Is a website attractive if it is more like others?

Website showing on tablet device

With billions of web pages available there is a never-ending contest between your site and the competition. You have to make your website and all of your pages attractive to people, otherwise they will not stay.

Web designers, therefore, want your web page to stand out and seem different from the competition. Looking different is good – people notice you. But there is a problem with being different on the web; visitors don’t know how to use your site.

If most websites have navigation that runs across the top of the page, whereas yours has it down the right hand side, your visitors will not know where to look. They find the site unusable.

The whole arena of website usability tries to get web owners and designers to see things from the perspective of visitors. Designers, meanwhile, try to make websites stand out. There is often a conflict.

New neuroscience research, however, could help resolve the difference between novel design and usability. The study was not looking at web design, but its findings reveal the kind of thing that is going on in our brain when we land on a web page.

The researchers from the University of Basel were interested to find out what goes on in our brains when we are faced with a great deal of visual information all at the same time. What happens, for instance, when we see a large number of road signs when we are driving or an array of advertising slogans? How does our brain sort it all out and see what is important without being distracted? That was the basis of the study.

Confusing Road Signs
Image Courtesy: Dawn Huczek, Flickr


What the study discovered was that our brains compensate for the mass of information by assuming that there will be certain things in particular places. We don’t have to look for stuff or work it out if it is always in the same place.

That suggests that if your website tries too hard to be different and doesn’t have menus or search boxes where everyone else has theirs, then your website not only becomes less usable but it also means that people do not see what is important. The mere fact that our brain makes assumptions as to where things are going to be, appears to help us pick out important things. If your menus are not standard or the position of your search box or phone number is not standard it creates another issue over and above usability. What seems to happen is that people cannot work out where the important stuff is, such as your headline or the “click here” or “buy now” button.

So, making your website the same as everyone else’s has an additional neurological value. It helps your brain visitors’ brains pick out the important stuff on your website.


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