When creating a website, it’s natural to want to share as much information as possible. While visitors have come to your website to learn more about those pieces of information, that’s all they really want to see: pieces.
This isn’t the first time the shrinking attention span of your site’s visitors has come to the forefront of our conversations on website design best practices. That’s why we talk so much about increasing your site’s speed, using high resolution imagery, and employing powerful calls-to-action in order to hook your visitors and keep them engaged.
While most of these suggestions and solutions typically focus on improving the overall imagery and functionality of your website, messaging is something we don’t touch upon often. As a web developer or designer, you’re (usually) not responsible for writing copy. But just because you don’t write it doesn’t mean you can’t have an effect on it.
Messaging is important. Aside from the utilization of relevant imagery, messaging is the only way you can effectively communicate to your audience what your website is all about. So how do you share all of the important details about your website and business without going overboard and cluttering up the clean and polished design you’ve developed?
Adopt a minimalist approach.
What is Minimalism?
Both of these brands rely heavily on the literal use of white space around the most important elements on their websites. White space—also known as negative space—simply refers to any space on a website that is devoid of elements. It can be used around an image (like in the case of Apple), around text, or around a call-to-action (like in Google’s case). Wherever white space is employed, it’s almost always a clear indication that there is something important to be found within it.
While white space is one of the most commonly highlighted features of minimalist design, there is quite a bit more that goes into it than that. Minimalism is about achieving more with less. Less words. Less competing images. Less complexity. Just less of everything… so that what remains will shine through very clearly.
Now, of course, we’re not advocating for websites to be super basic. On the contrary. In minimalism, there still needs to be a strategy behind the design and copy, and the website should have the ability to intrigue and lure in visitors with sharp pops of color, images, and messaging. Ultimately, it all comes down to striking the right balance.
And that’s where you come into play.
How to Communicate Effectively through Minimalist Design
As you aim to employ a simpler approach to your site’s design, it’s important to keep in mind why you’re choosing to do this:
- To make your business look more professional and credible.
- To establish more balance and develop a look that’s overall more aesthetically pleasing.
- To bring focus to what’s most important on the site: the content.
- To keep the site navigation simplified and easy to get around.
- To communicate your website’s mission and goals without overwhelming or confusing visitors.
And that’s really what all this boils down to. If you can’t get your website’s message across within that six to eight second timeframe during which your visitors are paying attention, what else will possibly motivate them to stick around?
Minimalism will help you cut down on the excess clutter and give visitors an opportunity to focus on the basic—and most important—details of your site until they’re interested and ready to navigate around the rest of it.
When you’re ready to start using a minimalist approach to site design, here are the most important points to remember:
The most important messages should be placed front and center on the website. If they don’t answer the questions “What do you [the website or business] do?” and “How can you help me [the visitor]?” then you either need to ditch that content altogether or place it somewhere else. (See #3 below.)
In order to ensure people are reading those crucial pieces of information and finding your calls-to-action right away, you’ll need a tool to help you figure out where visitors are actually looking on your site, so you can strategically place your messaging there.Google Analytics is a good place to start. Heat map technology will also be important in identifying where visitors are prone to looking on your site. (You can either get a heat map through your A/B testing provider or in plugin form, like this one.)
Not every bit of information related to your website’s products or services is going to be considered top priority. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not essential to either telling the website’s story or in giving visitors additional information they might be interested in.You may have ongoing news announcements you want to share, but don’t want to take up prime real estate with a news widget. Or you might want to give visitors an opportunity to download a free white paper, but don’t want to build a sidebar just to have a place for it to appear on every page. That’s where tucking these messages away—or minimizing them—can come in handy. (We’ll give you some decluttering tips on that in the next section.)
There will come a time when you wholeheartedly believe that something looks good on your website, but then you discover that your visitors haven’t been that receptive to it. Do you know why? Do you have a guess as to what can be tweaked to get them more interested? That’s where A/B testing comes in.A/B testing is a great follow-up to applying any sort of minimizing effects to your website. While you may think that floating social media icons tucked into the footer will help declutter your site, your visitors may not feel like having to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find and click on them. A/B tests will give you the opportunity to test out how best to apply these minimalist touches.
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Decluttering Tips to Help You Communicate More in Less Space
There are a number of tricks you can employee to declutter your website and keep your visitors’ focus on the most important messaging.
Just remember that the goal here isn’t to find somewhere else to stuff all your excess text, nor is it the goal to use as many of the following tools as possible. If you’ve ever heard of George Miller’s “magic number ” theory, then you’re familiar with the idea that humans are typically only capable of remembering between five and nine items in the short-term. If that’s the case, you’ll want to keep your decluttering storage techniques to a minimum and reduce the number of focal points as much as you can.
