There are several ways businesses approach website design. Design is subjective. We all have our own tastes and preferences. Some of us love clean and understated design where others love vibrant colours and movements. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so this presents a challenge. How do you know your website is designed in a way that attracts your target market?
Answer 1: We liked it so our customers should
This is a dangerous presumption to make and often simply isn’t true. Your clients and customers interact with your website in a very different way than you do. You are viewing your website from a strong understanding of your business, while visitors to your website may not know a thing about you or your industry. What seems obvious to you may need reinforcement to your website visitors.
Answer 2: We used a focus group
That’s great. However, when we review design from an analytical perspective, we interact with it in a different way than someone looking to buy your products and services. Read ‘Blink‘ by Malcolm Gladwell to understand this concept better.
Answer 3: We asked our customers
The same problems are faced here as using a focus group and in an even more extreme way. Your customers have preconceived ideas about who you are. If your website is to generate new leads, they need to view it from a different perspective.
The Solution: Research
While all of the above responses have some merit, for the small business operator, there is a more straightforward, simpler approach; Research. Your larger, more successful competitors may have been through a lengthy process of trial and error to see what works in your industry. They’ve probably spent time and money testing, measuring, and tweaking to optimise their results. Please note we’re talking about modelling here, not plagiarising. By reviewing your competitors’ website designs, you may learn what could be introduced into your own website. Equally, you may identify what elements you intuitively know you should avoid. Review your competitors’ website with the understanding of your own business and what makes you different from them. Whatever it is that makes you unique and compelling in the marketplace should be reinforced and highlighted in your own website design and architecture.
In some instances, you may find your competitors have not presented themselves compellingly online. That’s good news for you. There’s no reason why you can’t look across industries to learn ideas for your own website design. What other industries share a similar clientele to yours? What can you learn from them?
There’s also much to learn by looking at purchasable commercial templates and themes. Often you can sort the available templates by industry, style, and popularity. The popularity of a template gives us some insight into how well received a particular design style is. While many web designers try to avoid mentioning this, it’s often the secret sauce to their design process. While templates can be purchased (and many web designers secretly do that), we prefer to learn from the templates and custom-create the designs so they are fast-loading, refined for the specific client, and perform well for the end-user and search engines.
Your Marketing Message Determines Your Website Design
By modelling your design on what you learn from your competitors, other industries and popular templates, you will develop a general understanding of where you are going with your website design. This general theme may evolve. However, the ultimate determining factor behind your web design should be your unique marketing message.
The power of a clear marketing message is the key. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many websites I see that do not have a clear message. It is vital in your website to tell your target market:
- The benefits of using your product and service.
- What they should do next (i.e., call to action).
Your design style should enhance, not hinder, these key elements of your website. Every colour, font, and image should enhance the message. The problem is many website owners try to cram as much information as they can about every single product or service they provide into a webpage and wonder why nobody responds. In trying to say ‘everything’ about your business, your message will become complicated and confusing instead of compelling.
Most business owners believe they have a clear vision for their business. However, when you ask them to articulate their marketing message, they often struggle to give a clear, concise response. We’re all busy these days, so we rush through information, particularly online. If you’re unclear on the direction your website design could take, maybe you’re unclear on the marketing message for your business. Start by asking yourself some basic questions:
- What makes people buy your product or service?
- Why should you be trusted?
- What makes you the better choice over your competition?
These questions are a great place to start when creating a marketing message. Your marketing message must answer the needs and desires of your intended recipients, your target market.
Once you’ve got a general understanding of the direction for your website design based on modelling and you’ve established a clear and compelling marketing message, it’s time to drill down to the specifics. Here are 6 focus areas to ensure your website is designed with your customers in mind:
- Each page has a purpose— If you want people to take action on your website, you need a clearly defined goal for each of your pages and posts. While you may have a compelling overall marketing message to communicate, each page is an opportunity to reinforce another aspect of your message. Think of them as sub-points to your main message and give specific directions. Do you want visitors to buy something, join your mailing list, or comment on your blog? Consider the purpose of each page or post on your website.
- Effective font/ typography— Make certain that the text is displayed in a style that is easy to follow and read. Your goal is a crisp font designed for web reading. Google has a fantastic range of fonts that can be used online. You can sort the fonts by popularity and what’s trending to help you select a font that your website visitors are more likely to find appealing. Your logo may already have a font; you should consider it too. Limiting your font selection to just one or two font families keeps your website looking consistent.
- Colours— The colours of your logo will determine the colours used throughout your website in most instances. Most business colours are just two colours, sometimes three. Limiting your colour palette to your logo colours, along with maybe one or two additional colours, often works well. It’s not about selecting your favourite colour but the colour of your brand. Establish a theme and consistent mood with a pre-determined colour scheme.
- Space— You don’t pay for the centimetre when it comes to your website, so it’s completely unnecessary to cram as much as you can to a page. Let the page breathe a little. Good use of clear or negative space helps your design feel easier to read. It also helps your visitors absorb the message. Simplifying your design to allow for space is particularly important when your website is likely to be viewed most often on a small mobile screen as opposed to a large PC screen, which we used more frequently to visit websites in the past.
- Organisation of elements/layout— The layout of a website’s elements is always going to vary, depending on the type of website and how important certain features are to that website. Modern-day websites need to account for a variety of screen sizes on which they will be viewed. The best practice is to have a “responsive” website, meaning the website responds to the screen size on which it’s being viewed. For example, on a smaller mobile device, you may find the elements stacked on the page. On a PC screen, on the other hand, there may be a sidebar to the right or the left. Organising your elements on page so it works well across all browsers is the key.
- Balance between form and function— A quality web designer will achieve that perfect blend of form and function by designing a site that is attractive, intuitive, and user-friendly.
Web design trends change rapidly. So, it’s important to understand that the website you design today may not be the one that’s ideal for you in the future. The way we interact with websites and our expectations of them change quickly. It may not be a wise business decision to be right on the cutting edge of website design and development either. It’s important to consider learned behaviour. We’ve all learned to interact with websites in a certain way, and cutting-edge web design often introduces a new idea the general population may not be up to speed with. The hamburger menu is a great example. When it was new, I didn’t recommend it to clients since it complicated usability for website visitors. The first time you saw a hamburger menu, you probably didn’t know what it was. These days it’s become a very popular option and intuitive to use since we know what it is, particularly on mobile websites. Therefore, it’s now a useful tool to simplify your website navigation.
In years gone by, people spoke of having your most important content “above the fold.” This kind of thinking came from the newspaper days where a newspaper would be folded in half. That kind of thinking became the thinking in website design. These days scrolling is second nature due to the rise of the mobile phone. Being above the fold isn’t a focus anymore. However, simplicity of navigation is. Where we once designed websites to minimise scrolling, there’s now a case to design a website as one long, scrolling page. That’s the nature of website design and how quickly things change.
Your website was probably great when it was first created. If you think it might be time for a website facelift, feel free to contact us for a website branding and performance review.