There are really only 3 kinds of website

Post by
George B

I have long maintained that there are really only 3 kinds of website

  1. The online shop/catalogue
  2. The lifestyle package/gateway site  
  3. The online business card

I explain this concept to people whenever I discuss the web and sometimes I seem to get blank looks.

The titles above are more like broad categories and it seems to me that companies and people sometimes try to mix and match options from more than one, category. Although that is ok and in some instances works very well, I am of the opinion that it does not really alter the proposition of a website. For instance a lifestyle site that incorporates a web shop page to sell a few items and maximize revenue doesn't stop being a  lifestyle website.


The online shop is, as the title implies a retailer first and foremost. In most instances the basic elements are

  • what the shop sells (the products usually subdivide by categories)
  • what the shop is really good at selling (usually in the form of offers and recommendations)
  • and finally the bit where the shop tells you how good they are at selling stuff (ie your account)

The online shop is a monstrous undertaking which requires daily if not hourly consideration and updating.

The mechanics of an online shop are simple

Consider browsing one of our favourite shops for example

The basic elements are pretty easy to recognise visually. Explained simply the first page is designed to easily let you navigate to what you need. For example cycling, triathlon and so on. This thematic breakdown of their products (bearing in mind they have thousands of items for sale) is the easiest way to help the customer navigate through them and close the sale, after all if you can't find it you can't buy it).

The most visually striking element in the page above is the orange shop now boxes on each image. These are effectively "calls to action" i.e. statements that suggest to the visitor "this is what you need to do next". I noted how the colour scheme changed from the customary "white-orange" scheme, to the more distinctive black/orange/white/black. This in my mind creates a colour neutral visual island that is out of place (on purpose) and it actually draws your attention to it.

These are effectively "calls to action" i.e. statements that suggest to the visitor "this is what you need to do next

I consider this example a very good use of screen real estate where the designer is basically taking the retailers goal and does everything possible to turn it into actionable reality.

The final element unobtrusively at the top of the screen is the account and general housekeeping elements. The idea of giving customers the opportunity to create accounts in a website is useful from a number of perspectives. Firstly it allows the business to be more efficient. I.e. if the customers details are already pre-populated in a database then a sale can be completed more efficiently because all the info you need, for instance where to post the stuff you sold, is already in the system. From the customer's perspective the same is also true. Nobody needs to be typing the same stuff over and over again. From a sales point of view it also helps with impulse buys. Ie those customers that put stuff in the basket. You want them to ideally one click to complete a purchase. What you don't want is to give them time to think it twice (i.e. the 2 minutes or so it takes for them to type their name and address).

stay on the site long enough and a lovely little tag pops up saying , "hey we're online can we help you with anything?"

From an advertising perspective the inclusion of accounts is useful because in a sense it creates an idea of belonging to the brand itself. Some retailers reinforce that idea with loyalty schemes that bring discounts and so on. However the underlying concept is that the customer belongs to a community of sorts. This is further useful when planning campaigns, say by email, where appropriate language can be used to drive the concept home.

if you were to buy something the shop would organise your selected items in a familiar cart mechanic and drive you through a series of screens from submitting your details to submitting your credit card and hey presto you're now the owner of lovely bike or whatever.

The point here is that the retailer has thought the entire process of the customer having entered the website and all the way through to how they're sales people can help get you to buy more stuff.

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