Again, minimalism is about striking the proper balance, so it’s important to first determine what your primary messaging is—this should go right on the website, front and center. Then you can identify the secondary messaging and find a home for it through one of these decluttering techniques.
Most people these days are familiar with what a hamburger menu looks like. With three horizontal lines stacked on top of one another, it’s become the universal symbol for “click here to get more!”
While hamburger menu styling is typically associated with mobile website navigation, that’s not always the case. Minimized menus can appear on desktop and mobile websites, and serve a number of purposes. Sometimes they’re an easy way to store social media icons. Sometimes they’re used in lieu of a bulky sidebar. The point of these is to create more white space (and room to breathe) and give visitors the power to open these extra menus when they’re ready to discover more.
Suggested Tools: Many themes now include this minimized menu functionality in their settings panel. Be sure to review your current theme to see if it’s offered on yours. If not, you can purchase the Superfly – Responsive WordPress Menu Plugin and give your website more variety in terms of menu and navigation styling.
Interested in Hideaway Menus?
If the amount of copy on your website cannot be reduced but you’re still looking for a way to cut down on its bulk, tabbed content and accordions are a huge help.
Basically, if your content is easily broken up into sections, you can use these page stylings to hide all sections except one until your visitor is ready to see more. These make for an easier reading experience, help bring focus to one section at a time, and clean up the overall look of the page.
Suggested Tools: There are a number of free plugins that will help you chunk your content down into tabs or accordions. We’d recommend you start with either the Nextend Accordion Menu or the Tabby Responsive Tabs plugins.
Interested in Tabbed Content?
If you have a need for sharing ongoing announcements (like an upcoming event, a temporary deal, a new blog post, etc.) but don’t want to have to redesign your home page or create a new blog post for each one, consider getting a notification bar for your site. This will neatly tuck your special announcements into a full-width strip and spare you the time and labor intensive task of regularly updating your site to share these announcements.
Suggested Tools: We recently did a rundown on our favorite hello bar tools here, so be sure to check this out if you’re interested in finding the tool or plugin that will work best for your needs.
Interested in Frontend Notifications?
It’s important for every business to have a presence on social media. And because it’s such an important part of a company’s identity nowadays and often used as a means for engaging with customers and prospects, it’s important to integrate into your site’s design.
While you may see some people include direct feeds or widgets from their social media on their websites, this tends to take up prime real estate either on the home page or within a sidebar (which can often become a distraction to visitors).
If you want to include social links on your website (and you should), consider putting them into a floater element. This way, you’ll keep them over to the side—and not lost in a header or footer somewhere—and they’ll subtly follow visitors along as they scroll through your site and each page.
Suggested Tools: The Floating Social plugin from WPMU DEV will give you control over where and how you want to feature your floating social icons. If you’re looking for a free plugin with similar functionality, the Social Media Flying Icons plugin will do the trick.
Interested in Floating Social Icons?
Aside from the one-sided communication that takes place when visitors read the content on your website, there is also the open communication you hope will take place when they fill out one of your forms. The thing about forms though is that 1) they take up space, and 2) there’s no real-time interaction. So why not solve both those issues by adding a live chat to your website?
With a live chat window, you can have it auto pop-up once a visitor has been on a page for a certain amount of time or you can let it sit down below until the visitor clicks it open and engages. Either way, it’s a handy way to take that contact form off of your home page or other non-Contact page and put it temporarily out of sight.
Suggested Tools: Direct interactions with your audience are never a bad thing and that’s why live chat plugins are plentiful. You can try out WPMU DEV’s Chat plugin or give one of the free ones like WP Live Chat Support a whirl.
Interested in Live Chat?
One of the arguments we often make is that sidebars aren’t really necessary anymore. While these were previously seen as a means for storing secondary but still essential content, that’s no longer the case. With our focus turned towards simplification, applications like pop-ups and slide-ins (and the other minimizing techniques and tools listed above) are replacing sidebars.
As a bonus, many of these plugins now add movement to your website as they slide, pop, or fade onto the screen—giving your messages, forms, and more the extra attention they deserve.
Suggested Tools: The plugin you select for this form of messaging will depend on the type of effect you want it to have. You can start with one of the free pop-up builders in the WordPress directory like this one. Or, if you’re looking for one with sliding capabilities, check out WPMU DEV’s Slide In.
Interested in Pop-ups and Slide-Ins?
Content is king when it comes to websites. Without it, how can you properly communicate to your audience what it is that you do and what value you’ll add to their lives?
That being said, not all content was created equally and that’s why so many web developers turn to minimalist tricks to tuck their secondary (but still important) messaging aside. You know that you only have a few seconds to catch your visitors’ attention, so don’t waste it by bogging down your site with too much content. By using minimalist design and minimizing storage tricks, you can communicate more while taking up less space.