June 14, 2007, 12:00 AM

How following the crowd can improve web site design

Don’t go for clever and unique when designing web site navigation features, advises consultant Jennifer Bailey of Red Spade. You’re only going to confuse your customers.

Don’t go for clever and unique when designing web site navigation features, advises consultant Jennifer Bailey of Red Spade, a firm that specializes in web site usability. You’re only going to confuse your customers if you deviate from Internet conventions, she told attendees last week at the Internet Retailer conference in San Jose.

Logos and navigation bars should be on the left, because we read from left to right, Bailey said. Links should change in appearance when customers click on them; the link to customer service should be called “customer service” or “help,” not “help desk” or “service desk,” which may confuse customers, she said. Underlining should be limited to hyperlinks, not used for emphasis.

“You only want to veer from convention if there is a compelling reason for your customer,” she said. “That way they can use what they have learned elsewhere.”

Among her other recommendations were:
• Don’t use duplicate links, such as offers of financing and a credit card that both go to the same place.
• If you offer a guarantee, link it to an explanation of what is guaranteed.
• Make action items prominent. “Don’t make them hunt for the buy button,” Bailey said. And don’t put it so low on the page that shoppers will have to scroll down to see it.
• Once customers have put something into the shopping cart, make it clear they have the option to continue shopping.

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