No matter the nature of your website, whether you’re opening an eCommerce store or simply providing valuable information to a client base, there are certain key principles of web design that remain the same. Visitors to your site will generally not want to hang around unless they’re drawn in immediately. In practice this means that you have roughly one minute to provide something original and engaging enough to keep Joe Public glued to the screen before he gets bored and wanders off somewhere else. There are billions of websites out there. Joe Public is a fickle creature.
The Five Essentials of Web Design
Sliders, pop-ups and animated GIFs aside, the most immediate impact a website has on a visitor is visual. Joe Public has been surfing the web for a long time, and can spot an amateur site in a split second. It’s ingrained. A website that looks bland and rudimentary will lose you trust instantly, and will send visitors scurrying back into more comfortable corners of cyberspace. Once the visual impact has been absorbed, however, there are 4 other key ingredients of a good website.
Usability: your visitor should be able to find everything they need in that vital first minute on your website. Usability is very important in professional web design. This means keeping your landing- or homepage simple, to the point, and complete with easy to use navigation menus. Breadcrumbs, search boxes and clearly define sections, with easy to understand description, all fall into this area.
Visibility: your visitors have to be able to find your site. This means constructing a site that has search engine friendly data and making sure it’s compatible with the leading browsers. Meta-tags, search engine optimised URLs and the essential XML Sitemap are all vital ingredients for getting your site out of the internet sinkhole and onto solid ground.
Presentation: a good looking website is little more than an expensive poster if viewers can’t access your content easily. Along with easy to use navigation, you want to make sure that you give prominence to content that matters.
Consistency: one of the most important aspects of any website is to unify form and content to create a unique and coherent expression of your business or organisation’s essential character. Your website is part of your brand, and as such you want to maintain a clear ‘company voice’, a crisp and harmonious colour scheme and pay attention to the use of appropriate fonts, images and button styles.
The Pre-Launch Checklist
- Content and Style: Proofread your content for grammatical errors and consistency of terms, keeping an eye out for common errors like random capitalisation and variations in spelling.
- SEO and Metrics: make sure page URLs and titles are relevant (i.e. ‘www.example.com/productspage.html’ and not ‘www.example.com/434621ddssg2.html’), that you’ve included accurate metadescriptions, that you’ve created and XML Sitemap and included important XHTML elements like < h1 > tags.
- Functionality: check that the website works across all of the most popular browsers, that advanced or bespoke features are operational, and that search boxes and forms all work as they should. You should also test the website with Flash and other Plug-ins disabled, as some viewers will not have access to these features.
- Security: don’t forget to backup your site! Make sure you have error reporting enabled, and that sensitive areas of the site are protected by a robust security system like SSL.
- Marketing: make sure your site is linked and working fluidly with social media and search engines. Hire an SEO company or manually include your website in as many directories as possible, and begin the process of building external links to your site.
- Feedback: it’s essential that your viewers have a means of providing feedback and contacting you with questions.