These days, only the most remote and old-fashioned businesses remain ignorant of the necessity of having a website; but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that we all know what we’re doing. Clunky websites that are slow to load or impossible to read on mobile phones are surprisingly common.
But you don’t need to spend big budgets on big agencies to get an effective website for your business. Whether you go it alone on a platform like WordPress or you brief a designer to create a bespoke site, there are some basic principles of effective web design to bear in mind…
1. Start with your business objective
What is the purpose of your website? What action do you want your visitors to take? Do you want them to read your blog posts? Sign up for your newsletter? Buy your product? Clarity on your number one objective will help you to focus on the most crucial information ‘above the fold’ (i.e. within the first part of the website that is visible without scrolling), with a clear call to action (a green button has been shown to work well!). This focus will also mean that you can get rid of all that clutter that doesn’t really contribute to your objective; white space can be very effective.
2. Make the navigation simple and intuitive
You may think you’re being creative with some never-before-seen design but all you’re doing is creating barriers between you and your potential customer, and the likely outcome is that they will simply give up and leave. People tend to read from left to right, they’re used to horizontal menus at the top or vertical menus down the left, and they’re impatient and will drop off if they have to go through too many steps or clicks. Bear this in mind and follow the basic conventions so that people feel immediately comfortable and can get straight to work with finding the information they’re looking for.
3. Make sure it’s mobile friendly
A lot of small business websites still don’t take into account the large and ever-increasing number of visitors that are using a tablet or a mobile. Depending on the nature of your business, the proportion of mobile users can be larger than desktop – so what’s the point in having some fancy design that simply doesn’t work for half your customers? Making your website mobile responsive (so that it adapts to the screen size of the device) doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – many WordPress themes are mobile responsive as default, while if you’re working with an agency or designer you should specify this as a mandatory criterion of the site.
4. Keep the writing short and crisp
Don’t try to sound clever or get too creative with your writing, whether we’re talking about menu labels, call-to-action buttons, or the main body text on the site. Instead, make sure you’re using consumer language and avoiding jargon, highlight important words and phrases using bold and italics, break up long text with bullets and short paragraphs. Again, people are impatient and will be scanning the site for the information they’re after – confuse them or take too long to get to the point and they’ll get frustrated and go elsewhere.
5. Content, content, content!
Create content for your site that sits in the sweet spot between your business objective and your customers’ needs. Understanding who your visitors are and where they are coming from will help you to create relevant content that answers their most burning questions and keeps them coming back to your site. This content will help to build your credibility as experts in your field, build relationships with your customers and, of course, build your search rankings to get even more traffic to your site. Don’t forget to make the content sharable, so that your customers can spread the word for you; once you’ve created this content, you can also push it out yourselves in other ways, whether via email newsletters or via social media such as on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Next time you’re on a website – perhaps you’ll be doing your online banking, or booking a hotel, or trying to find a local restaurant – we suggest you spend some time thinking about how easy it is to find the information you’re looking for, whether the design of the site helps or hinders you, and what you might learn from their mistakes. Never forget that you’re a consumer, a human being in fact, as well as a business owner or a marketer!
We’d love for you to share examples of websites that you’ve found to be particularly good, or shockingly bad, in the comments below!