Posted by Anna
We are now living in a 'digital' age and websites are naturally starting to play an ever more vital role in the marketing and communication strategies of practically every business and organisation, which means that the online market place is becoming more and more competitive. So good design is needed more than ever to help you to stand out from the crowd.
There is of course so much more to creating a brilliantly beautiful, engaging and effective website than just designing the home page and user interface. But there are a few web trends that you may have seen around, that are tried and tested to get results, and that we often recommend for consideration.
Here we go with our top 11 tips you may want to consider for your website...
The top visible part of the home page on any screen is obviously the most important to capture people's attention, and should give users a clear entry point into your world.
Large, full width or even full-screen photos, either static or animated, can not only add instant impact and that extra 'wow' factor, but can reassure users they are in the right place if you integrate a relevant message. It's obviously really important that your photos are great quality and illustrate what you do and what you are all about. They should ideally include people, places or lifestyle shots (as appropriate) to help form an emotional connection between your users and your products or services.
Looped animated sliders or carousels can be a good way to address clear user goals with key calls to action, and to highlight important services, sections, pages, products, categories, special offers, success stories or featured events for example.
For good accessibility practice, make sure you include back and next arrows and/or roundels or numbers so that users can manually navigate through each slide if they want to view it again.
Featuring a simple looped full-screen video (ideally with no sound or at least no talking) on your home page, or some parallax scrolling effects (where elements of the page stay in place or move in response to the user's scrolling), or just some simple animated rollover effects, can add a bit of life to your site and make it a more enticing experience for your users.
Make sure all movement is relevant and effective, and not purely for the sake of it and don't go over the top as too much movement, or effects used in the wrong place or context, can annoy users.
Some sites can have small animated details (like our Boo&Stu characters on our home page) to add some subtle but fun movement or to draw attention to certain content or calls to action. Obviously this is not always appropriate at all but in the right place, this kind of attention to detail can add a little sparkle!
You may want your Home page to extend into a full scrolling, or even a full parallax scrolling website, where users can carry scrolling down into subsections of the site almost as an extended home page, and without having to click the menu to go to separate pages (although we always recommend a menu is still available to act as quick links into each subsection).
Sharing video content online is a really effective way to engage users. Ideally make it an introduction to your company, show some of the real people behind your company including real customers if possible, and what you stand for, and sum up exactly what you do and why you do it the way you do.
Make sure you keep it short and sweet - ideally 1 to 2 minutes maximum as users have short attention spans and lead busy lives. Make the length of time visible too so users know what to expect. Most users also prefer to press play manually themselves and automatically playing videos with sound can be seriously annoying!
You can simply embed videos from sites like Youtube or Vimeo and it's a good idea to share them there as well anyway as another way for people to stumble across your website. If you've got lots of videos just highlight 1 to 3 of your most popular or latest videos, or ideally the 1 you think is the best, most interesting or relevant as an introduction.
Being authentic and honest with your users and telling them the story behind your company is becoming really important, especially since the rise of social media.
Much more importantly, users want to see what real people are saying about you, and they want to know what you can do for them.
Weaving in success stories, testimonials or quotes, customer service and/or product reviews and statistics throughout the site, and especially on the home page, is a really effective way to start storytelling, and to quickly demonstrate the impact that your products or services are actually having in the real world.
Using social media should probably be a key aspect of your marketing strategy, and so ideally should be integrated into every page of your site header and/or footer, and on the home page.
Feeds to your latest Twitter tweets and/or Facebook posts is a great way to have fresh content on the home page, which search engines such as Google also love.
At the very least have clear buttons linking to your social media accounts such as; Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram. If you are not already using any of these, you should choose the ones which are most relevant to your business to connect with your key target users, or that you simply gel with, and make sure you keep them regularly up to date. It's better to use one of these well (and often) than to just post the same content to different sites for example. Consider too that each social media site has different audiences who want to see different things and at different times of the day too.
Whether you are using social media or not (and it may not always be appropriate for everyone), chances are your users probably will be. So including page sharing options is a good call to encourage users to help spread the word about your site or as another way for them to bookmark it for themselves. There are options to show or hide a number count of shares if you are concerned your site is not the kind of site where you will get many shares (which won't look so good), so you should still always give people the option to share.
Having feeds to your latest blog posts, news and/or events on the home page (or the site footer), maybe as well as your social feeds, is not only interesting for your users, especially return users who want to see what you are up to, but it shows you are active online and adds fresh content which is again really good for helping websites to be picked up by search engines such as Google, which is partly why blogging should be part of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy.
Only do this though if you can do a good job keeping these things up to date. Of course you should do, but just be realistic, otherwise it can actually be detrimental if users see you haven't posted anything new for a while.
For ecommerce sites (i.e., online shops) it's really important to feature products and recommendations, highlight popular or new categories and perhaps your bestsellers too. Knowing which types of content users will actually find useful may need some User Experience (UX) work for research and some User Testing. You'll at least need to look at your current user statistics to see what people are currently clicking on and their journeys through your site.
