Web Design and Strategy: Is your website helping business?
July 23, 2014
We all know a good website when we see one. But what makes it good?
For starters, a long load time can be very frustrating for a visitor. So be careful about using a lot of flash technology, lengthy picture galleries, audio or videos that start playing immediately when your site opens. But once the page does load- branding, navigation, visual cues, and relevant information are the real determining factors.
Open your website in a new tab or window. When you look at the page, what are the first 3 things that draw your attention? One of those things should be your logo. And the other two should re-enforce who you are and what your business does. Most first time website visitors spend only 10-20 seconds evaluating your page before they decide to stay or move on to the next site. If the three primary eye-catching elements on your home page aren’t delivering the right message, those visitors aren't sticking around.
The rest of this article will help you evaluate your site based on how it delivers vital information to your customers. By describing what a well-designed site should do, you can view your site content with a fresh perspective and make improvements as you see fit.
Every business website should have a main navigation bar with links to core navigation pages, including a Home page, About Us, Product/Service Page(s), Contact Information and a News or Blog feed. This can usually be found at the top or the side of the page. Why? Because you want visitors to find information as quickly as possible before they close the window. All vital information for first time visitors should be linked there because that is where they are trained to look for answers.
Key Responsibilities of the Core Navigation Pages:
Home Page- The home page defines who you are and what business you’re in. If a customer can’t tell this basic information from your home screen, they are going to move on to another site.
About Us- This is a page that answers more in-depth questions about you. Try defining why you’re in business, why the customer should care and what you do differently than competitors. Some businesses go a step farther and introduce individual employees with a picture and a brief bio. This gives you the ability to highlight the qualifications of employees and can go a long way in establishing credibility and trust with customers.
Product/Service Page(s)- These pages go into detail about what your business has to offer. From private lessons and classes to hosting community events, these pages describe specifically what you do as a business. The content of these pages should deliver on the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why). For example: If your business offers an Open Gym, the Open Gym page of your website should say who can show up, what they will be doing, when it happens, where it takes place and why customers should want to attend. (A link to registration would also be helpful!)
Contact Information- It is common courtesy -and in some cases, a legal requirement- to give customers contact information including a physical/mailing address, telephone and fax number, email address and any other relevant information that can be used to contact you directly. Many businesses also include a form to submit an email or support ticket to their staff. This page ensures that if a customer has a problem, question, or complaint, they have a way to approach you about it first, giving you the opportunity to resolve any issues before they become public domain.
News or Blog- This space is reserved for showing customers what you’ve been up to lately. Customers in the digital age like a certain level of transparency. They want to know how you invest your time and money and how you’re giving back. They also want to know about other customers’ experiences. Post relevant information about business plans or closures, a team victory, customer achievements, testimonials or ratings, community events, advice, local news, etc. Customers who read your updates will get to know your business and staff on a personal level and might be more willing to participate in additional activities.
There are some basic guidelines to writing and designing your website content that will keep you on the right track. Some design elements are fairly common sense; for example, you don’t want a website that’s overcrowded with text, but you do want to have enough information available to make the page a worth-while read. Try adding in visuals- but only if they are relevant or add value. Use headings and bold text to deliver visual cues for important information. And stick to a handful of easy to read colors with good contrast. Red text on a pink background is probably not going to attract readers.
There are many more elements to design that might not be quite as obvious. Try using the guidelines below to evaluate your site and pinpoint improvements!
1. Every page needs a clear purpose. Whether it’s to answer a question, give advice, list information, or solve a problem- every page should have a purpose. And a quick skim of the content on that page should clearly define it.
2. Consider your audience. Who will be viewing this page? What are their primary concerns? What word choices, fonts, images, etc. will trigger the right mental or emotional response? A webpage can’t deliver the right message if it isn’t designed for the right audience.
3. Pick a voice. Are you talking about “My Gym” “Our Gym” or “Superstars Gymnastics”? Each page should stick to using one perspective. Strictly informative pages are often phrased in the third person. Such as, “Superstars Gymnastics is the premier gymnastics training facility in the state. At any one of its many locations, you can find highly trained instructors and serious athletes.” Pages designed for sales, motivation, or persuasion often use conversational tones. For example “Our coaches are CPR and First Aid certified to provide top quality care for our athletes.”
4. Organize your thoughts. Every page should be organized deliberately to follow a pattern of thought, which ideally culminates in some sort of action-seeking link, form or phrase. A page about class pricing may give a description of the classes, images of a students or instructors, and finish with a line to “Sign Up Today!” FAQ pages are often organized into topics and finish with an action step such as “Still have questions? Contact us!” Even an About Us page can end with a link to “View our class offerings!” to direct customers to the next step of the buying process.
5. Use consistent branding in a readable way. Not every page has to look the same, but stick with similar color schemes and layouts to encourage an integrated user experience. Sudden and extreme changes in presentation may put customers on alert. If a customer feels the need to check their address bar to make sure they haven't gone to another site, then the design of the page is probably too different. If you have a lot of pages built into your website, simplify navigation through mid-level topic pages with links or pop-out menus. And lastly, if you are using a third party tool that redirects customers to another website- adjust its appearance to better match your website’s appearance. It may not always be perfectly camouflaged, depending on the customization level you are given, but there shouldn’t be a complete disconnect in colors and branding.
When you design content for your website, using these guidelines will not only improve the customer experience- but the information itself will be designed in a way that makes it more easily cataloged by search engines. That means the next time a customer searches with your business name and a key phrase, the page you intended them to visit will naturally appear higher in the search results. When your strategy is implemented correctly, the end result should be a happier, more informed customer and higher web traffic to pages with vital information.