In this day and age, no business can afford NOT to have a website – but if you’re spending a lot of time, energy and money getting people to your site then once they’re there you need to know that, that effort hasn’t been wasted.
Thankfully, these days it doesn’t cost the earth to get a good website done and in fact if you’re relatively computer savvy and you don’t need a website that is too complicated then potentially you could even develop one yourself!
There are four elements that are critical for a successful website: Design & Development, Copy, Usability and Readability.
I once read that a website should be like the 100m sprint – rather than a cross country. Both are races but the sprint has a straight run from start to finish with nothing in the way until the runner has crossed the finish line. The cross country is filled with obstacles where many people give up because they’re just too big to get past.
People are impatient – and this is definitely the case with website visitors. With every obstacle you put in their way, you give them a reason to leave your website – and it doesn’t take much at all for a website visitor to get frustrated and decide it’s too tricky to navigate to be bothered to continue.
Design & Development
The design of a website is what you see when you visit it. The development (or coding) is all the work in the background that makes the website work. Websites vary wildly with how complicated they are – and therefore how much development will be required to make the website work.
Your design must represent your business in it’s entirety, in the images you choose, the colours and the font. At the same time it must be really easy to navigate and ensure the visitor can get where they need to go within one or two clicks. Look at the website from your visitors point of view and include headlines, content and visuals that will keep them engaged with the site.
Before you talk to a developer, or start to build your site yourself, put pen to paper and work our how you would like your website to look. What I’m talking about is a ‘structure’. A website with no structure is like trying to build a house with no plans. The structure details what pages you want to include on your site and how they connect together. What pages will be included on your main menu and if any will be connected via a sub-menu.
Your navigation menu will ideally be vertically on the left or horizontally beneath the ‘masthead’ (the band across the top of your website that generally includes the logo) – it’s not a good idea to have the menu on the right of the screen as the user may not realise it’s there and this will cause the user frustration.
By all means use images to make your website more dynamic. But choose and place them carefully. Avoid using pictures as space fillers. Don’t use an image that creates a band across the page and pushes the headline down. This has the potential to push the headline below the ‘fold’ (the ‘fold’ is the bottom of the screen as it loads) risking your visitor not seeing it. If you can, avoid excessive use of moving images which will distract your visitors – potentially even irritate them and make them want to leave your site. Avoid images of people that are quite obviously stock photos. Finally, putting images to the left of copy is a big no no as we read from left to right, but scan pictures on screen from top to bottom. If your image is on the right of a picture, the visitor may scan down the image and then carry on moving downwards, missing any text to the left.
Ensure your design is consistent. All pages should look the same in terms of colour scheme, fonts and general feel.
A few things to be wary of when designing the look of a site:
Justified text – this is where the lines of a paragraph are made to look all the same length. Although this may look tidier, it’s actually harder to read.
Centralised copy – to read centralised text your eyes have to search for the beginning of every line, which is generally too much like hard work for most people. We read on a subconscious level – if our brain is finding something tricky to read, we don’t stop to work out why that is – we just decide we can’t be bothered to continue trying.
Copy -This is the text on your website. Headlines need to engage the reader quickly. Use conversational text ‘you’ and ‘your’ not ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. Keep language simple and easy to understand and avoid using jargon. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point (one thought per sentence, one idea per paragraph). Make sure you include a call to action – otherwise your website visitors won’t do anything. A call to action tells someone what they should do now e.g give us a call on 01233 34##353 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to chat through your needs or ‘buy before midnight for a 10% discount’.
Good copy should help the reader to find their way to what they are looking for. It needs to offer useful information about the things that people are looking for. It should also provide useful links to take people to where they want to go next with the minimum of effort.
You also need to take into account ‘readability’ which is not about what your visitor is reading but is about how people read. As soon as someone arrives at your website you need to grab the attention of your visitor and give them confidence that your website is going to deliver what they think they’re looking for. It’s the headline that is going to engage the visitor in the first instance – or not. To work, it needs sufficient space around it, be of decent size (ideally around 18 to 24 point font size) and be ideally positioned for the reader to see it straight away. This means that any page headlines need to be placed around where the reader’s eyes connect with the screen. This is around a third of the way down the screen and around 3 centimetres in from the left.
For example: Not ‘we can help you start a business’ but ‘If you can dream it then we can achieve it together’.
Updating your site
If your website isn’t updated regularly – and by this I don’t necessarily mean every day – it will let your business down and won’t win you any awards for SEO (search engine optimisation – the thing that gets your site appearing in Google (or other search engine) searches). You need to ensure that your website is up to date and content is current. Make sure that links work and ideally have somewhere on your site that can be regularly update with new content – such as a news section, blog or a page for recent projects.
If you are having your website developed for you – ensure it is done in a content management system (CMS). This gives you access to your website and allows you to update the text and images on most of your website so that you don’t have to pay your web developer to make changes for your in the future every time you want a bit of text updating. WordPress is a fantastic option (which my own website is written in). There are literally hundreds of available add-on features – many of which are free.
How much will a website cost?
That’s a really tricky one to answer. You can expect to pay anything from a couple of hundred pounds to thousands depending on what you want your website to do. I don’t mind telling you that my website cost about £700 to develop the main structure of the site as I was able to provide my developer with the design and all the images and filled the site with all the content.
Making your site a success
Ask yourself the following questions and use the answers to work our what you want your website to look like, and to say:
- Who do you want to visit your website?
- Why would they be visiting your website?
- What are they looking for?
- What problems might they be experiencing that you could solve?
It’s unlikely that anyone visiting your website for the first time will buy your products or services on that first visit.
Ideally you would like their contact details so you can get in touch with them in the future. An ideal way of doing this is a ‘capture form’ that pops up as the visitor leaves your site. Of course they won’t give up their contact details without any motivation to do so – you need to offer them something that interests them enough to give you their name and email address. This could be access to a free webinar, a discount code, a top tips article for example. Whatever it is, it needs to be relevant and/or useful – something they see as having value.
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