Website Design May 2nd, 2013
Basically, this is it: what is the point of putting hours of effort with SEO campaigns and PPC techniques if people get to your site and immediately leave? That’s right friends, there is no point.
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Instead of following your visitors’ journey from search to sale, go backwards. Create something beautiful and welcoming before you even start thinking about how to get people to it. Sounds completely weird I know, but if you do it the other way you’ll just get caught up in keywords and strategies that can have a negative influence on your website design choices.
The point of website design is that it should delight people. I had a boss who used to say that and I cringed every time, but he was right. If you delight them with a pretty design and brilliant content, they will return and they will share. They will convert!
It doesn’t have to be all singing and all dancing. It doesn’t have to have interactive games and clever slidey slideshows. Leave that to people who are too clever to be normal (Google nerds).
Considerations as simple as “Which colours make people feel happy?” and “Is my business a round corner kind of fellow or a straight edge guy?” can make all the difference. Your website should feel like the company your customer will hopefully meet, from the meta descriptions found in the SERPs to the last word on the contact page.
As a copywriter it pains me to say this but design is the most important thing. Or rather, it’s the first thing. No one clicks on to a website and instantly thinks “WOAH, fragmented sentence at 3 o’clock!”, but they will instantly judge you based on how you look. Sorry.
As a very basic starting point, you need to ensure that you follow web standards. Content nicely aligned, padding even, images high quality…even a ‘boring’ website can be nice to use if it follows the rules and therefore looks tidy. Look into what web designers are saying about content distribution, site sizes and font types. It’s all out there for you.
Here’s a few very important design considerations to bear in mind:
How clear and simple your menu is can be make or break. Your pages need to follow an instinctive, user-targeted route or you will lose visitors as soon as they feel in the slightest bit disorientated.
Think about what your average user expects. They need a home page because that’s how they’ll stop themselves getting lost. They need a contact page at the end because it’s the last logical step. They need a marker so they know where they are. And they need everything named and filed in a sensible fashion.
‘Services’ is not a good page name. For a start, it’s hardly showing search engines that it’s a relevant page. What services? Bicycle repairs, circus acts, underwear design?
More importantly, your visitor is going to make a snap decision to stay or go based on a two second glance at the page they’ve landed on. The navigation bar is your visitor’s menu of what you do: give them what they came here for!
Eye tracking heat maps show that a Western PC user’s eyes travel in a vaguely triangular (or F-shaped) pattern from the top left hand of the page to the bottom right, like reading a book. They skip to headings and paragraph endings, and avoid big blocks of text – blah blah blah. It’s largely common sense, so why don’t more people consider it when designing a website?
This reasoning puts great importance on your logo, the first few page names in your menu, keyword-led H1 titles and seriously strong sign offs. Humans also focus on faces, so images of people are a good way to draw the eye to overlaid text.
Another thing to bear in mind is how lazy people are. Unless they’re casually surfing about the place, they’re probably looking for a precise subject and want it NOW or they’re out of here. So don’t make them scroll for something that should be top level. Everything you most need a potential customer to see should be above the fold so they don’t spend their three second visit deciding you suck.
A useful way of testing your site’s instant likeability is this guide to critiquing sites super fast (like your visitors will). After reading that you’ll never look at site designs in the same way and your conversion rates are almost certain to improve. Analysing your sites like this is called conversion rate optimisation (CRO): not just saying “Pink will make people feel romantic”, but feeling your way around the site as a customer and keeping an eye on what any changes do to your statistics.
You can also submit website designs to usability testing sites like fivesecondtest.com which lets you create short questionnaires for other users, who then give unbiased feedback on the success of your layouts and call to actions. I’ve seen designs with questions like ‘You want to contact an estate agent in your area. Where do you click first to do that?’ which gives amazing feedback on how easy it is for users to get around your site. Knowledge like this helps you counter bounce rates and therefore up conversions.
Google has a list of web-suitable fonts for a reason: some fonts just don’t work for web! Even those on the approved list need to be of an appropriate size and colour for easy reading. Some quick tips:
• White on black is very nasty to read
• Flashing text is a distraction at best, an instant bounce at worst
• Line height makes a huge difference to how readable your font is
• Serif fonts make people think ‘traditional’
• Sans serif fonts make users think ‘modern’
Mistakes with fonts can cause your user to completely skip your carefully crafted copy, thus missing a large chunk of your sales pitch. Make it easy, make it pleasant.
People are visual. They like to look at pictures. So just chuck loads of images on the site, right? Wrong-o. Poor use of images can be worse than no images at all, so try to remember these points:
• If your image is huge, it will slow down your website’s loading time. If it is tiny, it will be pixelated. Neither are good and both make web users annoyed and unsatisfied.
• Everyone can spot stock images. There are only so many times that guy in the suit holding the phone can appear on the Internet before it explodes, people. Try to find a nice, affordable local photographer to do a quick shoot at your premises, but please don’t make him take 200 shots of your shotblasting equipment – no one cares. Humans want to look at other humans, preferably smiley ones. If your visitor knows that when they pick up the phone they’re going to get Mick – who looks like a total laugh but very capable with it – they’re going to call.
• Why not give some illustrations a go? Infographics are so popular right now, and give way more details than just a photo. By displaying key information in an attractive and even humorous way, you’re increasing your chances of a visitor actually absorbing the things that will make them buy.
• Use the Rule of Thirds. Even the biggest idiot in the world can tell that you get a much more visually pleasing result by cropping an image so the subject is in the outside 1/3 or 2/3. This can also be used to change the balance of a site. Where do you want the visitor’s eye to go?
• A large, full-width main image nearly always looks good. Remember that.
So, that’s you started. Everything you can possibly need to know about websites is out there to be found on someone’s website. But more than that, YOU know what makes a good website. You do – you feel it every day as you’re browsing. What annoys you, what makes you buy? Go with it.
Got any smart tips for designing conversion-happy websites? We could all use a hand.