Why Design Is Important
Our 5 principles of website design:
1) Marketing Focus & Purpose
2) Design & Layout: Keep It Simple
3) Do Not Make Your Visitors Work (too hard)
4) SEO: If You Build It (properly), They Will Come
5) Build Your Website for the Long Term
1) Marketing Focus & Purpose
Before you build a website, consider what you want your website to accomplish. Is the primary purpose of your website to:
• provide business credibility?
• attract new business?
• provide a service or information to clients?
Have you ever visited a website and found yourself not sure what to click on... because there were too many choices?
Your website is successful when it achieves your goals. So before you hire a designer or make any decision about design style for your website, clarify your goals.
Most websites are 'brochure' websites
Most of the websites we visit - especially small business websites - are simply online brochures for the company. They aren't designed with a marketing focus. If your goal is simply to be an online brochure, or show a portfolio of your work (artists, photographics, designers) then you might focus primarily on graphic design.
If your intention is to attract new customers, then think of your website as your "virtual salesperson." In this case, you've got to design and write your content in a way that makes it easy for a visitor on your site to quickly see and hear your marketing message, and then take action (such as sign up for your newsletter, call you, or email you).
Your website can be a 'virtual salesperson' for your business - if you include these elements:
• simple and clear navigation
• uncluttered design, white background, free of visual distractions (such as flash animation)
• well presented, succinct copy that highlights the benefits of your products and services
• clean and simple code, minimal graphics on each page (1 or 2) and fast loading pages
• search engine optimization
For an even stronger marketing focus, also include these elements:
• video presentation on the HOME page
• if no video, include a photo of a business owner / or manager with an audio message
• audio/video testimonials from satisfied customers
• a blog - where you continually add relevant information for your customers (this also helps your business be found in search engines, by generating news feeds for each blog entry)
If your intention is for your website to broadcast your opinions or ideas to a wider audience, your focus would include online advertising approaches, or possibly pay-per-click advertising.
Do you want a strong online marketing presence? Then make sure your website combines these elements of simple design, marketing focus on content, and search engine optimization.
Graphic Designers Focus on Design - not marketing
Too often, a graphic artist building a website, or a business owner, assumes that visitors on their website are going to carefully consider or navigate all the content on their web site just because it is there, and because it's visually artistic.
Too many websites are built by designers who are more interested in creating a visually stunning and interesting design - than in building a website that stimulates the visitor to contact you for business. And too often, websites are built without any regard for search engine performance.
While fancy graphics and flash animation are interesting, it's not going to sell your company, or your services and products.
Do you want visitors to your site to be impressed by your fancy graphics and flash animation images - or do you want them to read and hear what you have to say and contact you to do business?
Most web designers don't know know anything about marketing - or how to get prospects on your website to want to do business with you. They do know a lot about design and how to put your website pages together technically - and so if you're like most business owners, you'll hire a graphic designer to create a nice looking design. But this is backwards!
Do you want your website to attract and generate business? Then, focus on:
1) attracting prospects to your website (through search engine optimization)
2) delivering the information your prospective customer needs, and presenting that information in a way that encourages them to do business with you (to take action immediately upon landing on your website)
What is the Purpose of Your Website?
Visitors to your site should know immediately the products and services you offer. They should be able to understand what you offer within a few seconds.
- Does your HOME page have a marketing focus?
- Does your copy talk about the benefits your products and services offer?
- Does your content encourage and make it easy for the visitor to contact you?
- Do your page headlines create reader interest?
When you write content for your website - most importantly your 'Home' page, make it easy for visitors to quickly understand the benefits of your products and services and contact you. For example, if you want visitors to call you immediately, then make sure your phone number is prominently displayed on every page of your website.
Gain Your Reader's Attention
Remember, visitors to your website want instant gratification. They want to know what you can do for them. So don't confuse them with too many links and choices.
You must quickly gain the reader's attention!
A great headline enters the conversation that is already going on in your reader's mind, and leaves no doubt about how he or she can benefit from reading the rest of your message.
Marketing experts know that the headline is the most important thing about any form of media, including all forms of advertising, editorials, press releases, signs, etc. Yet, business websites rarely make use of great headlines on their web pages.
It doesn't matter how good your content is - if nobody reads it. We recommend you use headlines written to attract and draw the visitor in to reading more about your products and services.
Many people forget when they design their website that an important purpose of their website is to generate new business. If you want visitors to your website to contact you, keep this in mind when you build your website. Then, keep the focus of your website on your company and product benefits and on the action you want the visitor to take.
2) Design & Layout: Keep It Simple.
Statistics show: You have only 7 seconds to make an impact.
Take a closer look at the Apple, Google, and Yahoo websites as well as some other hugely popular sites. What do they do right? They keep their design very simple, using minimalist design and acres of white space.
