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7 Small Website Design Changes That Can Have A Big Impact

By March 22, 2013June 28th, 2015Website Design & Marketing
7 Small Website Design Changes That Can Have A Big Impact

Does the idea of undertaking a website redesign have you stressing over budget and obsessing over the amount of time and energy you’ll need to invest?

Or maybe you don’t really need a redesign because your site is meeting your business needs… but there’s just something that vaguely bothers you and you’re wondering if you could improve things and boost your conversion rate without tackling a full-on project.

The good news is that there are small things you can do, sometimes without the help of a developer (if you have a self-managed site like WordPress) or with a relatively small investment. These are the kind of things you (or your developer) can do in a few hours or a day so you can test small improvements without blowing the budget or your schedule.

Start With A Goal

I’m throwing this in as a preliminary word of caution.  Never “just do something”. Always do something with a purpose.

I talk to an alarming number of people who decide that they want to redesign their website but have no idea why or what the outcome should be.

“Because I’m tired of that color” is usually not a good reason to tackle a design change, unless you have a lot of time and budget.

So before you try any of these changes, ask yourself what it can accomplish. Then do it and see what kind of result you achieve.

#1: Increase The Font Size

There once was a time when all (or most) monitors used by business people and consumers were 800 x 600 resolution. We had a pretty good idea how people would see our site and it was probably the same as we were seeing our site.

No more!

Monitors have gotten huge. And tiny. Resolutions have morphed into combinations of dimensions that can still surprise me when I see them show up in my analytics.

Your font may very well look fine at your monitor resolution but make other people squint and reach for the aspirin.

I say err on the side of big. Don’t worry if it looks “too big” to you (within reason!) Worry more if it looks too small to others, because they’ll simply give up and stop reading.

One of the more common font sizes is 12 pixels. That can still look fairly small, so you may want to consider 14, 15 or even 16. A lot depends on the font you’re using, as well. One font at 14 pixels may look fantastic and another may be unreadable.

That’s why it’s called design!

While you’re at it, you may also want to change the spacing between the lines on your page (also called “line height”). The bigger you make the font, the more squished those line spaces are going to appear. Keep enough distance between lines so it’s easy for people to scan and read.

#2: Open Up The Space

I’ve rarely met a client who hears the words “white space” and does not run screaming into the next room with their hands over their ears.

Nobody wants to hear about empty space on a page.

They want to sell. They want products front and center and everywhere.

They want to grab their visitors’ attention here and here and now and now and now.

They want to squeeze every possible opportunity of a web page as if they’re paying rent per pixel.

But the same way that you walk into a store and get overwhelmed by stuff crammed everywhere, your visitors get overwhelmed when you use every last empty space on your web page.

You can actually sell more by using less space. Empty space gives your visitor’s eyes (and brain) time to rest. It also lets you draw attention to what’s important as opposed to “everything”.

Trust your visitors – they will click through your pages to see more and learn more if you stop trying to cram everything into their face the minute they open the browser.

The “above the fold” myth is perhaps one of the most pervasive and hard to kill. Repeat after me: there is no fold. Some companies have single-page websites to excellent effect. They use a ton of white space and a lot of vertical space and guess what people do? They scroll!

So clean up that sidebar and get all those ads and links and photos out of there (you know the ones that are sitting right on top of each other with nary a line break?)

Make your header bigger and emptier (you actually don’t need your head shot, mission statement, logo, company name, email signup, newest eBook, call to action and three banner ads there).

Put more space between your photos, your graphics, your paragraphs, your columns.

Break up information so it’s on multiple pages or so that your visitors have to (gasp!) keep on scrolling to see it. Take a deep breath, I know it sounds scary. But the less stuff you mush together, the more likely it is that your visitors will actually see it.

#3: Move Your Contact/Store Information Up

Try this simple experiment: instead of nestling your contact information in a cozy corner of your footer, try putting it at the top of your page. Perhaps even in the header area.

I know I just got through telling you that people will scroll but sometimes you come right up against their limitations.

Most of us have a “contact” link in our main navigation (and if you don’t, get it there!) but depending on your business, people may simply go to your site to get your phone number.

I found this to be the case with a client and the funny thing was, even I used to go to his website to get his phone number. It was actually easier to type in the URL (the browser auto-fills after about 3 characters) than to look him up in my contact manager.

Turns out other people were looking for that phone number too. They were also looking for his address and hours. At first we had all of that information at the bottom of the page. It was big, it was bold, and it was certainly there.

But for people who just wanted to call in or find out the hours, it was too much work. So they would click the contact button and fill out the contact form – asking for a phone number or hours!

And we looked at each other and said… but it’s on the website.

So we moved it all up to the top of the page and guess what? No more questions about store hours and phone numbers.

