Not every website has a directory, which makes having one an added benefit.
You can drum up more traffic, procure copious amounts of backlinks, and give your users something that will add value to their own businesses. It’s a win-win.
But whether or not you have an entire website dedicated to your directory or simply add one onto an existing site, one thing many site owners overlook is design.
A poorly designed directory can turn people away, and a large part of your site’s aesthetic comes from your theme, especially if you’re using WordPress.
While your WordPress theme may look great for the rest of your site, or work well for a generic business site, here’s why you may want to choose something a little different to keep your directory converting the way it should:
Design Affects Usability
Most websites are built in relatively the same way: logo, header image, navigation bar, content, and footer.
There are plenty of variations of this, of course, like having a navigation bar at the side of your site, or dividing your content into sections, or having infinite scroll. Generally speaking, however, most websites look the same.
Except for directories.
Directories need to be different because they’re focused on a different task: searchability. Your directory is about getting users to see what you want them to see, go where you want them to go, and click on what you want them to click on.
This requires a different set of design standards that a typical template or theme can’t provide.
Making your site easy to navigate is essential to success, and even more so for directories that rely on finding specific links and not just browsing at random.
A directory’s navigation is best done in an F-shape pattern, with buttons, links, or tabs running across the top and left side of the page, and the content next to it, broken up by headers and subheaders (in this case, categories).
Most themes will stick you with a standard T-shaped pattern, and many newer “web 2.0” themes have eliminated navigation altogether, using “sticky navigation” instead. While these techniques are helpful for normal websites, your directory needs to be far more searcher-friendly, and that means more navigation, not less.
Using Text, Not Images
Many common themes today are also highly visual, which is good for grabbing attention. But studies show that when it comes to searchability, headlines work better than images for getting your users to engage.
Text draws the eye quicker, which makes it easier for users to find the categories and subcategories they’re looking for easily. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use images – in fact it’s recommended to use high quality images for your categories.
This just means that you should include bold category headers that are highly readable alongside your navigation (you can also use bold text within an image, as long as the text is pronounced).
When you do use images, it’s important to use the right ones:
- Don’t use stock photographs that are obviously stock photographs
- Don’t use poor quality images of any kind—better to not show anything than to show something pixelated, over-compressed, badly resized, or of low-resolution
- Don’t use crowd shots
- Don’t use bigger than life-size images of faces
- Don’t use historical subjects unless you’re catering to that audience
Basically, don’t do this:
Another big factor in usability is a lack of clutter – in other words, being able to find what you need without having to wade through tons of content.
Many WordPress templates and themes are focused on simplicity, which is a great thing, but they don’t always account for the amount of content that is processed through a directory.
It’s easy to have a “simple, clean” website when you only have a few pages and text, but needing to organize your site for hundreds of links and listings is another story altogether.
The most practical solution to avoiding clutter in a directory is to implement the above rules of clear navigation and using headlines to guide users. Craigslist does a great job of this, and while it’s not a “pretty” website, it’s effective at helping users find what they want without looking too messy.
Design Affects Conversions
Design also plays a big role in credibility, something that is necessary for any directory’s success.
According to research from Stanford University, 46.1% of people say a website’s design is the top criteria for deciding if a company is credible or not.
This is about more than a professional design – though that’s also important.
Directories have to worry about one thing that traditional websites don’t necessarily have to worry about: spam.
Spam postings will instantly drive down the attractiveness and usability of your site, but they also pose a significant security risk. Spammers can easily steal email addresses and other information directly from your site, especially if you have a free posting option or allow anyone to post.
This is why you also have to factor how you display your text into your design. Website Helpers has some suggestions for listing email addresses on your site in particular.
It’s also important to use other credibility indicators on your site that most themes would ignore, including testimonials and other trustmarks, if applicable. If you can, include a design element like a button or banner that shows users that your site is spam-free.
You want to make your site look as legitimate as possible, and a poorly-designed site – one that is cluttered, hard to navigate, or uses a lot of stock imagery – will send users running for the hills.
While most basic themes will work for businesses that don’t have to worry as much about credibility, your directory’s theme will need to go above and beyond to show that you’re legitimate.
Standard WordPress themes (or any other themes) are great for helping you design a beautiful, functional site, but there are other design considerations that directories need to take into account.
You need to make sure that your site has better navigation for your users, preferably in an F-shaped pattern that allows for better readability.
You should also put more focus on your text, including your headers and subheaders and category titles, and when you do use images, make sure that they look professional.
It’s also important to avoid clutter at all cost, and above all, avoid spam listings that can both clutter up your page and damage your site’s reputation. After all, if you don’t have credibility, you have nothing.