This is a guest post from Anthony Licari – a sponge that’s regurgitating information and data in a functional manner on his amazing blog.

Your site is full of real estate and almost all of it is trying to grab the visitors attention as quickly as possible. It could be argued that all real estate on your site is important, if you feel like being a pedantic whiny face. There are some areas, one in particular, that deserves extra love. Over there in the right hand sidebar near the top. That’s one of the main focal points for directing traffic around your site. Have no worries, I’ll be getting to her lips later.

… Why?

I realize you might have paid for a big fancy logo and installed some nice jQuery menu to direct visitors but this little piece of real estate is as valuable. Now I’m not arbitrarily declaring this important because I can, there is some logic behind it. In grid(page layout) you have two main schools of thought, symmetrical and asymmetrical. Almost everyone uses asymmetrical layout design on the web. Meaning we don’t have a left column that’s 450 pixels wide and a right column 450 pixels wide. Most two column sites will make the body(content) of their site the left column and give it the most space. It’s actually three columns if you want to be technical where as the left is 2/3rds and the right is 1/3rd. Correction, it’s actually 12 or 16 columns if you’re using a 960 layout but that’s an entirely different discussion.

“Cool, I know the definition of asymmetry, so what?” You have a point, random quote from nowhere, let’s go somewhere with this. The first place most people look at when they look at anything is about 1/3rd from the top and 2/3rds from the left. This is any visual’s immediate focus. Have a look at these sites, the highlighted area is where visitors are most likely to look at.

The Most Important Design Real Estate on Your Site

I used the same overlay for both images and yes both are landing on white space or inbetween elements. There are elements surrounding that focal point to slightly move the readers eyes. It’s no surprise that on CNN that’s where their prime advert is located as well as a user control panel and on Facebook their prime advertising location with the user notification area. I’m not saying that just because Facebook and CNN say it’s prime means that it is but really if you’re Facebook and your whole model is built on interaction, where are you going to put your new notifications? In the prime real estate.

Now take into account that if your site is in English it is going to read from left to right where people are focused on the left and then take focus away on the right. After each line they have a choice to find and continue on the next line or do something else. You have this invisible subconscious trailing off after every line. Mix this with the page’s immediate focus and you have your formula of where visitors will always, always be looking at if they spend more than a split second on your site.

What Should I Do With My Real Estate?

We’ve determined what is most likely your primary real estate if you have an asymmetrical two column web site. Now what the heck do we do with it? This is where it gets tricky and is definitely a case by case determination. This space can be used for advertising, for information, a user control panel, et al. There are some rudimentary formulas to follow for your space. If you are a typical blogger and don’t offer any newsletter subscriptions or products then you have prime real estate for advertisements. For community sites or sites with a newsletter you will usually see some sort of newsletter promotion or user control panel in this area. Of course it’s the easiest area for them to find, it’s where they’re looking at.

How to Devalue Your Real Estate

During the last Presidential elections I started a site with a few friends of mine. We focused mostly on design and made sure our site was very pleasing to the eye. We were really just opinionated jerks that were critical of everything. Anyway, when I was scoping out the blogosphere for the conservative and liberal blogs I noticed something really, really strange. Most of the conservative sites had god awful designs YET they had as much or more conversations and commenting going on with their sites than the liberal opposition. This is indicative of content vs. design. Without content there is nothing to design.

The quickest way to devalue your content is to over design. If you start incorporating drop dead gorgeous designs all over your site the visitors will have no idea what to look at or how to determine what’s important. It wouldn’t be much fun reading a newspaper that has every font the same exact size. How could one quickly determine what’s important? I realize some designers want to design outside of the grid completely but it really leaves havoc on the visitor. Humans are logical and need things to be organized in a sensible manner, that’s how we process information and you will never be able to escape that. As long as your audience is humans that is. Minimal design is better than over design.

So What Can Her Lips Do?

The Most Important Design Real Estate on Your Site

Look at the image to the right. Look again, you may have missed something. Do you see what it is? There’s nothing there but I’m guessing a few of you looked over at it before reading on. The power of suggestion and subliminal site design can help you organize your site and determine what’s important. It can keep focus on the prime real estate and spark curiosity.

Her lips along with a provocative message can do a number of things besides what you were probably thinking when you first saw it. For starters it will make someone stop and have a look. Most probably looked at the lips first and the type second. Then you add a little message to prod that curiosity and sure enough you have someone reading a blog post. Like you are right now. Not to suggest the image is the only reason why you are reading this post but I did make that image to illustrate a point. You have more control over what other people do than you might think. Take those lips, add a little provocative message and throw it into your prime real estate. People would be looking, becoming interested and clicking all day long. I’m not suggesting being subversive as to trick people but when conveying where you want your visitors to look and read… understanding this is important. Lips, interestingly enough, have an evolutionary history that draws a persons attention. I will be going more into that on my site.

What Have We Learned?

First, what real estate your site visitors will consistently look at and second, how to direct your visitors subliminally. Obviously I skimmed the surface making mere conversational points. I strongly encourage you to do as much reading on color psychology, grid layout, human behavior et al. You can’t force any visitor to do something but if you play your cards right you can give them one hell of a suggestion.

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