Effective web design might be the most important part of marketing in 2016. And what seems like a daunting, impossible task can be pretty simple if you plan ahead and know what you’re doing. Here are a dozen tips for you to follow, so your website is as great as your business.
Before deciding what your site will look like, think about what you want it to do. Are you trying to sell a product, and will you be taking online orders? Or is your site simply informative, giving customers all they need to know to make a visit or give you a call? Decide whether your site’s objective is to make sales, generate leads, build your brand or all of the above, then gear everything you do towards that.
We’re all lazy. And if customers have to go much past your main page to find your address, phone number and email address, they may give up and go to another site. And they’ll absolutely head for the virtual door if they have no idea what your company does. Make sure you’ve got at least a couple of sentences that explain clearly what you do, where you are, and how people can contact you. Having a “contact us” tab is nice, but it’s far more useful when that info is up front.
It’s usually best to assume whoever is on your site hasn’t been able to read a computer screen without glasses since the 1990s, and had the Internet explained to them by a fifth-grader. So use lots of white space, simple fonts, clear graphics, and a few, self-explanatory tabs in your design. Nobody has ever hired an accountant because of his awesome Flash graphics.
“There’s a difference between saying ‘we’re a hip company’ and actually conveying that image,” says Chris Stegner, a partner at MAD Dev, a web design firm based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. “You need to make sure the look and feel of your website reflects the look and feel of your company.” So if you’re hip and funny, make sure your copy has some wit and your graphics are amusing. If you’re a seriously professional company, everything about the website needs to scream professionalism, from the color scheme on the main page to the images you use.
If people want to read 3,000 words on a computer screen, they’ll buy a subscription to the New Yorker. If they want info on your company, they want it quick, fast and easy. “Figure out what message you’re trying to convey, and do it as quickly as possible,” says Stegner. “Every additional word on your page takes away from the important ones.” 400 words maximum per page is a good guideline.
You may be tempted by flashy graphics of snow falling in the Himalayas and a loop of Axel F playing in the background, but all that stuff makes your site painfully slow to load. And that might take a while to load if you’re surfing the Internet on the subway. Search engines also use load times as a determinant for rankings, so the faster you can get your site fully loaded, the faster you can start converting site visitors into customers.
“There’s increasing research on how people judge a brand by the quality of its website,” says Stegner. “So invest in something that looks the part.” Terrible stock pictures are the first giveaway that your site hasn’t put a whole lot of effort into looking like your brand. And low-quality, clearly-Instagrammed pictures look amateurish and unprofessional. If you’re in a business where the look of your product is a big selling point – like restaurants, bars, landscaping, or fashion – spend the extra money and get pictures done professionally. It’ll also help your social media.
Mobile devices have officially overtaken computers as the places people spend the most time online, logging 51% of all online activity to computers’ 42%. Which means, if your site isn’t easily readable on a five-inch screen, your potential for customers just went down. Preview everything in mobile before putting it online, and if it’s not working go back to the drawing board.
How many times have you read a really great sales pitch and thought “I actually want to buy that, where do I sign up?” And then there’s nowhere to sign up. That sale gets made roughly zero percent of the time. Make sure you clearly direct visitors on how to give you business. Want them to come into your restaurant? Have a button that says “Make a reservation here.” Or if you want them to order a product, have a link to your shopping cart at the end of every item description. This seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many websites don’t make it explicitly clear.
There’s an abundance of research showing that customers want prices listed on websites. And while putting your pricing upfront is a good way to build trust, exude transparency, and show your product is affordable, it’s not ALWAYS the best idea. “A good rule is if you’re disclosing pricing in any other place, you should do it on your website,” says Stegner, adding that places like restaurants or retail stores should always have pricing online. “But if you’re doing custom stuff, where the price will change from one person to the next, it makes no sense. Stuff like plumbing or roofing, it’s almost impossible.”
Hiring a professional here might have the biggest marketing ROI possible. But if it’s not something you can afford, you absolutely need to educate yourself in search engine optimization. Take a class or two on the topic, and stay up to date by reading current publications. SEOmoz and Search Engine Land are some good places to start.
Even if your web design knowledge is limited to that week you spent trying to put something on Blogger, you don’t necessarily need to hire a professional. Plenty of sites like WordPress offer templates that are more than enough for smaller businesses. But, again, it all depends on your objectives. “Think about what your company’s goals are,” advises Stegner. “If you’re to the point where you’re making money from your website, and it becomes your main face, then you need to hire a professional. If your goal is just to let people know where you are and look at your menu, then finding another resource is good enough.”