This may seem like common sense, but beginner web designers often overlook this aspect of web design. A common layout keeps your site clean and well organized, grabs the reader’s attention, and encourages him or her to explore your site. While each page has obvious differences, following a common layout makes your site easier to distinguish and more enjoyable to read.
Think about how your local newspaper presents its content. Each day that you read the paper, you learn about the latest news and also enjoy everyday features like the comics. Why is it that you can find what you are looking for so easily? To achieve this, the publishers created a presentation that’s easy to follow, even when you pick up the paper for the first time. They also make sure to put the important news and features up front and provoke the reader to go further into the paper and learn more about current events and happenings. Even if every section has a different look to it, the feel and function remain consistent.
The same train of thought should be used in web publishing. You must make the look, feel, and function consistent within your site, or at the very least, within a given section of that site. Certain elements, especially the navigational tools and the graphical elements such as logos, and to a lesser sense the font size and color, should remain constant across each page. The content may change, but people will recognize and feel a sense of comfort if the same familiar layout appears each time. Trying to give each page a unique layout confuses the user and makes him or her uneasy or feel lost. A common layout ensures that people enjoy your site and come back later.
One last thought: people don’t initially read web pages, they scan them. They look for keywords and phrases that jump out from the page. With a common layout, people can see very quickly whether a particular page is worth their time. You can be assured that if they cannot figure this out quickly, they’ll more likely leave than stick around to investigate. Make sure to highlight the key content in each page, whether by emphasizing the text or by adding a graphical element that draws the reader to that spot.