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Want to learn how to improve your company web site? Then let's take a trip to the mall.

Most web sites are still designed and developed by IT professionals. Some of the most accepted rules of the road for site design still reflect an IT mindset.

First among the well-entrenched rules is the belief that a well-designed web site will allow you to get in, get what you want and get out quickly. Probably a close second in the rule book is the idea that web copy should be short and less than one screen per page.

Ridiculous. To debunk such silly rules, let's first head to a department store for some men's underwear. Following established web development rules, the men's underwear should be hanging from a prominently displayed rack at the mall entrance to enable you to grab and go. But retailers have found that a store design that puts commodity merchandise front and center doesn't make much of a profit.

The retail store model looks quite different. Entering the store from the mall entrance, you'll probably be accosted by someone sampling fragrances, be forced to work your way through the cosmetics counter maze, past the fine jewelry and into women's shoes before finding a clear path to the men's department.

The reason is simple. Marketers know that fragrances are an impulse purchase and they also know that fragrances have the highest markup in the store. Commodities--like men's underwear, blue jeans and socks--will probably be the furthest from the mall entrance.

To make matters more difficult for the man on his underwear-buying mission, the store has eliminated a direct path from the mall entrance to the men's furnishings department. Instead, to get to the men's department, you must follow the yellow brick road, as it were.

Big stores tend to be designed according to what's commonly called the racetrack model. That means that to get to the back of the store, you must travel in a circle that takes you past a fair number of enticing aisle displays before you arrive at your destination.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stern Dixon (sdixon@mktcomm.com) is president of MarketComm, LLC, of Charlotte, North Carolina, an integrated marketing communications firm.