Bob has a web-based business where he teaches beginners how to use WordPress.
His site is jam-packed with useful information, tutorials, videos, and e-books. And Bob really knows his stuff!
But his bounce rate on his homepage (that’s the number of people who hit the page and leave right away) is over 90%. That means, fewer than 10% of his visitors stick around to find out how useful his information is. The rest take one look at his page and run away screaming.
Susanna, on the other hand, (shameless self promotion here, but bear with me) also has a site that teachers beginners how to use WordPress. Her homepage bounce rate is higher than she likes, at around 40%, but it’s a number she can live with. Her site is also jam-packed with useful information.
What’s the difference?
Site design matters.
You have less than 3 seconds for someone to decide whether the site is worth his or her time.
If your site is hard to read or difficult to navigate, visitors will come, and bounce away within the first second or two.
What does this mean to you?
A new visitor makes a lot of micro decisions before either sticking around or backing out. Fortunately, you can do something to improve your site’s stickability.
- Load time. If your site’s too slow, they leave. Bob’s homepage takes almost 10 seconds to load. By that time, most visitors are already gone.
- Does it look professional? It doesn’t need a lot of fancy bells and whistles, but if it looks like somebody’s 5-year-old put it together, visitors are less likely to trust that it has anything to offer them. Susanna’s page isn’t stuffy looking, but it is professional.
- Can they find what they’re looking for? Homepage layout and navigation are critical. Susanna’s homepage is clear about the site’s mission, and the navigation is easy to understand.
- Is it easy on the eyes? If it’s too hard to read, they go somewhere else. Bob’s site uses teeny-tiny type.
- Does it answer their questions?
- Does it solve their problems?
The sad truth is, if you lose them at items 1, 2, 3 or 4, they’ll never find out whether your site answers their questions or solves their problems. Your mission is to make a few easy changes to make it easy for a reader to stick around long enough to discover how well you can answer their questions and solve their problems.
Though technically not part of site design, load time is the first hurdle to overcome, and the most important decision you’ll make to impact load time is in your choice of hosting provider.
Your best load times will be with fast servers that aren’t hosting a gazilllion other sites. If you can afford it, you’ll generally do better with a managed hosting solution like WP Engine.
If that’s out of reach for now, you’re looking at shared hosting. For that, I’m recommending Siteground.
Once you have speedy hosting, there are lots of tweaks and adjustments that you can apply to speed up your site even more, but if your hosting’s slow, you’re stuck.
Professional Looking Site Design
Here it’s mostly a matter of choosing a well designed theme, and using quality images appropriately. When it comes to site design, the theme does the heavy lifting, but you must use quality images that are sized appropriately. Nothing screams “amateur” more loudly than a distorted, fuzzy or grainy picture (here’s a quick tutorial on preparing your images before you upload them to WordPress).
It also helps to have a site logo that looks professional. If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll find inexpensive options at Fiverr and 99Designs. Or maybe you could barter with a designer to get your logo made.
Homepage Layout and Navigation
Navigation is one of the primary drivers of good site design.
Before I started creating the WordPress Building Blocks website, I spent more time working on a plan for navigation than for any other aspect of the site. I drew a dozen or more different navigation setups before I finally settled on the one I would use.
That’s because I knew how vital it was to make it super simple for readers to find what they were looking for — preferably in three clicks or less.
It’s the same with the homepage, or “front page” as it’s called now.
Your front page should tell a story about your business, in terms that answer the reader’s question, “what’s in it for me?” You can’t just slap a bunch of stuff on the homepage and hope it works.
Keep mobile responsiveness in mind. Some themes — the ones I recommend — take care of mobility for you, adjusting the navigation menus for the visitor’s device.
Easy to Read
Is it easy to read?
This gets back to Terry’s question. If your audience is high schoolers or college students, those young eyes can handle just about anything. But what if your audience is 30-somethings? Or retired people?
I’m sorry, but the dark gray text on a light gray background just won’t cut it. You need higher contrast — darker text and lighter background. And forget the white text on a dark background that was so fashionable a few years ago. It might have been stylish, but it was a bitch to read.
The older your audience, the larger your text needs to be as well.
Keep in mind, too, that it needs to be easy to read on a mobile device.
StudioPress themes handle readability beautifully, out of the box. Elegant Themes not quite so much, but the newer, mobile responsive themes (and you should never consider a theme that is not mobile responsive) all make it easy to adjust font sizes and colors.
Not sure what it will look like on a tablet or smartphone? WordPress now gives you built-in previews. In the dashboard, click Appearance / Customize. Scroll down, and at the bottom you’ll see something that looks like this.
Click the appropriate image to preview it as it will look on a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen.
When your site loads quickly, looks professional, has easy navigation, and is easy on the eyes, you can be confident that site visitors will stick around long enough to find out if your site answers their questions and solves their problems.
Need help modifying your site to get those readers to stick around? Let me do a site audit for you.
Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. That means, if you click and buy, I earn a small commission. It helps keep this site going, and lets me keep my prices low if you hire me or take one of my courses.
This article was updated on August 2, 2019.