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creating a better website

You’ve Got One Chance, So Make It Awesome: Creating A Better Website.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you have a business, you need a website. This is absolutely critical. Your website IS your business, in the online space— it’s an avatar, a representative of your brand and the services you provide. You want to meet any search for your business or service with an online presence that connects and informs and most importantly, engages with the visitor. If you don’t have a site, or if you do but it’s outdated or hard to use or slow to load (arguably the absolute worst), you will lose people. Good design is key (first impressions are 94% design-related, and “design” refers not only the visual aspects of your site, but the design of the user experience— the tone and flow of your content, the intuitiveness of your navigation, the experience of filling out a contact form. The majority (88%) of visitors are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience. On the other hand, if your site is visually compelling, with a clear voice and relevant information that is easy to find, you will have won their trust and hopefully their business.

In an effort to make the internet a better place, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned in my 18 years of designing and building websites: 

  1. Make it Responsive: Seriously. People are equally as likely to visit your site from a smartphone as they are to look you up on a PC. And they don’t want pared-down mobile content, they want clear mobile access to everything available to them on the desktop. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, it will be incredibly difficult to interact with and your visitor is likely going to give up. ALSO: Google search will rank your site lower in search results if it isn’t mobile-friendly.
  2. Make your URL count: Ideally this will be your business name (without hyphens, if possible)— unless you’re unusually clever, and can think of one that is both available and also will be easily remembered in conjunction with your business. No weird spelling, or you’ll find yourself constantly having to spell out your entire URL to people, and they will definitely forget it. 
  3. Less is more: People have notoriously short attention spans, particularly when it comes to being online; visitors are going to skim. How can you get your message across clearly and succinctly? Can you use visual elements to convey your message visually rather than in words? Don’t overwhelm people with large walls of text. Think phrases and sentences, not paragraphs.
  4. Guide the user through your site: Visitors come to your site with a specific need. Anticipate that need. Give them a short overview of services and information on the home page and then let them follow that trail to more information, IF they want it. Show the user where everything is, but ultimately let them decide how much or how little content they want to take in. Think of your site UI (user interface) as a helpful guide, showing them where to go with a pleasant “right this way”, and then leading them to the finish (where they contact, sign up, or purchase).
  5. Be mindful of SEO, but don’t be a hawker: You probably know that keywords are important for search, and they are, but I’m going to let you in on something: if you’re writing site content that is relevant to your audience? In plain, clear language? Your keywords will already be in there. Trust that. Keyword stuffing and other trickery will only anger the Google gods and make you look less than professional. Don’t fancy yourself a writer? Hire an excellent writer and help them truly understand your business and your message, and let them take the helm.
  6. Resist the temptation to use blinking or animated anything, and that includes any type of slideshow or carousel that moves on it’s own. The user should ALWAYS be in control of what plays and doesn’t play, and where they are taken in their experience on your site. Also, don’t disable the “back” button by making links open a page in a new browser window.
  7. Don’t fear the scroll! The old yarn about “above the fold” is outdated— people are very used to, and expect, to scroll down a page. It’s much easier and efficient to scroll down a page than it is to be continually clicking from page to page. Content can be grouped in larger groups, and it’s less likely that a user will get lost in a sea of back-clicks if they want to return to something they’ve just seen.
  8. Delight the user. No matter how serious or grave the content, there are small ways that will make the experience feel good, smooth (delightful). Like turning a doorknob sized just so, that fits in your hand in a way that is pleasing. Intuitive navigation and smooth and subtle transitions are just a couple of the ways to take an arduous process (filling out a form, for instance) and turn it into something almost enjoyable.
  9. The most important thing to remember is this: consider the user. Always be mindful of the experience of the person that’s trying to connect with you, and make it your mission to facilitate that connection. Make their experience delightful, and you’ve got yourself a new customer.