“What makes a good website?” is an ever-evolving question, that becomes more complicated every time Google releases another update to its ranking criteria.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer that we can give you, having designed quite a few business websites by now, we want to impart some of our hard-won wisdom.
The truth is that every website is different. What works for our website, or another client’s website, won’t necessarily work for yours, but the good news is that making a plan to improve your website design is easier than you might think.
Here we’re sharing some of the best advice we’ve encountered over the years so that you too can implement it and make the most of your upcoming website design projects.
Websites with a Plan and a Purpose
The first step to creating a website that visitors will love is to plan it intentionally with a set purpose in mind.
Is this site’s goal to grow your small business’s brand recognition and direct potential customers to your brick-and-mortar location? Is the website a fully-functional e-commerce site designed to handle all of the capabilities of your sales department? Is it a professional service website that demonstrates your company’s expertise and positions you as an expert in the field?
These concepts all have a few things in common:
- They have a focused purpose that web designers can prioritise in their structural choices.
- They evoke specific imagery and functional need that can all be taken into account when creating a plan for each website.
- They demonstrate the right kind of critical thinking necessary to plan your website’s design from its inception holistically.
The best way to go about planning any style of website is to follow SMART goals. No, we don’t mean to create the most intelligent goals possible, but, well, actually we kind of do mean that.
SMART is an acronym for the following criteria:
While SMART goals apply to creating any business plan, they are particularly helpful when considering your website.
First, you want to make sure that you define your goal as concretely as possible. This means numbers. This means simple sentences. Some examples of specific objectives include: Increase organic traffic by 5%; Entice 10% more repeat customers; Increase on-page interaction by 15%.
Once you have a specific goal defined, you need to measure it to ensure your success. Organic traffic is easy to track with Google Analytics, but a measure like “repeat customers” requires the ability to differentiate new customers from returning purchasers. Without, say, a “returning guest” login at checkout, you won’t be able to measure improvement here.
Secondly, you need a baseline to start from, if you’re increasing organic traffic, for example, be sure to check your starting number, and aim for your desired percentage above that.
Not all websites are created equal. Business owners also implement website upgrades at very different stages in their development, and for very different reasons.
For example, let’s say that you don’t currently track any success metrics on your website. In this case, improving the existing numbers is not an attainable goal. You may want to start smaller by simply creating and tracking 5 KPI’s — or Key Performance Indicators — to gauge visitor interactions with your site, and then build up from there.
Hand-in-hand with attainable goals are relevant goals. Increasing online sales is a standard goal for an e-commerce website, but it won’t do much for an informational blog. Make sure to design your website and your related goals with the needs of your business as a whole in mind.
Finally, as any seasoned project manager knows, goals need to be placed on a calendar. Without an idea of how long it will take to achieve a set goal, it may never be completed.
The only way to continue improving is to let your achievements continue to build into newer loftier goals. Divide your plan into manageable chunks and give your team a timetable within which to work on them. That way, you can cultivate a culture of growth.
Visuals: The Importance of Good Web Design
Planning your website’s design with a purpose in mind is the first and most crucial step, but it does not mean that function should overshadow visuals in overall importance.
Function and aesthetic should work together to create an intuitive and appealing user experience (UX) for your visitors.
Here are the primary features to keep in mind:
Design and Layout
First, you want your website to serve its functional purpose. We’ve already touched on this concept a bit with planning and purpose, but it’s worth considering your website’s aim in its overall organisation. Ask yourself: is the purpose of this site to provide information? To entertain? To entice shoppers?
You always want to design with your audience in mind, and continuously work to anticipate and provide for their needs — not just those of your business.
Second, you want to ensure that each page has an intuitive layout. English speakers tend to follow an “F” shape when scanning, starting at the top left corner, and glancing across each line and then down to the next. Therefore, you should put essential information at the top left of the page.
Colours, Fonts, Sizing etc.
Colours, fonts, and sizing of visual features seems like it would be an afterthought at best. Subscribing to that mentality can be a grave mistake. Everything about your visible selections will reflect back on the perception of your brand.
Pick about three complementary or evocative colours, and utilise them consistently in your design.
