Web Design Checklist
Every one of us wants a website that is perfect. We read a whole lot of articles on how to achieve this and most of us know what needs to be done. Then we go about designing our websites and some how, along the way forget the essentials and end up with a site that under performs or one that simply could've been better.
Designing the perfect website is of course a long shot, but consistently striving to achieve this will help us raise the general standards of our web sites.
Your website homepage is the façade of your business and is what your site visitor will see first. First impressions count and are what will decide whether he/she will stay a little longer. A homepage that does not ooze professionalism instantly casts a shadow of doubt on the capabilities and quality of service that your business promises.
Not many of us have huge advertising budgets and therefore no millions in traffic. This makes it very essential that we convert as many visitors into customers as we can. A classy home page can help you do just that by keeping your visitor on the site long enough for the other elements to act.
Good first impressions boil down to great graphic/web design - not the cookie cutter type found via website templates, but customized high quality design that showcases your business. This is not to undermine the value of website templates as they have their own advantages but if you must use them, then you must have them sufficiently customized to OWN the look and portray your business in the right light.
Using a template 'as is' is like wearing the same clothes as your colleague. You would definitely stay far away from that person on that particular day and perhaps even donate those clothes to avoid it happening again.
While it is unlikely that your site visitor will see both yours and the template site of your competitors in the same session, it is a possibility, especially if both your sites are optimized for the same keywords (real estate, Manhattan, New York etc). If that does happen though you can be sure that the visitor is going to know that a quick fix solution was employed and derive that your company may not be as committed as it professes to be. Therefore tailor-made design is the way to go.
What makes great design?
Visual appeal and relevance:
- Design that complements the theme of the site
- Just enough of the right visual elements
- The right color schemes
- No frequently repeated images that become mere wallpaper after awhile
- Neat typography
- High quality images
- The right visual metaphors
- Images cropped to emphasize what you want them to convey and create focus
- Images shot specifically for your site- preferably
- Proper placement of visuals to act as sign posts and hooks for your sales copy and also to provide visual relief in sections where there is lots of text.
When it comes to design - beauty attracts and quality reassures. The World Wide Web is the only place where there are no neighbourhoods so great design can (for at least awhile) put you in the same league as those big multi-million dollar companies.
Great design creates a favourable state in your visitors mind:
- These guys must be good
- These people must be professionals
- Let me explore this site some more
- Will I be able to afford it? (And if your prices are not high, you surely have a customer)
- Must tell people about this website
- This company knows its business
- I'm sure I'll get what I'm looking for here
Ensure that your site fosters this in every visitor.
An example: http://www.blue-iceberg.com/
Like I said in the previous section great design can hold fort only for a while and your content must take over where the design stops. Your site visitors after all are looking for information and not to be entertained.
What makes great content?
- Content should be well crafted and act like quicksand drawing the reader deeper and leading him/her where you want them to go.
- The copy should be checked for grammar and spellings to avoid the pauses and distractions that these cause.
- Most surfers scan website text -so use headlines like billboards to grab attention and flag off different sections. Headlines that are questions work harder than plain descriptors so try using more of them.
- Anticipate where the visitor might want to go (or might look for) next and pave the path with headings and links.
- Use a diagram or a chart if it will illustrate your point better. Put copyright information on these so that if the visitor decides to save it on his computer as reference, there will always be a pointer back to your site.
- Try to have more than you promise on every page - a surprise or an extra or at least links to additional resources that will draw the visitor further into your site. You may have seen a lot of sites use this: 'People who read this article also read this' followed by a list of links to other useful information.
- Do not waste your site visitor's time- example: provide thumbnails and let him/her decide what they want to see up close- instead of having them wait for a large image to download. Thumbnails need not be just miniature versions of the actual picture but an interesting crop that generates interest. Now if the visitor clicks on one he/ she has voluntarily committed a little more time to your site.
Ease of viewing/usage:
- Optimize images for quick downloads
- Slice images and knock off large patches of flat color, and replace with web colors
- Use prominent and clear navigation
- A sitemap is a must have on any site. Some visitors use this like a lifeline when they get lost and many make this their second page before exploring the site further.
- Avoid using flash if you can. If you must, then create an HTML version so that visitors who do not have the patience can view this. Flash also is not searchable by search engines and a landing page built with only flash technology will reduce your chances of being found. Use new technologies like jQuery for simple animation.
Plan for growth - use include files for navigation menus so that you don't have to make changes on all pages when you add new sections to your site. Besides saving you time, you ensure that all pages have the new navigation menu.
Provide means to interact with your site: conversion tools, calculators, comparison charts, quizzes, feedback/ contact forms etc. are good examples
Most hosting companies provide web statistics. These are essential to the evolution of your site and need to be monitored on a regular basis. Make a note of the search phrases people are using to get to your site and see how you can extend this interest zone. More pages in this zone is like having more 'hot' real estate from where you can promote your business.
Keywords, titles, headlines and descriptions:
There are many useful sites with loads of information on search engines that will benefit you - just key in SEO on Google. Unless you have a big budget for an SEO exercise, pay great attention to your keywords, titles, headlines and descriptions.
- The best way to arrive at your keywords is to pretend you are your customer and make a list of search phrases that you as a customer looking for your service/ products would use. Get a few people to contribute in this exercise.
- Add to this list the search terms you want people to use to arrive at your site. These words will come from anything unique on your site.
- Use words from this list and do a search on the Internet. Examine the results. If they are of your competitors view their keywords and see what you have left out.
- Sprinkle your content with these keywords with a higher density level at the top of your page.
Titles, Headlines and Descriptions:
Make each of these different by using words that don't repeat (other than your prime keywords) to form sentences that convey the gist of your page content. 'About YXZ Real Estate Co.- the most sought after property firm in Manhattan and other details' is definitely better than a plain 'About YXZ Real Estate Co.' as a title. Of course what you say needs to be true. So find something you can harp about and toss in a few keywords too.
Create quality internal text links to the various content areas in your site. Use descriptive links instead of click here for details. These will act like magnets and attract both the visitor and the search engine robot deeper into your site.
Most search engines rank your site better if you have many inward links from sites that are related to yours. Do some searching and make a list of those sites, which are not directly in your line of business but related (e.g. real estate and interior designers) and write to them requesting a link swap. Write to many as not all will respond or agree to a link exchange.
Define your site objectives and see how you can achieve them with minimum effort from your site visitor.
If you want visitors to do a particular thing repeatedly ask /cajole / lead/ guide /convince them to do it. Do not assume that they will, just because the opportunity to do so exists on your site.
Make your contact info easy to find. Much as you would do everything possible if you were a sales person at a store, your site must convince a visitor to at least leave behind an email address before leaving.
INCENTIVES & LOYALTY:
Freebies like junk food are simply irresistible and a website can have these in various forms. From the basic wallpaper to specialized information, free stuff generates traffic, which you can then convert.
Another winner if you have the resources, is a newsletter. Newsletters create a bond and a reason for the visitor to come back to your site. And with every visit another opportunity for your website to flourish.
All the best!