Even if you don’t get those type of requests, you may still benefit from having a phone number or other info at the top of the page, especially if you’re a local business. Try it out and see what happens!

#4: Use More Headings

We’re a generation of scanners. I bet you didn’t even read most of this post, did you? But I bet you read the headings. You probably read a bit more when one of the headings caught your interest.

You may want to consider increasing your heading size, especially if you’re increasing your font size, but you may also want to consider increasing the number of headings you use on a page.

A heading tells people “here is some more info you may want to read”. It lets them know there’s a new idea or a point of interest.

And like white space, it gives their eyes and brain a chance to rest and process information without becoming overwhelmed.

If you want more of your visitors reading more of your content then break it up and use headings to point out a “do not miss” feature or benefit, or entice them to continue in some way.

Look at headings as the carrot on the end of your content stick. Each one is a juicy tidbit that pulls people along, so be sure that you’re not simply throwing headings on a page. Write them with the same care and attention as you would any other content and use them to hook people in and pull them along with you.

#5: Change The Color (And Text) Of Your Call To Action

Color is fun to experiment with and it can have a big impact on how we feel about a company and the actions we take on that company’s website.

While you don’t want to be artistic with things like your brand colors (your logo should not be pink today and lavender tomorrow) you can take some license with other key colors, like that “buy now” or “sign up” button.

We’ve experimented with the color of the subscription box after the posts on this site (orange is pretty popular… green, not so much) and it’s taken only minutes to do so.

If you knew that you could boost the sales of your product by changing the color of the buy button from green to orange, wouldn’t you do it?

Try experimenting with text, too. Studies have been done showing that “subscribe” is the least popular and least converting button text and “join” is not much better, but “get it” seems to make people feel better.

Maybe “purchase” would work better for you than “buy” or some variation of.

You never know until you try.

In deference to the scientific method, choose one variable to change then measure the results. If you change the color and the text simultaneously, you’ll never know which of those changes made the difference.

#6: Consider The Three-Second Test

That’s about how long you have to catch someone’s attention.

And it means that the organization and display of content on your page matters.

If you want people to read, scan and scroll further you have to compel them to do so. Lovely graphics, meaningful mission statements and bold photos may be beautifully designed but if they don’t hook visitors then they need to go.

Sometimes the “ugliest” sites end up with the best conversion rates because they catch people immediately and keep them moving toward a goal.

You have to remember that ugly is subjective. I know people who think that those big, open sites with a single bold call to action at the top are the height of insult to anyone with taste. But if people are noticing those calls to action and acting… well, your design taste hardly matters!

Some good things to put at the top of the page:

What your site is about. Don’t make your visitors guess, assume or figure it out. Make it very clear who you are and what you’re about. A single sentence should do.

Why your visitor should care. Don’t spend so much time (and space) talking about yourself that you forget to tell people what’s in it for them.  Your top 2 or 3 benefit points will give people a reason to keep going.

How they can do something about it. Want them to sign up, request info, get pricing? Pull them down your funnel with an appropriate call to action.

#7: Make It Mobile-Friendly

When it comes to mobile, one of the biggest constraints we have to get over is our desire to make our sites beautiful. We want them to be “designed”. We love our graphics and our photos and the beautiful layout.

But when it comes to mobile, function is key. Function is design. Whether you’ve got a separate mobile site, are using a mobile plugin or have built your site to be responsive, mobile users need to be able to get to important information quickly and easily.

Actually, all of your site visitors need to be able to get to information quickly and easily… but on mobile this becomes exponentially more urgent. Mobile devices can load slower, display poorly and really wear people’s fingers out with all that pinching and zooming.

Plus mobile users tend to be on the go. They’re in more of a hurry, and they may simply be trying to find a specific bit of information (your address so they can stop by, your phone number so they can call, a blog post they want to check out, a product they want to share with someone).

If you make them wait or make it difficult for them to get what they want, they’re simply going to leave.

Maybe desktop users don’t care if your phone number is at the top of the page – they may very well scroll to your footer – but mobile users will care. So keep both types of users in mind as you design and arrange your content.

Mobile also makes it even more important to consider things like font size, line spacing, color, placement of key information, headings and use of space.

When in doubt, grab your nearest mobile device and test!

That’s it – your seven quick tips to better design and bigger impact. By making one or more simple changes, you can increase your conversion rate, decrease your bounce rate, improve sales, get more leads and do it all without even being a designer!

Do you have any other tips to share? What other small but important design considerations can make a big impact on the effectiveness of a website?

Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • On fonts they really also need to pay attention to the color of the text. I’ve visited sites where there really wasn’t sufficient contrast and it wasn’t pleasant to try and read.

    • Great point, Christina and I totally agree. For me personally, anything that isn’t black/gray against white is tough to read. Quite possibly the worst is when it’s reversed – white text on black background. It may be contrast-y but it’s really distracting.

