I love designing websites.
It is one of the joys of this job that I came upon by accident. I didn’t go to school for website layout, but it’s something that I’ve found I really enjoy and honestly I’m pretty good at. Occasionally I have friends or clients show me a site they like the look of, and sometimes yes, these sites look cool, but when the functionality of the site – the flow and access to information – is low, the site becomes nothing more than a shiny trinket on the internet, only visited once for the ‘neat-o’ factor then quickly forgotten about. Aside from visual impact I always consider the following points.
Who is visiting the site and why?
Know your visitors is step 1 to a smooth and fluid website experience. If most of your visitors are coming to your site to look at product, or learn about your services, it would make sense to put that information right in front of them as soon as they arrive – not behind 3 or 4 clicks worth of menus and subpages. I try to keep access to any page on the site within 2 or 3 clicks max, so no matter who visits they can get where they want to go with a minimum of hassle.
What is your message?
Focus. This is probably the #1 item missing from poorly developed sites. What is the message? What do you want to tell visitors when they come to your site? It was common to list all of your company info on your site in the old days of the internet. Now I look at websites like TV commercials – in that we only have a visitor’s attention for a limited amount of time, so what do we want to tell them? Are we pushing an online e-commerce store? Do we want them to book an appointment? Or drive traffic to a brick and mortar store? Above all else a site needs to be planned and written with this goal in mind.
Keep it Simple
In the early 2000’s, companies were just building their first websites. Back then it was a depository for all information about themselves. History, clients, products, how those products work, etc, etc. Every. Single. Detail. Too much information can overwhelm a reader. If a visitor come to your site looking for sledgehammers, they don’t need a history lesson on them and what uses they have. What they DO want to know is that you carry them, and that you are the expert in the area and can help them make the right choice.
Understand which decisions are made online and which are made in person
People are visiting your site for a reason. Most commercial traffic on the internet is simply to vet or research a company – to see if they are the ones who can do the job. Are they qualified? Do they have what I need? Are they professional? These are the decisions people make online, – and these are the questions you need to answer with your website.
What you don’t need to answer are specific questions that need your expertise to answer. Questions such as: Which product is right for me? How much product do I need? How often should I be using a product or service? These are customer specific questions, and the goal of your site should be to a) establish yourself as an authority in your field, and b) drive a secondary follow up, either by phone, email or in person. Get them to call you, get them to come into your store. Your sales team can do a much better job closing a sale than any text on a screen ever could.
There are so many other factors that go into a site design, specific to the type and purpose. The above points give a general idea of what it takes to make a great site – a site that is a joy to visit and navigate. Yea a flashy full screen video on the front page may look cool, but can you back it up with well laid out content that your visitor actually wants to see?