Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Embrace your bottom!

I mentioned this idea briefly when I posted about the recent redesign, but I wanted to expand it further. Web designers of the world, let’s talk about your bottoms.

When you’re designing pages – specifically content pages – what is the best possible thing that could happen? I mean after the user has bought a computer, gotten internet connectivity, figured out how to use a browser, and somehow found their way to your site … what is the single best thing that they could do?

Read. That’s right, read. And read all the way to the bottom of the page. In this business, a user that actually reads all the way to the bottom of a page is like gold. They’re your best, most engaged, happiest users. You know, because they haven’t clicked away. They did the best possible thing they could do, and now they’re at the bottom of the page. And how do you reward them?

With a copyright statement. Maybe, if they’re lucky, some bland footer navigation.

If you ask me, that’s just rude.

It’s time we designers start thinking about page footers as part of the experience design of a complete site. The bottom of a page is the kiss at the end of the date – and we’re making sites that end without even a handshake.

Take the usual site: The top is crowded with navigation, the middle is primarily devoted to the main content, with about a third of the vertical space devoted to distracting sidebar items. Those sidebar items are great for readers who just aren’t engaged in whatever they’re reading. They can skim down a paragraph or two and then link away to the next thing. But do you really want to optimize your site for the least engaged?

Your engaged users – the ones who really like you, yaknow, more than a friend – are sticking with that main content. Everything in the sidebar just makes it harder to focus on your content. Then, when they get to the end, when they’re ready for something else to do, when they’re ready for that end of the date smooch … that’s the moment it’s all been leading up to. That’s when users are most open to suggestions of where else to go, maybe do a search, maybe even click on an ad.

It’s those engaged users we should be optimizing for. Because by creating a web experience that’s encouraging and engaging to the people who actually want to read your site, you create more of them! Pretty soon, that’s all you have.

We may even wind up with a web of people who actually like to read.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.