Choose a font that reflects your business’s personality. Serif fonts come across “traditional” and “professional”, sans serif fonts say “clean” and “modern”, and scripts or other designed fonts say “artistic” or “playful”. Make sure that your colour and font choices communicate a consistent message to your readers.
Further, utilise the power of sizing. Firstly, different sizes make for a more interesting visual layout, but more importantly, they direct readers to the most important (biggest) information first.
Most people don’t read web pages — they scan them — so making important information prominent is vital.
Images are important. They help break up walls of text and generally make your site more engaging. They can also enhance your brand image and perceived credibility.
A bad image, however, can do much of the opposite. Keep your photos relevant and high-quality. Further, be sure to compress the images you include so that they don’t disastrously affect your load speeds.
All of the above categories reflect back on your branding, which is why creating your website must be done with your brand in mind from the outset.
Colour choices, fonts, and quality of images can all reflect back on how your company as a whole is perceived, so think critically about the brand you want to project with your website and make the above choices with that end goal in mind.
User Experience: Make it Enjoyable for the User
Now that we’ve thoroughly covered your site’s visual needs let’s move on to integrating UX in with your design parameters.
How Easy it is to Use
People are busy. They’re constantly on the go. Increased access to the internet has further enabled this tendency, as today’s populace can access hoards of information that 18th-century librarians could only dream of.
Because of this, people have also become less patient. If your website does not deliver what they need right away, they will likely go back and select on that will. Maybe your website has better content, but if it isn’t developing with ease of use in mind, you’re losing customers.
Quality of Content
Another factor that should not be overlooked is the quality of your content. Google prioritises this immensely, and every update looks for better ways to decide which webpage is the most relevant and helpful result for a given search term.
There is no surefire way to satisfy these ever-changing criteria, but here are some tips which can help any website, be it a content-focused blog, or a professional service site whose aim is to advertise its expertise.
- Produce your own, unique content: plagiarism is not only illegal but also lazy. The whole point is that you are an expert on this topic, and quality, personal content helps demonstrate that.
- Update your content regularly: search engine ranking algorithms prioritise up-to-date information, and consistent updates will also allow your site to continue developing as your business grows.
Site architecture is an overarching category that takes into account navigation and layout as a whole. Is all of the necessary information accessible on the website? Is the organisation of this information logical and functional?
Before you plan out the build of your website, draw a site map. This can be done with pencil and paper, or you can use an online tool. Group related topics together and ensure that everything is interconnected.
Once you know how you want your site constructed, you can create the navigation. The golden rule here is the “Rule of Three”: every page should be no more than three clicks away from any other page.
A straightforward navigation bar in a prominent location is a great way to satisfy this criterion.
After you have constructed an aesthetically-pleasing and functional site, you can consider adding on some special functionalities.
Depending on the purpose of your website, these might include any or all of the following:
- Live chat
- A pricing calculator
- 3D product simulation
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Email list opt-in
- Social media sharing prompts
- Comment or contact forms
These special functions should not be the first thing you add to your new site — unless they are particularly intrinsic to your functional purpose — but they can definitely help increase site growth once established.
Website Performance: Achieving Objectives
Once you have set up a beautiful and functional website, you want to make sure that you can create and achieve some of those SMART goals we talked about earlier.
Here are a few ways to get started with increasing your traffic and measuring your success, which will turn your already good website into a great website.
Conversion rate is an important metric to track because it tells you what percentage of your site’s visitors turn into actual customers.
If your site is more informational in nature, you can also look at conversion rates between those opening the site, and those interacting with and diving deeper into your content.
SEO, or search engine optimisation, is another no-brainer when it comes to webpage creation.
In order for your content to reach your target audience, you’ll have to perform some preliminary keyword research and optimise your content to rank for those terms.
If you’re just starting out, read our list of the common SEO mistakes that we see new web designers and developers making.
SEO isn’t just adding as many keywords as possible. You want the content itself to be high quality, and you want to distribute those keywords evenly.