Users demand ease of use and the ability to find good information quickly and efficiently. Statistics, and research about popular websites, prove that users rate believe the quality and credibility of a site to be far more important than fancy graphics, flash imagery, music and complex backgrounds.
The better-constructed websites, and modern designers, are moving towards having the web page centrally located in the browser window. It is also good practice to use fewer columns, certainly no more than three columns on a page. This streamlines the design and makes it simpler, easier to read, and delivers an instant impact.
It is also important is to make the top of the screen, known as the page header, and navigation area stand out from the main page content area.
Search engines read text, not flash or images, and a good design should utilize this fact. If your site is stuffed with high-end graphical design and imagery, but is not built for search engines, or to maximize the visitor experience, it will not be successful.
Our website designs reflect clarity and simplicity, using as few features as possible to create the intended impact and results. Our Bronze and Silver website designs are created in 2 and 3 column layouts with lots of white space and a high quality header graphic image.
3) Do Not Make Your Visitors Work (too hard)
Your website should make it easy for visitors to find, quickly scan and read relevant information. If you make the information hard to find, they will go elsewhere.
Your content must be well-organized and concise, using one or two sentence paragraphs, headings, subheadings and bulleted lists whenever possible.
Navigation via menus and links must be easy to find and use. Do not be tempted to use complicated drop down menus or links. Keep the navigation simple and instinctive, encouraging visitors to explore further.
The page layout must be uncluttered, clear and simple with lots of white space. Notice the white background on most of the popular and successful sites.
The bottom line is that your website design should manage users' attention and gently guide them towards the desired action you want them to take. You can do this by using simple page layout design, providing an easy navigation structure, including relevant images and, most importantly, providing well-written and concise copy.
4) SEO: If You Build it (properly) They Will Come.
SEO = Search Engine Optimization
Simply having a website does not mean that you'll have visitors. It takes time and work to bring customers to your website, and ongoing work in order to keep them coming back.
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN are the main sources of traffic for almost every website. If you want to generate traffic to your website, you must have your website designed and optimized in specific ways, ensuring peak performance across the complete spectrum of search engines.
The best thing you can do to facilitate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to design and write your website while thinking about your target audience of clients and visitors.
If the structure of the website is not designed in a way to optimize search engine ranking, it has little hope of ever improving its ranking.
While some web design companies can deliver visually stunning and technically brilliant graphical sites, they do not always understand how search engines work. You run the risk of ending up with a website that looks beautiful, but is never seen, because it ranks poorly in Google. For more information, see the article on Search Engine Optimization.
Before you build a website, you must identify the "keywords" for your business. Keywords are the words that people will type in to a Google or Yahoo, or MSN search in order to find your business. For example, if you are a Financial Advisor in Gilbert, Arizona, you would identify keywords such as: Financial Advisor, Financial Services, Gilbert, Arizona, Insurance, etc. It would be difficult for you to compete with large Financial Services companies with simply the keywords "Financial Advisor," so you've got to get more specific. You'll have a much better chance of gaining search engine ranking with a keyword combination of "Financial Advisor Gilbert Arizona." For more information on keyword ranking, see the article on Choosing a Domain Name.
The second best thing you can do is to hire a website designer who knows how to build your site with the search engines in mind. SEO doesn't happen overnight. It usually takes weeks or months to get good rankings, and your page rankings can change daily or even hourly.
5) Build Your Website for the Long Term
Ensure that your website is built to last well into the future. Be careful that you're not buying a template or technology that will be outdated in a couple of years.
Design fashions have changed on the internet in recent years, so avoid using a site design that risks becoming dated in style, function and technology. A narrow page site, or a site that sits at the left side of a monitor is obviously dated. Websites built only a few years ago were built with narrower page widths for smaller monitors. Most monitors (LCD) purchased now display between 1024-1075 pixel width, which means that your website pages should be between 900-1000 pixels wide. If your website pages are not close to 1,000 pixels wide, it becomes obvious to many viewers that you have an old website.
There are many types of technologies available and utilized when building a website. Some of them are outdated, others make it difficult for you to edit your content later, others still will not provide you with the original source code files (which can cause a problem for you if the website company later goes out of business).
Be sure that if you do buy a "flash" or graphically designed website, you obtain the source code files. You likely will not receive these files unless you ask for them - and some companies will not give them to you. Some business owners have been left with websites they can't edit or change when a website company went out of business and failed to deliver their website source code files to them when they purchased the website.
Make sure your website contains secure email forms. For example, many web designers will provide online forms, but they are not sufficiently secure. You must ensure that your sensitive online forms are secured with "CAPTCHA" encoding. You are held responsible by your website hosting company if you post unsecured forms on your site and spammers use your site to send spam email. Putting a security code on your online forms is just like locking your car door or house at night. We hope that it will never be necessary, but it is still good practice to lock the door.
In short, make sure your website is designed using the latest technologies and design style, with longevity and practicality in mind.