It might seem odd for a web design and development company to be writing a blog with tips on how to design a website. The reality though is that while we can develop concepts and recommend best practice implementation, while we have many years of experience in building effective websites, and in some cases have extensive experience in developing sites for a particular industry, for all that we still don’t know your business and your target market as well as you. So while a web developer can provide sound technical and commercial advice, ultimately we take our direction from our customers.
The purpose of this blog is not to provide tips on the technical aspects of creating and coding a site, but to give you as a business owner or manager an understanding of some elements that make an effective web page and to help you in your discussions with your website developer.
My top 10 tips on web design, in no particular order, are:
- Decide on your key messages and branding before you start on the web design process. These will inform all aspects of the site design; from navigation, to wireframe structures, graphic concepts, page layouts.
- Keep it simple and remember the site is for your customers. Your site visitors are there for a purpose, and if you make them work too hard to find the information they need, or find the products or service they want, well, there are millions of other websites that they can go to instead. Your goal should be for your visitors to know exactly what your site is about in less than 5 seconds, simplicity is key.
- Think about how visitors will navigate your site. Many businesses have a fixed idea of how their customers behave, but in fact people browse websites in all sorts of ways, some want a defined search, some browse, some are extremely visual, some text focused. To get the best possible conversions on your site, you need to cater to these various ways of using websites as much as you can, don’t place barriers in front of a big slice of your potential customers, and as a fallback, always include a detailed sitemap.
- Call to action. There are many websites that have stylish and elegant designs and, presumably because it doesn’t fit the design esthetic, where bold and clear calls to action have been forgotten. It really doesn’t matter how much traffic you generate, and how attractive your site, if you don’t make it clear what your visitor should do next, call, order etc, then you’ve wasted your investment. Make it easy for your visitors to know what they should do to respond to your call to action.
- Use web conventions. People have quite specific expectations of how a website should work, based on their experience from visiting many other sites. If you try to reinvent the wheel and do things very differently from other sites, you will simply confuse your visitors and they’ll go to a site that they do understand. Even basic conventions such as underlined text for links, common menu behaviour, linking the logo to the homepage etc. are all common expectations that you ignore at your peril.
- Fast page load times are important, for your visitors and for SEO. I know how tempting it can be to load those fabulous high definition product images, or write at enormous length on a topic you are passionate about, but slow loading pages will drive your visitors away. Make sure your images are optimised for the web, and take the advice of your web developer about optimum file sizes.
- Write for your target audience. We’ve covered copywriting many times in our blog, but it’s always worth repeating the most effective copywriting is clear, uses minimal jargon, and is succinct. Focusing on good copywriting will help with website conversions and also SEO.
- Contact Me. I’m not entirely sure why so many online businesses don’t want to provide phone numbers or more often a physical address of some sort. Detailed contact information gives your customers confidence in your service and it’s far less frustrating than an anonymous form submission. If you work from home and don’t want that address know publicly, then use an alternative address such as accountant, solicitors etc.
- Be consistent. It can be tempting to have a variety of font, heading and layout styles, but nothing screams unprofessional louder than a website where every page uses different styles and colours etc. It’s hard work getting visitors to go beyond your homepage or a landing page, don’t waste that hard work by making your site visually confusing and hard to read.
- Not quite a web design tip, but don’t stress about getting every last detail right the first time around. Websites have a huge advantage over other media, and that’s that it’s very easy to change. Despite all your research and efforts prior to and during the website development, you may well find that your visitors tell you that they’d prefer some things to work differently. If that’s the case, it’s fantastic that they care and will tell you, and in our experience is perfectly normal for a site to evolve, especially over the first 12 months after its launch.
So those are a few tips to keep in mind when you embark on a website development project. It will be a lot of hard work, but by understanding the development process you will get a better result and hopefully have some fun along the way.