The Evolution of Website Design and Functionality
A website, and website design, is the first tool we look to when developing a strategic, integrated and leveraged marketing plan for our clients.
A website should be at the centre of all marketing because it is the only channel truly owned and controlled by the client.
Unlike other forms of marketing – such as social media, public relations and advertising – the client, in concert with its marketing team (whether internal, external or a combination of both), has total control of the message. It is the prime opportunity to present their business in exactly the way they choose.
As a rule, people want easy access to information within the shortest time frame possible. While not exactly a science, user experience and feedback since the Internet became publicly available in 1991, overwhelmingly points to a desire to get answers now.
The power shift from developer to user
In that vein, there is little wonder that the art of website development has morphed from the back-end tech-head responsible for coding and upkeep, to the everyday computer user that is able to create, launch and maintain a web presence at the click of a mouse. The truth is, the days of ‘computer nerds’ being the gatekeepers of the online world has been replaced by the tech-savvy general public.
But… just because you are tech-savvy, does that mean you know it all when creating an impactful website? As Steve Jobs helpfully points out, design is more than simply a visual thing.
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” STEVE JOBS
Design is purpose. It encompasses usability, intuitiveness, visual appeal, emotional attraction, the creation of a desire to ‘deep dive’ into content and an encouragement to engage. It takes much more than coding ability to deliver an engaging and effective website.
This also means uncomplicated is best and planning is key.
Websites should never overwhelm the user, rather the aim is to be a concise map with logical links to relevant content. Ease of navigation is vital to ensuring your site visitors get to the information they want with as little fuss as possible. The ‘three click’ rule is the number one commandment of creating a sitemap. If a user can’t find what they’re after in three clicks then you need to head back to the drawing board.
The importance of internal links
We also talk about the fact that every user will navigate your website in their own way. Which means you need to provide more than one journey to get to the destination. Back in the ‘old days’ the majority of users would enter your website from the home page. These days the options are almost endless! They may enter via a blog, or an about us page, perhaps via a lead magnet. Which means you need to ensure your internal linking strategy is sound.
Make menu browsing easy and straightforward by complimenting your major headings with drop-down subheadings to relevant secondary content. Consistency is another key, so navigation and search functions should be in the same location on each page of the website and its appearance and functionality identical – generally the business logo will stay in the top left or right corner too.
Your homepage needs serious consideration about how you convey your primary key message, what you want visitors to do (call to action), your value proposition (lead magnet) and what you want them to do next (get in touch!). Don’t leave your website visitors guessing as to what you would like them to do after gaining the information they have searched for and found.
Homepage layout should naturally encourage this progression with content displayed in a grid-based format with landing tiles consistent in size, shape and font, and headings, sub-headings and button styles the same throughout the site. Easy on the eye equals easy to navigate.
When deciding what content goes where, follow the logic of the ‘F pattern’ design (read from left to right and from top to bottom). Make browsing your website as effortless as possible and users will repay you with return visits.
The ranking debate
Creating a new website design should be for the user first and foremost, not rankings. Sure, rankings are important over the long term for search stats, but if users aren’t getting what they want from your site at the very start, they won’t be back. It’s like putting together a blog – you write for the reader.
Something to keep in mind, though – Google is smart. It doesn’t just use keywords to rank a website. It knows when users are getting what they want via the data it tracks showing who keeps coming back and their time spent browsing the site. If engagement remains strong, so does the sites’ ranking.
This isn’t to say Search Engine Optimisation isn’t important – of course it is. But when launching a new site, Content is King.
In any case, if your web developer isn’t incorporating back-end website design features to support solid debut ranking into the site build from the get-go, you’ve picked the wrong person. Elements like meta tags, title tags, and other HTML coding tactics are going to organically boost your search results initially and refinements to site content over time.
Website Design – Looks are important, too
Nailing function is so important, but the visual look and feel of a website is right up there too.
Over-design can kill the user experience, and similarly a poor colour palette can lead to distraction. If your website has little baring on the colour and design elements you have incorporated into the rest of your marketing efforts to date, you need to start from scratch and re-brand or introduce subtle adjustments over time.
Choose two or three base colours at the most – you can always use tints (lighter, mixed with white) and shades (darker, mixed with black) to accentuate the palette. If in doubt, stop and talk to those around you in the workplace. Whether they’re front-of-house, management, long-term employees or new staff members, every opinion counts when developing a solid web presence.
Quality images (preferably content specific) are also desirable and, when optimised for the many multimedia platforms, provide great value. Professional photo sessions can be a reasonable investment for long-term promotional purposes.
Finally, we favour WordPress over all other website design platforms. Why? It is easy to use, can be updated anywhere there is an Internet connection, is easily portable between website designers and administrators, and it is a constantly evolving platform that integrates web-best practice for social integration. In addition, intuitive SEO can be inbuilt to whatever basic or advanced level is required.
Twenty-Eight years is both a long time and a short time and it’s amazing that for some generations they never knew a world without this level of connectivity. But from a marketing perspective it is vital that the basic premise of marketing isn’t forgotten in the rush to have an ‘online presence’. When you are considering your marketing make sure you have an integrated approach – with your website at its centre.