Good web design starts with writing a good website brief: succinct, structured, outlining your business, your values, your target audience and your metrics for success. You need an idea of what’s worked before, either for you or a competitor, and you need a handle on all the boring stuff like who owns your domain name, who hosts your website, and who will create and maintain your content. Dull, but necessary.
When building your site, though, you should keep an eye out for the popular pitfalls into which so many companies fall. We might go so far as to say you should give your existing website a proper looking at and ask yourself whether it’s really any good at all. It’s probably not.
What are you looking out for? Any of these – the seven deadly sins of web design.
Websites that aren’t responsive look the same regardless of what you’re using to view them. Given that nearly two thirds of UK web browsing is done via mobile devices, that means an unresponsive website is hacking off two thirds of its users. It won’t be scaled or adapted to their device – the content will be unreadable, the menus will be fiddly, and they’ll have to spend more time scrolling and resizing than they do actually interacting with the thing. This alone is reason enough to have a mobile-friendly design, before you factor in that Google typically ranks responsive websites above unresponsive ones in the old SERPs (search engine result pages) – and you want to be topping search results, right?
We’ll put this as delicately as possible: your boss’ nephew isn’t a web developer. They may have taken a few coding classes and they may have put together a Flash video that’s a jape-and-a-half, but they need insight into your website brief, your marketing strategy, and how your customers are going to use your website, not to mention a sense of aesthetics. Pretend you’ve never seen your own website before and really look at it. (If you’re not good at pretending, collar someone who doesn’t work for you and make them do it.) If it looks drab, dated, crowded or empty, that’s how your prospective customers are seeing it.
Lack of usability
Your website exists to attract and engage users, and to convert their usage into sales. Everything about it needs to do that. It needs to take their tiny hands and lead them through a sales journey as though it were a pleasant stroll through landscaped gardens, where every root and hummock on which their delicate ankles might snag has been pounded flat. Any quirks or clunks in the flow from finding the website to buying something have to go. Afford no chances for the customer to feel lost and not know where to click next. Everything has to be as safe, as clear and as easy as possible. Oh, and it has to load quickly – keep the time to first byte down and your users won’t have time to get bored and wander off into the bushes.
Showing off, not telling about
Testimonials are great, user generated reviews are great, news posts about that brilliant review you got from Widgets Weekly are great, a Twitter plugin is great, video content once a week is great, but tooting your own horn until the rubber squeezy bit at the end falls off is not. It’s your company’s website, but it’s for your customers. Think about what they need to know, ask what problem they have that you’re selling a solution to, and put the answers front and centre.
Lack of usability (yes, again)
We’ve already talked about your customers using your website, but what about you and your employees? If you have to ask your web developer very nicely to do something as simple as put up a notice saying “closed for Christmas”, your web developer might be taking you for a ride. There are so many Content Management Systems – ways to get the stuff you’ve made onto your website – out there, and they’re so easy to use that a fancy-dancy only-for-the-pros bespoke system isn’t called for at all.
Your website may be graceful, elegant, functional and friendly, but that’s no use if your customers can’t find the blessed thing. Usability isn’t enough to climb the SERPs on its own – you need search engine optimisation. It helps to know how your customers are going to find you – what are they going to type into Google or Bing that’ll bring them to you? Stick those search terms in the URL, the page title and the Meta Description (aka the four things that appear in search engine results).
Provide a sitemap and alternative text for your images, as Google navigates your site with these accessibility tools. There’s a bit more to it than that, but being aware of the basics when you’re putting the site together will make your life easier in the long run.
You might have dodged every other bullet in the bad web design gun – but you might have done it five years ago. In that time, your business has changed, your customers have changed, the way people browse the Internet has changed, and the tools to check your success have changed. You may be producing great text content with every keyword neatly slotted into place, but video accounts for 70% of traffic on the Internet, so your website still needs an overhaul or at least a brushing up to make sure it’s delivering video content well.
Chances are, you need to change something about your website. The good news is, you’re not alone. Put together a brief – what you want your website to do, who you want to do it to, and how you’ll know you’re doing it well. Work out what you want to see in terms of traffic, leads and sales. If you’d like a little more help in driving those metrics up, try downloading our free 25 Website Essentials ebook.