These days, every organisation worth its salt has a website. To take advantage of the opportunity to streamline overheads, many companies have opted to sell products online too. However, some websites work better than others. So when it comes to successful web design there are three main areas that need to be addressed: design, construction and content.
The starting point with for any good design will be the home page. This creates the first impression of the site. When visitors land on the home page there is around three seconds to capture the audience before they lose interest and click off to another site. Therefore, work with your designer to ensure it looks attractive and compels potential customers to stick around.
Slow uploading, illegible fonts and failing to specify precisely what the company does for example, can contribute negatively to retaining site visitors. The home page should also provide one click links to the most important information on the site. More clicks and visitors may dismiss it as ‘too much hassle’, so navigation also has to be clear and straightforward.
Simple navigation is also achieved throughconsistency in appearance and placement of links and buttons on every page. In addition, each page should have a link to take visitors back to the home page.
For main menu buttons, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) should be used instead of images. HTML is the authoring software language used for creating web pages and means text renders faster, is searchable and therefore more accessible for users.
Visual impact is also key to attracting customers and encouraging buying behaviour. The layout of pages, particularly of the home page must be clear and appealing. Much of this can be achieved with quality imagery. Striking photography combined with easy navigation encourages purchasing and makes it an easy, painless experience.
In addition to the layout and quality of imagery it is essential to ensure the site appeals to the life-style choice of the potential buyer. Show the products being used, show where they come from, build a picture that indicates that by buying the product the customer is purchasing an aspirational lifestyle choice.
The way the website is constructed is also important for updating information and dynamic content which is a key element for web optimisation (pushing the site up the search engine rankings).
The ability to update a website initially comes from constructing it according to “web standards” guidelines and using valid HTML and cascading style sheets (CSS). CSS enables the web developer to separate the appearance or style of a web page from its structure and content. In addition to making the site easier and more cost effective to update and CSS also significantly improves the download time.
For online buyers payment safety and security are also key and a suitable payment method needs to be incorporated usually when the site is constructed. Use and advertise a well-known payment gateway such as WorldPay. Or if you choose to handle payments in-house use a secure SSL server which encrypts data transferred from the site. Consumers are now wise to the padlock icon that denotes the use of a secure server and are put off if it is not in evidence or a well-known payment gateway is not used.
In addition, ensure the checkout process is clear with a prominent ‘next’ button on display and in addition, include the functionality to ‘save details’ to make it easy for returning customers.
At a basic level most websites should include about us, contact us, services and products sections. However, if you are selling online the way the products are displayed is the most critical area and they should be merchandised properly.
Customers are more likely to move through a website site where the merchandise is on show at the start. Therefore, include a selection of products or a product offer on the home page that will grab attention immediately. A ‘straight to buy’ button will allow customers to purchase quickly as well as encouraging impulse decisions.
The products and offers on display on the home page should also be updated regularly. This keeps the site looking interesting, moves it up the search engine listings and again encourages impulse purchases.
Endorsement is also a useful element of content to include. Quotes from other satisfied customers are a powerful sales tool and people often read these to help them make a buying decision. Similarly, awards and trade association memberships endorse the quality of the company’s offering so should be displayed prominently. Logo’s for awards should appear on the home page.
On the whole, website design should focus the requirements of potential and existing customers as this is where the revenue will come from. Companies that have put careful consideration into the design, construction and content of their website will find that it attracts customers and, most importantly, generates the sales and enquiries they are looking for
These days, there is no denying your website is your ‘shop window to the world’. So if you are just starting up in business, or an established company looking to re-vamp an existing site what are the steps you need to take to ensure the design and build of your new site is as smooth as possible and ultimately, the website really works for you? Tessa Denison, creative director and recent winner of highly commended at the Wessex Business Woman of the Year Awards, explains.
1) The Web Spec
Before you talk to any web designers it is critical that you have a clearidea about the purpose and objectives of your new website and come up with a web spec. And this doesn’t need to be complicated. Start by asking yourself some basic questions – for example: how do you want visitors to use the site? Is it designed to be an information portal? Do you want to sell online or do you simply need a web advert or your product or services?
Consider what functionality your target audience would expect from a site. Do you need a search option for example? Will you need to upload your own content? Having a clear idea of what the website will be used for and why will help you develop the right content.
Consideration of good layout and ease of navigation is also essential. From landing on the home page you have an average of just two seconds to impress and encourage your audience to look at the rest of your site. Look at different websites for inspiration and to establish what you like and don’t like and what you believe will work for your organisation.
Developing content for your site is divided into two main areas – firstly web copy and secondly images. If you are not a great copywriter consider outsourcing this to a specialist might be one of the smartest moves you make as it will be one of the most important things ever said about your company. Copy should be crisp. To the point and at the same time include common search phrases to help drive traffic to the site.
Websites often act as an on-line brochure so visual impact is also key. Imagery of the same quality and professional standard that would be used in hard copy marketing collateral should be used as these will not only have a visual impact but reflect the image of the organisation itself. In short, use a professional photographer or use stock imagery which can be bought on line for as little as £50 per image.
5) Optimisation & Monitoring
Only some of your target audience will come directly to your website (through the url address on a business card for example). Others will need to be driven to the site and for this your site will need to appear near the top search engine listings. This can be achieved in a number of ways including key word/key phrase optimisation, inbound linking strategies or dynamic content for example, so ensure this discussion is held with your web designer early on.
Once your site is built it is important to monitor how it is being used. For a small additional fee your web hosting company will be able to provide you with web-statistics illustrating how long visitors stay on each page for example. This allows improvements to be made the site in the future so it is well worth the investment.