Designing a website is a perfect example of a job that looks much easier than it actually is. Some websites are so simple and elegant, they look like they could have been built in an hour. This is rarely the case. The fact that one has to design a website in an entirely different language notwithstanding, the most difficult part of web design is making a website do all the things it needs to do.
Websites have replaced billboards, commercials, and in some cases even replaced physical offices as the official face of a company. A company’s website must promote, educate, inform, entertain, and generate profit all at the same time.
Obviously a site must be graphically appealing, informative, easily navigable, etc. We know this. However there are another set of pitfalls that many sites stumble into. Avoiding the subsequent mistakes is a huge step in creating a website that fulfills its goals:
Lack of Search Engine Optimization
A website cannot function if no one sees it. SEO must be addressed before the site is built. Without proper structure and headers, keyword density, meta tags in the design, backlinks, etc., even the most visually appealing site is worthless. After the site is launched, creating backlinks and driving traffic to the site, researching targeted customer search phrases and integrating those phrases into the design and content of the site will constantly improve the page ranking.
SEO is time consuming and difficult, but is the most important aspect of web design. No website can be successful as a tool if no one uses it.
Violating Design Conventions
Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, chances are the visitors to your site have been directed there by something that caught their eye, a video, banner, etc. This is an accomplishment, but web consumers have expectations. Don’t try to be overly clever or stand out by being too different. Be original, but be careful.
There are consistent design criteria that all major websites follow. Do not violate them. As soon as a consumer decides your website is difficult, distracting or confusing, they’re gone. Usually for good.
Web users have consistent expectations. Embrace them.
Ads: Where There’s Smoke…
There’s fire. If visitors to your site are overwhelmed with pop ups, flashing banners, redirects, or anything that resembles spam or too much advertising, you’ll lose them. A site that exists only to make money itself has no credibility. Websites can make money for the companies that they represent, by promoting and educating visitors. However, if a site is covered in pop ups and ads like a NASCAR driver’s jumpsuit, users know that all the designer cared about is how many visits they get, not the content on the site.
Beware of banner blindness as well. Even if a site doesn’t have advertising, if certain elements are designed to resemble advertising, people will ignore them. I know personally when I search on Google, I ignore the sponsored results, because I know they paid to get on the first page, and don’t belong there.
Don’t be afraid to monetize your site, or use it for advertising, but be judicious. Sensory overload will cost visit time, and ultimately drive traffic away from the site.
No Call To Action
Websites must have a purpose, or they might as well be YellowPages ads. A portfolio site displaying projects should direct you to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages to see more work and initiate discussions. A sales site should encourage a contact form to be filled out for a follow up. A blog should link to articles, research, different points of view and encourage discussions. There are hundreds of different types of sites, and thousands of things to do on them – find one.
Getting a visitor to share a video, link to a Facebook page, or tweet an article is a win. That visitor has helped promote your company for you, for free. Their social network now knows about you, even though you’ve never met. If three of their friends share your content, your exposure grows exponentially.
The Internet is a crazy place. News stories catch fire and circulate the globe in seconds. Millions of dollars are made as websites are bought and sold by media companies looking to control the flow of site traffic. It can be daunting, but knowing the proper strategies for designing and positioning your website and content will allow you to take advantage of the power of the web.
Staying on top of these techniques will not only protect from wasted investments, but continue to push growth and profits for the future.
Mike Burke is Head of Business Development at redcmedia.