The basic principles of good website design are universal, regardless of whether your website is a small brochure-only site or an all singing, all dancing interactive experience. Understanding and implementing the following suggestions will help result in a positive online experience for your customers’ which in turn leads to the increased likelihood of sales and repeat visits for you.
Whether you are building the website yourself, outsourcing development to a web designer or reviewing your current online presence, an understanding of what makes for a good website is essential. By combining a number of key elements you are more likely to create a successful commercial website.
1. Start with your website goals
Before you begin have a good think about what it is you want from your website – what purpose does it need to serve? Are you looking to sell your products online and therefore need it to be e-commerce enabled? Do you need a site that serves as an online showcase or catalogue for all your products? Or is it primarily an additional channel to enable customers to contact you? It is important to have a clear idea about your website’s objectives prior to embarking on any design and development.
Navigation is essentially how simple it is for the end user – your customer – to move around your website. Can your customer get to the information they are looking for within a few clicks? The more complicated it gets the higher the likelihood that your customer gets lost, gives up and abandons your website. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep the number of clicks it takes to reach any piece of information to a minimum and to make sure your menu arrangements, page layouts and signposts are clear and logical.
Usability is a test of how straightforward it is for a user to complete an action on your website such as purchase a product, fill in a registration form or book an appointment. Your customer should be able to complete these tasks efficiently and effectively. Get people to test your site – not just you or your web designers – but people who are representative of a typical user of your site. Ask them to perform specific task whilst you observe how easy it is for them to complete the process. You can then identify where, if necessary, changes need to be made.
Does your website make a customer feel secure enough to feel confident about completing a transaction on your site? Or does it make them leave to find a site that feels more trustworthy? In addition to making sure your security credentials are clear to see, there are lots of other things you can do to build-up credibility and trust online. For example make sure customers can get in contact with you easily and that your organisational details (registered address, VAT no. etc) are available. Content should be accurate, up-to-date and error free (no matter how small, errors make your site look unprofessional). Include testimonials or client lists and deal with queries any quickly and efficiently. Essentially make sure your site, no matter how small, looks and feels professional.
Accessibility is a central requirement for your website. Legislation states that your website needs to be accessible to everyone. Your customers should be able to interact with your website regardless any disabilities they may have. A full checklist of guidelines for website design and HTML coding is available from the World Wide Web Consortium, following is a link that gives you a useful overview of the guidelines. http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/ Another aspect of accessibility you need to consider is that your website can be viewed equally well from any device, whether it is a laptop, desktop, iPad, or a handheld mobile device.
61% of global internet users use the internet to research products online (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012). Don’t underestimate the importance of quality content and clear, concise copy on your website. Your customer has come to your website to look for specific information and so you need to ensure that the content on your website is accurate, informative and reflects your customer’s information needs. How your content is presented is equally important; visually it must be clear and easy to find. And, don’t forget to continuously keep your content fresh and up-to-date.
“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” Steve Krug, Don’t Make me Think: A Common Sense Guide to Usability
People read information differently online, they tend to scan information and jump around the page. Users are unlikely to read through reams of text. It is therefore essential you keep your copy concise and to the point using key words and phrases that customers are likely to pick up on. Your page layouts should be clean and clear, so it is easy for your customers to scan the page and find the information they are looking for – quickly.
7. Design and structure
‘Keep it simple, keep it stupid’ Bryan Eisenberg
A sensible approach when looking at the design and structure of your website is ‘simplicity is best’. Everything should be self-evident to customers so they don’t have to think too hard about anything. Here is a link to a useful article by Bryan Eisenberg that despite being written well over 10 years ago gives some helpful website design advice – much of which is still relevant today. For example:
- Make sure everything is obvious to the end-user
- Do not assume your customer is an expert user
- Keep everything short, sweet and to the point
- Use simple and consistent navigation
The key things to think about are how the overall structure of your site works, individual page design (paying particular attention to your landing pages) and how you present your content to your users. Make sure your website is visually attractive and remember, if an image is appropriate then ‘ a picture paints a thousands words’. The effective use of relevant visuals can engage a user and reinforce a message.
Finally, remember to always keep your end customer in mind and try to think about the points we have listed above as a useful checklist that will help create and maintain your online presence.