Trust messages are a great way to address user's key concerns or questions and to highlight key selling points, especially on ecommerce sites.
These should be on the header of every page but could also be further promoted on the home page, and could include for example:-
Including a telephone number or orderline on the header of your site, and ideally a photo of a key staff contact on the home page, or better still the footer, is a proven way to install trust in your users, again particularly on ecommerce websites.
Even if users don't want to actually ring you up (especially as they can contact you or order online), it's greatly reassuring for users to know they can easily talk to a real person if and when there are any problems, particularly if an older or less experienced user, or if they are in a real rush and would prefer to just speak to someone.
If you or your staff are available by email most of the day then you could offer a live chat option where users can send you instant questions to start the conversation with no obligation. And when you are offline users will be able to see so and just send an email instead.
Whether you are using email marketing to contact potential customers or not, you should probably have a mailing list sign-up anyway to collect basic user data (such as name and email) in case you want to take advantage of e-marketing in the near future.
E-marketing is a really effective way of keeping in touch with your customers, and telling them about your latest news or offers, so really should be an important part of any company's communications. You need to make sure the sign-up is really easy to find though so people don't miss it, so ideally it should be on the header or footer of every page including your home page - where it could be even more prominent.
Keeping it really simple with just an email form field can encourage users to sign-up (you can always ask them for further info later) but bear in mind that you may need to further incentivise people to sign-up for emails, such as offering exclusive offers, an entry into a competition, or access to free downloadable guides.
There's nothing more frustrating for a web designer than designing a brilliantly bespoke website without being able to use a great logo to match! Even the most visually appealing site can be ruined by an unprofessional, out of date or unconsidered logo, and your logo will probably be the very first thing users notice on your website.
As part of any website design project we often recommend consideration is also given to your brand logo to ensure it is consistent with the aims of the website and represents your business, and of course that it simply sits well within the visual context of the website. Sometimes this involves a full re-brand, a logo redesign, or sometimes logos just need a bit of tweaking to freshen or tidy them up.
A good logo should visually and instantly represent your brand and communicate your tone of voice, your values, your story, and your business as a whole, and it should work well across all your touchpoints for a consistent user experience - from your website and social media - to print, merchandise and shop or office front.
Look out for Stu's upcoming blog guide to logo design coming soon and in the meantime take a look at some of our branding work here.
It is reported that more than half of people in the UK now access the web or email through their mobile devices, and that an estimated 40% will choose a mobile-friendly site over a non mobile-friendly site when browsing on their phones. Google now even prioritises mobile sites on mobile searches and it is believed that more than 50% of searches now start on a mobile device.
You can imagine then that it's increasingly important your website is legible and easy to use on mobiles and tablets, as if it's not, you really could be missing out.
Creating a site which works well across all the different devices available today (phones, mini tablets, tablets, laptops, desktops, internet TVs etc) can be a major challenge. Sites can be created to be fully responsive so you have one website which adapts fluidly to work for all devices, to being more adaptive where you create different versions of the site for specific sizes (called 'breakpoints') such as; desktop, tablet and also mobile. If more than half of your users are viewing your site on a phone then you can also adopt a 'mobile first' design approach in order to prioritise the mobile experience.
User's needs also often vary depending on what kind of device they are using, for example they may be more likely to just initially browse on their phone while on a train, or they may want to more easily find your location if they are on the way to visit you. You need to have a mobile friendly menu as a starter, and you may want to hide some of the less important content on a mobile so that pages are not so long to scroll through - particularly the home page.
It can be a bit daunting but this is where we can help to advise the best option for your user's needs, your timescale and/or budget.
Just implementing the kinds of things we have recommended above to an existing website usually involves a complete redesign and build. If you try and add these things to an existing website it can end up becoming a bit of a mishmash, especially if your current site is not responsive.
These tips are of course also just a small part of what you need to consider for your overall website strategy. Boo&Stu specialise in custom web design and development using easy-to-use Content Management Systems (such as Wordpress) and we find that our client's requirements and their user's goals usually vary greatly. This is where detailed Project Planning, User Experience (UX) including User Testing, and also integrated Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work comes into play.
Take a look at some of our web design and development work below to see how we have implemented some of these things ourselves, and if you like what you see please get in touch to see how we can help you.
Click here to view our web questionnaire to start thinking more about your overall website design and development requirements. (Make sure you download the PDF before you start filling it in, then open up your downloaded file, and save).
Anna Celeste Watson is Boo&Stu's Web & Graphic Designer
Born in West Sussex and now living in Dorset, Anna graduated from Wimbledon School of Art in 2000 with a degree in Fine Art: Painting where she specialised in Film & Video. She worked as the Video Editor for Travel TV at Teddington Studios creating broadcast documentaries for Sky TV and online content, until 2001, when she developed an interest in creating websites. Anna then worked for 3 years as a Web Designer for Fresh Egg Ltd in Worthing (now listed in the Top 100 Digital Agencies) before going fully freelance, and in 2015 officially combined forces with her Graphic Designer partner Stu to form Boo&Stu.
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