04 Aug Web Design Essentials – Discover the Ingredients That Will Make Your Website #1
Web design is an art and a science. Not only are you trying to captivate new visitors but you are also trying to convince search engine robots to rank your website. So, the question is: how do you measure the effectiveness of a website? In this article on Web Design Essentials you’ll learn how to evaluate your website’s effectiveness and how you can improve it.
Rate each of the following ten criteria on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest 10% of websites (worst) and 10 equaling the top 10% of websites. And an average rating of 5 would mean 50% of websites are better and 50% of websites are worse. So, now for the essentials.
General Impression & Message
When you first meet someone you form a general impression about him or her. It may not necessarily reflect who they are but nonetheless you still form an impression about them. When someone visits your website, they too will have a general impression about you, your organization or company. What is the impression your website is making? Is it professional? Creative? Boring? Cluttered? Dull? Fun? Informative? Ask yourself these questions through the eyes of your target audience.
Along with the general impression, your website also communicates a message. When you look at the items on someone’s refrigerator, you get a message. Often times they have family pictures or a calendar or other treasured memories. Look at your home page and ask yourself: what you are emphasizing? Often times we give more space to things of lesser importance without even realizing it.
If you’ve ever traveled in another country, there’s a good possibility you may have gotten lost, especially if you were traveling in a new area that used a different language, vocabulary and driving laws. Websites also have foreign visitors, people with different vocabularies and experiences. How easy is your website to navigate? Is the navigation consistent and easy understood and found? Can people get to where they want to go quickly? Another question to ask yourself is: how easy is it to find less important links? Are they easily found? If links are the same color as the rest of the text on your website or the headings on your website, they may be difficult to recognize. Are you using drop down menus with lists longer than 6-8 items? Are your sub-menus listed in alphabetical order or some other logical order that can be observed by an outsider? Do you use vocabulary that is common to everyone or just to the people that already know your organization’s vocabulary? These questions are helpful when evaluating your navigation. Apple.com has a great website navigation because no matter what section of their website you are on (iTunes, iPhone, etc) you still have the same consistent navigation at the top.
The maintainability of a website is often overlooked by ambitious or overzealous web designers. They make an attractive website that meets most of the other web design essentials listed here, but six months from now their website has most of the same information because the organization does not have the ability to easily update or expand their website. This problem is solved by implementing a Content Management System (also referred to as a CMS). Content Management Systems come in all sizes and forms and just because you have one doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your organization or website needs. A few things to ask yourself before choosing a CMS are:
- How many users need to have access to edit the website?
- Can all users of the website have the same level of access or do they need different permissions?
- Do website changes need to be approved by someone or can they immediately go live?
- How well trained in HTML, CSS, Photoshop, etc are the users who will be maintaining the site?
- How many pages does your website have?
- Do you want to host your own CMS or use a third-parties CMS that often includes hosting your website?
- What is your budget?
- Do you want it to be software based or a web-based CMS?
After you jot the answers down to these questions, consider what you would like the answer to these questions to be a year from now? Five years from now? Will more people be involved? Will there be more information that needs to be communicated?
Although page flow can be connected to Navigation, it focuses more on the layout of the page. Is the layout clean, simple and uncluttered? Beyond clicking on links, can users find the information they are looking for once they are on the page that has the information? Do all of the pages look the same? Do they follow the same format? It’s a good idea if the pages follow the same general format but necessarily good if every page looks like the next.
Current Information & Dynamic Content
How current is the information on your website? When was the last time your home pages and sub pages were updated? Does your calendar have old events on it? Is your website the most helpful place for visitors to get information about your organization or do they have to open a brochure or printed piece for all of the info? Do you provide enough information about events, products, and your organization to sufficiently inform your audience?
Reasons to Come Back
Current information is a big reason visitors will or will not return to your website. CNN.com is so good at posting current information that they can get visitors to come back over and over again. But often times this is not enough to get visitors to return. Implementing other reasons to return such as videos, games, auctions, event registrations, free stuff, chat, message boards, searches, rating systems, etc. increase the likelihood users will return. What are the different audiences you are targeting? What are you hoping they will do once they have come to your website once? Does your website lure your visitors back again? How can your audience interact with your site or contribute to it? Give your audience many good reasons to return and they probably will.
This seems like an obvious essential, but it frequently goes unchecked. Make you’re your website has correct spelling, grammar, good word choice, high quality photos and images, valid code and HTML and consistent styles. This helps promote the reputability of your website and organization. There are plenty of tools out there to help you with spelling, grammar, and validating your code, so use them. Also ask yourself about your organization’s logo…does it look professional or like someone in the office designed it? I have nothing against people in your office but most of them are not experienced logo designers.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is all about getting search engines to rank your website at the top. I haven’t met anyone that has not wanted more visitors to their website. More visitors usually means more revenue, more prospects, more products sold, more people influenced, more people coming to your events… you want more people. So now the question to ask yourself is: are you optimizing your website for the search engines (as well as your visitors)? Do you have a lot of inbound links to your website? Do you have a lot of content? Can the search engine bots crawl through your pages? If you’re using Flash navigation, they probably cannot. Do you have statistics about your website traffic? Do you use keywords, descriptions, alt image tags, etc? Unless you’ve spent a significant amount of time tweaking your website for the search engines (and you have comprehensive and convincing stats to back it up) then you are doing average at best at SEO.
Compatibility is an important web design benchmark. In simple terms it’s the ability for users to access your website. Browser compatibility, accessibility, page loading speed, mobile device compatibility, and screen resolution all play an important part in reaching the largest audience possible. Make sure you have website statistics about your visitors that contain these types of information.
Comparison to Competitors
Although one could argue that comparison to your competitors is not an essential… web design like so many other things is relative. Years ago in the earlier days of the internet, websites were using much more primitive technology, yet people still obtained information and used websites. But if you haven’t changed your website in the last several years it slowly becomes outdated and ineffective. Technology is continuously advancing (just like your competitors) and knowing how your website ranks compared to them is important indicator about how your website is doing. Like most products, services and ratings, your website should be an important arm of your marketing.