Sometimes it helps to get back to basics. Business owners and marketing professionals are bombarded daily with online marketing tips leading them off into a thousand different directions.
It is overwhelming.
To revisit the core principles of effective website design and development we are putting together this series, “What Makes a Good Website”. This first post is dedicated to design.
We spend a great deal of time advising our clients on the best marketing tools to use and what tools to ignore. But, a constant in every conversation with clients is that a website is still very important and should be the hub of their marketing wheel of influence…
No matter what the latest and greatest tools are in the outer areas of the wheel, your website is always the focus. Assuming that your website is a tool that you need to succeed online, shouldn’t it look good, function well and convert a visitor to a client?
Design still matters. The look of your website sets the tone for the user for the type of message and experience they can expect. In a hurried search for information, effective design elements are the hooks that grab the user’s attention. So, what are the elements of a good website design?
- Content, yes content
- Visual cues
- A beginning and an end
This list is probably not what you expected in an article about the importance of website design. But, this is not a beauty contest. A pretty website is not always a successful website.
Website design starts and ends with content. And more importantly, website design and content are not mutually exclusive. A website needs content because it’s what people are looking for. So, when designing a website, it makes sense to start with a content strategy.
Your design needs to support your content and should lead the user to the content they need. Take some time and answer these questions before you jump into design…
- Who is your audience? See our post on Buyer Personas
- Who will write and organize the content for the website?
- What are the goals of the content, what do you want the user to do?
Once you have the answers you can start to map out the site structure and a plan for the visual layout of the home and specific landing pages. If you know what content your users need then you can decide the best way to develop it and to present it to them.
Now that you have your content strategy in place, it’s time to put your knowledge of your “buyer personas” to work. What do these people respond to? What are they like? What are their needs and how can you solve their problems?
The visual elements used in design are the guides that lead the user to specific areas of the site and its content. I am not talking about design for design’s sake. Pretty does nothing without strategy. But, a strategy without design to support it is just more jumbled noise.
You want to develop a design palette that will speak to your target audience – colors, fonts, textures, imagery. These are the pieces of the design that will act as visual cues that lead the user to specific bits of information. Taken as a whole, the elements in your design palette do nothing unless you align them with your content and goals.
You will want to decide what content and which goals are most important. Then you can use the design elements as well as spatial arrangement to layout your message in a way that makes this happen almost subconsciously…
- They stay. They stay on the website and look for more content. The design, whether they know it or not, speaks to them. They feel they have arrived on a website designed for them. Why? Because you took the time to consider who they are and what they are looking for and you assembled visual information that speaks to them with color, design and layout.
- They click. They click because they are compelled to click. By what? Your layout directs their eye where it needs to go. Your colors draw attention to important pieces of information. And they click.
- They convert. They convert because they believe that you understand them and you have shown them what they need to see. Your website is designed and your content is written for them. They know this, mostly subconsciously, and therefore they feel comfortable. This website has them feeling a sense of confidence.
They stay, click and convert not because your website has the best content in the world, although content is important. And not because you were number one in Google, although that’s important and we’ll discuss it later in the series.
They stay, click and convert because they feel comfortable that you will provide them with what they need. This is a result of content, ranking, AND visual cues leading them along this path.
A beginning and an end
Navigating a website is a process that is rarely linear in nature. It is more stream of consciousness. The user is in a constant state of being overwhelmed by lots of stimulus. They need direction.
We’ve already talked about content and using visual cues to get them to that content. But ultimately what is the goal? You could certainly place a link to every page on your website right on your homepage. You want them to find everything they could possible need right? Yes and no.
As we’ve already discussed, it is important to lead the user where you want them to go. A website should be a series of short paths with a beginning and an end. In Google Analytics this is referred to as goal tracking and can look something like this…
Homepage –> Blog post –> Product/Service page –> Contact Form –> Thank you page… Success!
Sometimes this is a much shorter path and could be as simple as…
Landing page –> Form (maybe even on the landing page) –> Thank you page… Success!
On each of these pages, there should be an obvious call to action. The user needs to know what to do. The best way to do this is to design the page with minimal distractions.
Take out anything that is going to come between the user and the desired action you wish them to take. You want to design your website and each page taking into considering how the user got to that page – search engine, link from your site, advertising, referral – and where you want them to go next.
Visually mapping out the beginning and end of the user experience. As you can see a discussion about website design is not necessarily about Photoshop or design composition. This is about the user experience and what success looks like when the user comes to your site.
Also, don’t ignore your mobile users. Make sure your website uses responsive design!
Take a look at your website and compare it to the points made above. Where can you make improvements in the design? What do you think? How does design affect your experience on a website? Does it matter? Let us know in the comments below.