Saturday, March 15, 2008

Web Site Design Secrets for Freelancers to Improve Usability

Many amateur freelancers use too many unnecessary web design tools that add little value to their websites. This has resulted in hundreds of "junk" websites that contain too many graphics, animations, and text. Some of these web pages have as many as seven or eight distinct content areas enclosed in an 800 by 600 pixel screen: a flashing header graphic, several paragraphs of text, an opt in form, Google ads, Amazon ads, affiliate links, audio and/or video buttons to push, and sometimes even more.

Don't tempt yourself to make such glaring, embarrassing mistakes. Most web visitors will feel overwhelmed and unsuccessfully navigate such a site. Such a poorly-designed website forces visitors to make too many decisions because of too many distractions. More importantly, a poor layout impoverishes the content.

What is the answer? Most successful freelancers (i.e. freelancers who have visitors returning to their site) will tell you to create a clean and simple web design. Usability is the key.


A great website design encompasses three basic values: simplicity, clarity, and speed. In other words, you need a visually-friendly website, but at the same time each web page downloads quickly and users can navigate easily.


To design a site that shouts visual appeal, you can use simple graphics, color, and graphical text. At all costs, stay away from flashing animations and busy backgrounds. In fact, a white, cream, or light yellow background with black or dark blue text is best, if you want your visitors to read your text easily.


You don’t have to a graphic artist to design a visually-pleasing website. Grab a photo or two from a free stock photo site such as, add some colored text and a tagline using a graphics program like Windows Paint or Paint Shop Pro, and that's all you need for a header.


You should create a navigation with simple text links or buttons, either across the top, right under the header, or down the left or right side of the screen. Make sure you label clearly all text labels and images to indicate what the user will find when he or she clicks on them.


You can place an opt-in form and one or two simple ads in the left or right panes, with your content in the main center panel. Your content pane should be the largest area on the screen, so it draws the reader's focus.


Clean and simple web design extends to the layout of your content too. Text is most readable when you present it in "chunks." This means use short sentences and paragraphs of no more than two to four sentences each. Make liberal use of colored subheadings and bullets. Sprinkle a graphic or two per page to break up the text and add visual interest. Use margins (padding) around your text, so it doesn't bump up against the edges of your navigation and ad panels. Plenty of white space is important. Use a free readability tester at to determine the reading-level of your text.

Remember, squeezing as much functionality into every page as possible is NOT the right approach. What will keep people on your site and keep them returning, is a clean, simple, easy to navigate design.


Jesse Dawson is the author of "Can YOU Read Me Now? How to Use Readability Formulas to Write for Your Target Audience," a free e-book available at He is a contributing writer for, a free website that helps writers and non-writers learn about english grammar. He also serves as a forum moderator at, where he helps writers and non-writers fix English writing problems.