Top Website Design Rules

Everything for a Reason

My number one rule for website design is Everything for a Reason.  It might not be a good reason, or the execution might be poor, but if every element of the website is thought through, that’s 90% of the battle.  It is it much easier to adjust or improve the execution when you’re clear about what you’re trying to accomplish.

This rule applies to every design element from what you put on the home page to the color scheme to the photos – or lack thereof – and the navigation.  It is especially true of the content.  You need to be clear on what you are trying to accomplish with each piece of content other than fill up a page of your template.  Actually, that is a reason.  Not a good reason though as I’ll discuss later- filling up pages.  Why?  Because filling up your website with meaningless content is counter-productive in many ways to your overarching goals of SEO and converting website visitors to customers.

Actually, that is a reason.  Not a good reason though as I’ll discuss later- filling up pages.  Why?  Because filling up your website with meaningless content is counter-productive in many ways to your overarching goals of SEO and converting website visitors to customers.

Thus, this exercise starts with the overall purpose of your website – the business goals – and continues to the methods you’re using to achieve them.  Ultimately, everything y0u do must be traced back to your business goals.  Let’s take one simple example.

This website is photo rich.  Every page has a common background photo, not a plain white background.  Why?  Three reasons.  One – photos create a mood, an ambiance.  That can be a general feeling or tie into the branding of the product.  The rays of sunshine and the road drawing your eyes into the distance and wondering what’s beyond the bend, tie into the branding of Imagineer.  Second, most website design sites are more technical and corporate looking.  Most lack imagination.  This site, for better or worse, stands out and does not look like the typical website designer.  First impressions count when you’re looking thru dozens of websites to find a product or service.  Third, photos tend to draw a web site visitor in longer – engage them.  Time spent on a website is good for SEO and increases chances that more content will be read.

I can go on, but you get the picture.  By having a clear vision of the goals, it is easier to tune the design to accomplish them.  If my goals change, or there is a better way to execute them, it becomes far easier to make a change -such as replace the background image I’m so fond of personally for something better.

And when we work together to design your website, this rule keeps us on track.  I cannot argue with your personal preferences – what photos you like better or why you prefer a plain white background instead.   But we can have a targetted and productive conversation about how your personal preference – or my suggestions – best achieves your goals for the website.

Don’t Make me Think

When someone visits your website, they have a purpose. They’re looking for something or just exploring.  Either way, it needs to be easy to find what I’m looking for.  If I’m looking for a specific piece of information, it needs to be easy to find.  If I’m just trying to figure out what you’re all about, it needs to become apparent quickly. If I’m kicking the tires to see if there’s something interesting, you need to make draw me in quickly.

In short, your website needs to be easy to use.  “Don[‘t make me think” is all about usability.

We all have short attention spans on the web. That is, until we find what we’re looking for – specific content, or compelling, engaging content that we didn’t know we were looking for, but it grabbed and held our attention.

If it is specific content your user is looking for, you need to have a well-organized website with intuitive, structured navigation. If it is compelling content I might not be seeking through your navigation, it has to catch my attention in a positive way, especially on the home page.

Also, you need to simplify your pages – especially your home page.  It cannot be the NASCAR of web pages with dozens of dozens of elements I need to sort through.  You cannot expect a user to spend more than a short period of time scanning a page to find what they’re looking for.

As of December 2015, Amazon had 488 million products on its website.  That is mind boggling when you think about it.  So let me ask you, how hard is it to find what you’re looking for on Amazon?  Not very hard.  Sure, you can search for anything and that’s pretty quick, but try using their navigation to find a list 32″ flat screen HD TV’s.  It does not take long.  You do not have to think hard.  I have no idea how much Amazon has spent on UI research and design, but I’m sure it’s been a ton.  We can all learn a free lesson and benefit from their investment by just looking how they accomplish a great execution of the rule “Don’t Make me Think.”

Content is King

You can produce the best looking website and drive lots of traffic to it, but without compelling content, all of those potential customers just click away to your competitor’s website. Even if you have great content, if its hard to find what you’re looking for, customers click away in frustration. And if you have good content that’s easy to find, but it does not convince or compel a customer to buy your product or service, you end up in the same place. The potential customer clicks away – it just took them longer to do so.

This all seems logical and intuitive, but it is amazing how often this rule is seemingly ignored. I don’t think it is ignored. I know why it happens in only a minority of websites: It is a time-consuming and often difficult task. Content creation (copywriting) can sometimes be like writing a symphony finding the creative inspiration, the write notes, and rework, rework until its right and the listener has little insight into what it took to produce the finished product they’re listening to.

It is often this seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb that stops many from even starting and wrongly conceding that its something they can’t do. The web however created a different style of prose. It’s more conversational. It’s more like just talking to your customers than writing a novel.

Not only is that easier to do, it serves one of the biggest objectives of your content – connecting with your customers. People are more likely to trust, and buy from someone they feel connected to.

And when you do all of this – create good content, original and engaging content that connects with your customers – you accomplish a second goal. When you make your website visitors happy, Google is happy. And when Google is happy they reward you with a higher ranking. Content is the biggest factor in SEO.