No two directories are quite the same, though some may have a little more sparkle than others.
But the real question remains: Does design really matter when it comes to directories?
According to Adobe, the answer is yes. Given 15 minutes to consume content, two-thirds of website visitors would rather read something beautifully designed than something plain.
But unlike traditional websites, directories have some leeway when it comes to how design affects users. Because people already come to directories with the intention of “using it”, conversions are naturally higher.
That means you don’t necessarily need a “pretty” directory to be high converting (see Craigslist, for example), but it does mean your site’s design needs to be well organized and attractive enough for users to know you’re not a spam site.
People should be able to find what they’re looking for without sorting through clutter or scrolling down through hundreds and thousands of links, and the design should be able to communicate your brand in a way that says, “We’re respectable!”
Here are 5 ways to do exactly that (plus examples of directories doing it well).
While it’s arguably more important for a directory to function well than look beautiful, design can still be an important factor in improving conversions and increasing your reputation.
1. Choose an orientation that makes sense
You essentially have two options when it comes to orientation: landscape or portrait.
The best choice for your site will come down to a few factors, like the types of businesses you list, how many listings you have, and how you want to display those listings.
A site like Cake and Lace, for example, lists vendors that sell creative (and highly visual) services like photography and calligraphy. It makes sense for their website to use a portrait orientation because their categories are also images that take up quite a bit of space (and you can only make computer screens so wide):
Sites like Craigslist, on the other hand, have limited categories, all of which can fit on individual lines. Landscape is a better choice in this case, because forcing users to scroll down may risk having them miss out on certain categories.
2. Make sure it’s easy to read
Readability may seem like a given, but busy directories run the risk of overloading content to the point where fonts and text become too small to read comfortably.
Ideally, you should be able to stand a few feet away from your display and still read the text without squinting.
A directory like First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FCHCC) is the perfect example of a site using readable fonts, even in their navigation:
Consider font choices and size when you’re designing your site. Sans serif fonts tend to be easier to read on both PC and mobile screens, and the ideal font size is around 20-30 points or bigger.
3. Use white space and contrast to reduce busyness
Another way to improve readability as well as the overall look of your site is to maximize your use of white space – or the blank space around sections of your site like images, categories, and navigation.
As a general rule, the more white space you have, the better, however it’s not always possible to do this with sites that contain a lot of content. There are ways to incorporate white space by dividing your content into sections, however, like Vintage Directory's page:
They also balance out white space by using contrast, bright colors, and high-quality photos to create the appearance of more room on the screen. Even though they have quite a bit of content, their layout and use of white space encourages users to look around and discover more.
4. Stick to your brand’s color scheme
While bright colors can help your design, the overuse of colors (or using colors that aren’t associated with your logo or brand) can be confusing for visitors, too.
It’s a fine balance between having your listings and ads stand out and trying to create a unified design for your site. The key is to stick to branded tones throughout your navigation and let category images or ads pop out elsewhere.
The Tennessee Chiropractic Association's directory does a great job of staying on brand while still looking clean and respectable and allow for images to pop on their own:
If you’re worried about your site looking too busy, even with white space, using muted, on-brand tones can help calm down the overall feel of your site while still creating a cohesive experience for your users.
5. Categorize and alphabetize your listings
Another factor that separates well-designed directories from poorly designed ones is organization. Most directories will divide listings by categories, but where you place those categories and how you feature them also play a large role in conversions.
Cake and Lace, for instance, used their categories as the majority of their main page, aiding visitors in their search by nudging them to choose a path.
Training Magazine, on the other hand, includes categories at the top of their page for assistance but also provide several sorting options for users to navigate through their site:
The more listings you have in your directory, the more organized you will need to be. Make sure you differentiate between similar categories (images can help with this) and use contrast to make sections easier to manage.
User Experience Ideas
Of course, design is not just about making things beautiful, it’s also about enhancing the user experience. There are several things you can do with your design, however, that can improve the experience for your users, especially when it comes to search.
1. Make the search box easy to spot
Many larger directories feature search boxes as their header image when you first land on their homepage:
But that’s not the only place you can include a search feature to make it noticeable. Some of the design examples from earlier place the search feature near the top of the page or prominently in the sidebar (like Vintage Directory).
Wherever you decide to put it, keep in mind that the prominence of the search bar can influence the user’s opinion of your site’s ability to meet their needs. If they can find what they’re looking for quickly, you will be more helpful to them.
The search bar should also be large enough to fit a standard query.
2. Design an engaging “zero results” page
Zero results pages are essentially dead ends for users. Once they’re there, they might leave your site instead of going back to the homepage to search again.
To avoid this, include more engaging copy or search features on your zero results page to increase the odds that users will continue to click through your site.
Etsy’s “no results” page, for instance, gives users suggestions for other things they might want to search instead:
3. Make listings more visually appealing
The same principles that apply to your overall site design should apply to your listings as well.
It’s important to make listings as appealing as possible, and since most will be text and links, organization and visual hierarchy are important.
Include the business name, phone number, and website at the very top of the listing and make sure they stand out from the remaining text. Use contrasting colors, fonts, and white space to help listings stand apart:
If it comes down to the choice between designing a beautiful website directory and having one that functions the way its supposed to, functionality should win hands-down. Just remember that a functional site can also be a beautiful one.
Make the most out of your design by choosing a landscape that suits your needs and using images and contrast to help users navigate to the proper categories. When it comes to size, remember that bigger is better, so make things readable.
Finally, use the placement of your search bar as well as visual hierarchy in your listings to make the functionality of your site stand out just as much as your gorgeous design.