"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
So said Antoine de Saint-Exupery in a quote that I believe should be taken to heart by any and all persons who are involved in web design. We should take away everything that is not of the utmost relevance to each specific visitor.
I call this theory Radical Simplicity.
I think many web marketers and designers have fallen into a trap they are finding difficult to dig themselves out of: unsure of exactly what visitors hope to accomplish, they design sites that include everything a customer may possibly want to do.
For example, a single homepage for a subscription content site I recently visited included:
- links to blogs and discussion boards
- a news flash
- a "tip of the day"
- several ways to search
- marketing copy plus a link to subscribe to the site
- marketing copy plus a link to subscribe to the newsletter
- marketing copy plus a link to subscribe to a magazine
- featured books and videos
- a featured project
- links to other content sites
- a reader poll
There was more, but you get the picture. If I had gone there with a task in mind -- to find a reprint of an article I had read in a past issue of the magazine, for example (rather than looking for a cluttered website for this article) -- chances are I would have been derailed in my task, thanks to the overabundance of information.
I may, indeed, have been interested in all the other elements of the site. I might have browsed the "tip of the day" and considered checking out one of the discussion boards. But it's likely that I would not have spent the time necessary to find the article I was seeking and to actually purchase it.
The other distractions may have been "good" distractions (meaning they were relatively interesting), but they were still distractions.
And that's because they weren't relevant enough. Yes, the site was relevant to me because I was interested in the topic. But most of it wasn't relevant to me at that point in time.
You may think that's an unfair statement. How can the site know exactly what my goal was? But the truth is that we always leave clues. The search terms we choose, the ads we click, the emails we open, all offer trails for a marketer to follow, and a site really can be pared down to meet the visitor's needs based on that trail. All it takes is the ability to segment visitors and a way to swap content in and out depending on their desires.
There exist, however, three obstacles that complicate the process of Radical Simplicity. Below, I've laid out the obstacles along with some possible solutions.
Obstacle #1. The "powers that be" won't let you pare down
There is always content that certain parties insist must be on the page. This might be specific legal language, general navigation that is required to be on every page or content from politically powerful departments.
If you run into this type of trouble, consider keeping the politically correct content but simply increasing the visibility of the most relevant content.
For example, I Googled "Nikon camera," and found that the first natural result links to Nikon USA, which does contain cameras-- but also binoculars, microscopes and instruments.
For a more relevant experience, the site could have offered a single large photo of a camera. The other offerings could still have been available, perhaps in a smaller or less visible format.
Then, by making the area with the camera a "content slot," the camera photo and copy could be rotated out depending upon the visitor's origination word. Had I typed in "Nikon instruments," the marketers could simply have the site rotate the instruments into that larger content slot while rotating the camera out.
Obstacle #2. Removing standard navigation may confuse the prospect
It may, indeed, be true that if you pare down the site so far as to remove standard navigation, you may confuse people that are familiar with you. But if you stick to that principal unfailingly, you are tied into the same navigation (and, to a degree, the same site) forever.
It is critical to take risks and break away from your standard navigation now and then.
If you like, you can tell visitors that you're testing a new navigation and that they can elect to head back to the old one if they feel more comfortable.
And, Radical Simplicity doesn't mean you do away with global navigation altogether-- at least not all the time. What it does mean is that, if you know anything about a prospect's purpose, you must keep that purpose in mind. Global navigation may be relevant, and it may be necessary. But keep it within the context of the prospect's goal.
Obstacle #3. Fear: you're losing the opportunity for the prospect to see something else they might like
As with obstacle #2, this may also be true. Maybe you should expose them to the breadth of your assortment. So try it.
Test a page with all of the content versus one with just the key content versus another with the key content emphasized and the rest of the content de-emphasized (or removed).
Our bet is that the one that is simplified nearly the most, leaving only the links to the most important site areas -- the homepage and search, for example -- will win.
You'll be delivering relevant content, removing a lot of noise, and driving an increase in ROI that "the powers that be" won't be able to argue with.
Jamie Roche is the founder and president of Offermatica.