Often times, I’ll get a request for a website, and all the client wants is a good looking site. That’s a great start, but it’s just like the old saying goes: Good looks can only take you so far. Same is true for a website.
If you’re on the market for a new website, you must remember that it takes more than a nice face to give you a return on your investment. After all, your website is an extension and representation of your business. If you have a great look but your visitors get lost with a couple clicks (“Where do I find the contact info??”) or can’t figure out what your business does, then your website might as well not exist at all.
On average, it takes less than 10 seconds for a visitor to decide whether or not you are what they are looking for. While this may seem simple to conceptualize, it is much harder than it seems. It takes lots of planning to produce a beautiful yet functional website. The common promise to give you a website in ‘just 2 days’ or ‘quick website templates’ do little to cater to the many facets of maximizing results on your website presence (ROI).
While I could spend forever detailing the many factors of intelligent website design, here are a few:
User Interface (a.k.a. UI)
This is essentially the design. The beauty. The logical positioning of every button and graphic and content on the site. This encompasses several factors that you would be wise not to underestimate, including: Colors, easy-to-read text, attractive graphics, quality photo images and most importantly, simplicity.
Yes, this can co-exist with good looks. Often times, my clients will tell me “I want it to be CLEAN.” On your very first page, give a short statement on the nature of your business. I’m not saying you need a book on the front page (simple is best!) but you must tell them what you do – after all, you have less than 10 seconds before they hit the ‘Back” button and return to their Google results.
If your business is a bit complex and requires more explanation, then by all means, TELL THEM as soon as they land on your website. Don’t make them click to figure out what you do.
The rest of your website needs to have information that the visitor will find useful. Blogs that are industry-related are perfect. Graphic explanations that simplify concepts that your customers are often confused about are also helpful. In fact, you can even provide them with the ability to share the article/blog with their friends on Facebook (using a Share button). Basically, your content should convince them you are an expert at what you do. This will not only convert visitors into customers, and give them a reason to recommend your site to their friends, but will also boost your search engine ranking (triple whammy)!
So remember: Quality over quantity on this one. Don’t fill up your site with boring, useless information. Instead, focus on what you know your visitors want to know and nothing more.
User Experience (a.k.a. UX)
I can’t begin to express just how important this is to your website. This is one of the most critical, yet most often ignored or underused component because of lack of skills/knowledge. It requires the ability to easily read, understand and navigate your website. The valuable rule of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) applies here. If you’re a web designer and want to read more, Smashing Magazine published an informative article on User Experience. Detailing every focus point for this component would require a book, but I’ll cover a few of the most important general concepts here.
- Keep it clean!
Overuse of graphics or content is a common enemy. Excessive “junk” can and will confuse users. Be wary of overwhelming ads, and keep the important calls to action easy to see and find. If your website exists for the sole purpose of getting visitors to make a hair appointment online, by all means, make sure that “Make an Appointment” button is on every page! Make sure they can always find their way “Home.” Make sure you don’t bury them in the Press Releases only to forget what your website does because the menu has disappeared. Leave breadcrumbs for poor Hansel and Gretel.
- Don’t keep them waiting
Good design should not keep the visitors waiting for graphics to load. If it takes more than a few seconds to load the page on a DSL line, you may lose your audience. Optimizing images is standard practice with professional designers, so be wary if they deliver a site that takes a long time to load.
- Be consistent
The navigation and layout should be the same throughout the site. You can easily lose your visitors when you’ve got different layouts for multiple pages. Remember: people should not have to hunt around for the ‘way back’ (“Where did that button go? I just saw it a minute ago…”).
- Descriptive links
It’s much easier to understand “Read more about our Web Design Services” than “Click Here to Learn More“. Users are ‘trained’ to look for links and are drawn to the text that is linked rather than reading an entire paragraph to find out what that link is really for. If you keep that in mind, your visitor’s experience will be more pleasant, less stressful and less time-consuming. Not to mention, the search engines love it too! Web crawlers don’t know what “click here” means, but they can interpret “why search engine optimization is important.”
- Cross-platform compatibility
There are many platforms to design for nowadays, including, Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. But let’s not forget the mobile devices such as the iPad and smart phones. If you didn’t already know, something that may look fantastic on IE may look terrible in Firefox if you do not design it properly. It is no longer acceptable to test only IE for website compatibility. A bad appearance on any of the other browsers or devices will cost you your audience.