert Jared Spool found that perceived download time is more important than actual download time. If people feel that they are getting what they want, they will perceive the download time to be shorter than it actually is.

Our rule of thumb is to keep most pages less than 60K, including scripts, style sheets, and graphic images. For sites where download time is expected to be longer (such as an entertainment site), we will go up to 100K. If a page must be larger than that, we make sure that there is plenty of search-engine-friendly text in the first 100K of the document.

[Scottie]: Great information, Shari! Thanks for taking the time to go into so much detail.
November 4, 2003

Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Scottie Claiborne > Digging Deeper into Search-friendly Design - Part II