  • Very interesting and useful, thanks Carol Lynn. I particularly like #2 – Open up the Space. It’s one of the reasons why I never go to sales. I don’t like to be presented with a jumbled mess rather I like to see clearly what I’m buying!

    • Agreed, Julie – whether its in a store or online, being in the middle of a visual mess doesn’t make me want to buy anything. Open space helps focus on a product. You have some nice jewelry, by the way – love the Murano hearts 🙂

  • Excellent list Carol Lynn. And other than the last one, I agree you can do most of these yourself. If you run WordPress there’s a good plugin called WP Touch but if you’re on a custom designed site, or in the process of a redesign, put mobile into your plan up front.

    • Agree! We actually use WP Touch here – it’s simple (and free). These days a lot of themes are responsive so if you pick the right one you’re already most of the way there. That’s going to be our next stop!

  • deborah main says:

    Awesome list Carol!! Its so helpful to get emails w/quick read like this. Have done header w/call to action but need to change it up. Also been wanting to change font and reduce content (too long winded). Also had tried putting our online shop on home page….but didnt like the look. Whats your thought on that?

    • When you say online shop on your home page… do you have an example of what that looks like? It depends on how busy it is, but you can have featured products or category samples on your home page in a grid format that can look nice. Hard to say without looking at it, but there’s no reason you couldn’t have “buy now” stuff on your home page if you laid it out cleanly.

      • deborah main says:

        Thanks Carol…appreciate your feedback. Basically if we put our shop as our home landing page we’d lose the clean look it has now, the slide show and intro. It would look like the “shop” page now on our website with approx 8 photos that clicked thru to each collection. It just felt way to busy. I like the slide show on home page cause it shows our product in context. But maybe in the header we could have a visual click thru to the online shop?? I just worry about “in your face” sales w/it being on home page and the look being too cluttered. Any further thoughts?

        • Hi Deborah,

          I think you may do yourself a favor by adding products to your home page. If people are shopping, they want products to shop for. The home page on your site is pretty text heavy. Your pillows are very striking and you’re not making them the center of attention.

          I don’t think the carousel does you any favors. How about one with captions, or the ability to scroll? That will give people the ability to browse through the carousel, go back to something interesting click ahead, etc.

          You can have an intro and products without losing either. A carousel (if you want to stick with that idea), followed by a short intro, followed by a sampling of products. These can all be stacked on the page but I would definitely suggest highlighting those pillows!

  • deborah main says:

    Oh forgot. We did learn that research shows items sell best on white background. We used to have it all on black background. The white has proved to be a winner for us!!!

  • Hi Carol,
    I had to laugh when I got the sentence “I bet you didn’t read most of this post, did you”? Well, I had. Every word. I tend to read the whole thing on good blogs.

    I didn’t know that even the color of the button mattered. Jeez. I understand that the wording does, but the color?

    I remember a time when almost nobody had their photo on their header, and then everyone started doing this, so I did the same thing to keep up with everybody. I know that you have no picture on your header, but your blog is a bit different, because it’s very lserious business like.

    Since I don’t even have a smart phone and never opted for the web on my phones (because I never needed it), I am really not sure how my sites looks on a phone screen, but I do have that code that supposed to help. I hope it does.
    Thanks for another great post.

    • I know, it’s sometimes surprising how even the tiniest things can affect what people do! Yes, colors can have a big impact. Some get ignored and others get responses.

      Also, I think photos in headers are ok and can be good, but as long as its not cluttered with a hundred things that makes it hard to read. Keep it simple is my advice!

      I looked at your sit eon my phone and it looks the same as the regular desktop site. But your share bar is hovering over the text so it makes it a little hard to read. You may want to have someone check that out!

  • Hi Carol,
    Yes, I read every word on your blog he he.

    These are some tips I have overlooked. I thought I had it all figured out, and now I need to apply. I think the first thing I want to experiment with is #3. That one stuck out to me and sounds like a great idea.

    I try to use Headings because my posts tend to be long and I’m sure people have no time to read it all. So headings segment each idea. Maybe it is easier for people who scan my posts to resonate with one idea.

    Lots to think about here Carol!


    • Every single word?? Whoohooo, that’s awesome. The thing we have to remember about the web is that there are so many tiny things that combine to affect how people respond, and it’s not always obvious what those things are. A font, a color, where something is placed… it’s just waiting for us to experiment and see what happens!

  • Mobile compatiility is a nevessity today. In spite of this I came across a study recently that said that less a quarter of businesses have done this yet. This should be one of the top priorities for anyone.

    • I think it’s a bit of “out of sight out of mind” for a lot of business people, who tend to work on desktops and have mobile blindness. I agree it needs to be a top priority.