A Real-World Analogy
Analogies between the real world and websites are rarely useful, but in making the case for consistency in website design value can be gained from comparing, as an example, an e-commerce website with a “bricks and mortar” chain of stores. Imagine if each store in a chain had different branding or different color-schemes, furnishings or floor layouts. This would not lend itself to building brand identity or loyalty – and the same can be said about a lack of consistency in your website’s design. For the purposes of this article, the term “website design” refers to the branding and layout of pages of your website.
Your website design should emulate your organization’s existing branding guidelines (where applicable), including your logo, color-scheme, the spacing between elements on the page, font styles and size, icon style and size, image styles and form styles. These should be consistent across your website – a lack of branding consistency immediately portrays your organization as being unprofessional. Consistent branding creates a unified feel, which not only tells your visitors that they are still browsing your website, but also re-enforces your brand identity by repeatedly exposing your visitors to it.
The layout of your website includes the positioning of your text content, headings, images, navigation menus, search box, newsletter sign-up box and other elements. It is important that some of these elements be the same on every page of your website, but there is some flexibility with regards to other elements.
A study by Forrester Research estimated that around 50% of potential sales are lost because website visitors can’t find the information they want, and a study by Zona Research found that 62% of online shoppers have given up looking for an item they wanted to buy. If your website’s navigation menu is poorly designed to start with, then consistency is not going to help. Your website should be organized in a hierarchical structure that provides feedback to the user as to where they are on your website by highlighting their position on your navigation menu, using “breadcrumbs” and changing hyperlink styles or colors for visited links. You should also make sure that your anchor text on links are descriptive so that visitors know exactly what to expect when they click on a link.
If your website’s navigation already allows your visitors to quickly find the information they want then you should maintain this ease-of-use throughout your website. Since every website is different, website visitors have to familiarize themselves with the layout and navigation structure of your website in order to use it – and consistency in your website’s navigation structure means that they will have to do this only once. If your website’s navigation menu varies throughout your website, your visitors will take longer to find what they want and will inevitably lose interest and go elsewhere.
Other elements of your website’s layout that should be consistent throughout your website include your search box and newsletter sign-up box. There is, however, room to be a little more flexible in the layout of the rest of your web pages. For example, it stands to reason that your product pages will have a different layout to your article or “About Us” pages, but be sure to be consistent with the branding of these different layouts.