Other, seemingly-negligible details can also have an impact on your search engine rankings. These include but are not limited to, the following:
- Page Title choices: you want strong but relevant titles
- Meta descriptions: write them yourself for extra impact
- Accessibility of information: you want your site to be crawlable so that it can be appropriately indexed
- Backlinks: like the word-of-mouth currency of the internet
We wrote another piece all about small business SEO fundamentals which you should definitely check out if you’re planning to optimise your website specifically for your growing business.
Calls to Action
Once you’ve created a bunch of high-quality content, you want to give your readers something to do with it. Information is great, but if visitors don’t know what to do with the information you just imparted, you’re hurting your conversion rate.
Each page on your website should have a determined CTA or call to action. This might be as simple as, “Try our products!” or it might be more subtle, like “Tell us what you think in the comments,” or even directing users to other pages on the site for further information.
Satisfying User Intent
Finally, remember that the user is the most important person on your website. You can’t satisfy your business’s needs without presenting your product or service as the solution they’re looking for.
As with developing any facet of your business, you want to make sure that you put the customer first, and thoroughly consider how your website can help where a competing website might fall short.
Let’s get Technical: Keeping Your Website Up-to-date
Unfortunately, we do not have a crystal ball for all the business forecasting and technical innovation that we try to espouse. It’s hard to say how upcoming search engine updates will affect the ranking of your website.
That said, the best way to ride the wave of change is to be changeable yourself. Research updates as they happen, and look for opportunities among the developments.
The following considerations are some of the standard technical practises that do serve as an advantage in the construction of any good website.
Content Management System (CMS)
The choice of Content Management System, or CMS, will decide what tools you have at your disposal and how flexible your website build can be.
In particular, you want to make sure that your CMS can support all of the technical and visual plans you have for your website concept. Our go-to for organisational ability and SEO compatibility is WordPress. Still, there are many other options, and if you have the know-how, you could even take on the challenge of building your site.
Your choice of host is directly related to your CMS. WordPress is an example of a very reputable host — one that visitors will readily recognise and trust — but it is not your only option.
If you chose a less reputable host, though, you might find that they are less of an asset and more of a hindrance. Be sure that the domain host you chose is one you would be comfortable working with long-term.
Site speed is another technical category with a significant impact. See, almost half of all internet users expect websites to load in about 2 seconds. If they have to wait 3 seconds, they’ve probably already moved on to somewhere else. This means that load speed alone could theoretically increase your conversion rate by almost 50% — that’s a big number.
Here are a few ways to increase your load speed
- Optimise and compress your images
- Validate your HTML code and clean-up any problem points
- Use a mobile-friendly template and adjust your code for mobile-specific concerns
Wondering about your site speed? Our friends at WP SpeedFix have developed an awesome tool that will help give you an idea of whether your website needs a speed tune up.
Responsive website design
While mobile-friendly was the buzz word for a really long time, over half of the internet users are now engaging with websites via their smartphones and tablets. It’s time to move beyond the world of mobile-friendly designs and move into a world where mobile comes first.
The key to creating a website optimised for smartphones is to use a simple and responsive design. In general, responsiveness refers to the ability of the website to adapt to the shape and orientation of the device it is viewed on. Cleaner and simpler designs are not only more aesthetically pleasing, but also more responsive layouts overall.
Finally, you want your website to be trustworthy. While your site’s layout and look go a long way towards building up your credibility, it is also important to make security a priority. If your website isn’t secure, it will drastically hurt your rankings, and should anything happen; it will likely generate bad word-of-mouth.
SSL encryption refers to the Secure Sockets Layer, an added layer of website security demonstrated through the little, green, “secure” lock icon next to the URL. While it takes some time and careful planning to provide your website with SSL encryption, it will help your rankings and your overall trustworthiness once achieved.
We’ve covered a lot of information here, so let’s go back over the basics.
- Develop a SMART plan with a purpose.
- Use visual design to project your brand image.
- Prioritise user experience with functional layouts and navigational systems.
- Create goals for your content and institute measurements to track their progress.
- Integrate technical considerations for optimised usability.
Wondering about the cost of a website? Check out our article explaining the average costs of websites in Australia.
If you’re interested in handing this work over to the experts, contact us for a free consultation. We’ll discuss your business goals and help you decide if Amplified Marketing is the right fit for your website!