I came across an interesting question on Linked-In about web page layout design that gave me the opportunity to write down some thoughts on design strategy and the importance of testing.
Linked-In user, Harekrishna Patel, asked which web design layout give the best conversion rates— 1 column, 2 column or 3 column? Of course, as most usability and design professionals should know, best results are usually discovered through testing. There really isn’t a set “science” in this regards, though as with anything else, there are plenty of best-practices to use as starting points. Click here to read the full discussion and other user’s responses.
The best advice would be to create a few concepts and then use eye-tracking testing or other usability testing methodology to have a better idea of what works.
Having said that, here are some general thoughts that might help guide you:
The usual approach to page layout is to consider your customer-response priorities. So, if you have multiple “actions” you are going to offer, those should be laid out according to priority (the most important element should stand out, be above the fold, and preferably towards the left where the eye first tends to scan).
If you are going to have a lot of copy, this can be laid out on one column, with a second column providing Call To Action banner or button that summarizes what you are asking the customer to do (Sign up, subscribe, contact us, download, etc.).
Home pages tend to work well with 3 column because most of the times you are providing a menu-list of various topics, services, or product offerings — the customer would choose where to drill down.
Once you start looking at inside pages, a 2 column approach will probably provide you with the most useful real estate for your content, which you’ll want to test as far as what works best.
Overall, web design best-practices really isn’t as simple as “1 column, 2 column or 3 column” — You’ll want to take usability, navigation, layout, color, your customer’s demographic, and other unique factors related to your industry or/and products to develop an effective web site.