As designers, you really ought to know how to make things look good. When it comes to website design though, you need to do more than create something which is aesthetically pleasing, you need to think about the underlying foundations and how they could affect the user experience. After all, websites are not static like print, they are interactive. As the designer, you are in control of how that interaction plays out and whether it is likely to convert visitors into customers or not.
Having a good website structure and layout is not only beneficial for user experience, it also helps users find the website in the first place. If you can understand the basics of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), you can design a website that also helps to improve your client’s ranking on google (as well as other search engines) which they will definitely thank you for.
We’ve gathered a number of tips and pieces of advice that you should bear in mind when you next design a website. These guidelines should help you create a site that encourages customer conversions as well as contributing to the site’s overall SEO strategy.
Make Things Easy
First things first, your website needs to be easy to navigate. Before getting bogged down with the details of each individual page, make sure you have a simple, clear site map to follow. Imagine the website is like a virtual filing cabinet – the site as a whole is the cabinet, each section is a drawer in the cabinet, and each page is a separate file. Once you have a clear site map drawn out, you can ensure that the site has sufficient signposting throughout.
Keep Important Information above the Fold
The term ‘fold’ originally comes from newspaper production when editors wanted their biggest stories to be seen. They’d place the shocking titles and eye-catching pictures at the top of the front page so that they would still visible even when the paper was folded in half. For websites, keeping above the fold means keeping within the area that is visible without a visitor having to scroll down. You only have three seconds to make a good impression on a visitor when they arrive at your page for the first time. That’s three seconds to show them that this website has the answers they’re looking for. So, you should probably make sure that all the information a new visitor needs in order to understand what your client does, is in plain sight, above the fold.
Include Trust-Building Features
The most obvious way to make a new visitor trust your client’s company is to show that they’ve done this work before and done it well. That means including a section on the website for testimonials and positive reviews. But there are other, more subtle ways that you can inspire trust. Linking buttons to active social media accounts adds to a sense authenticity, as does including an ‘About’ page, so that people can see who they’re dealing with. People are clearly interested in getting to know the face (or faces) behind a business because, after the home page, the ‘About’ page is usually the most popular page in a website.
Know What Search Engines Are Looking For
There was a time when search engine optimisation (SEO) meant having great content, crammed full of keywords. Now, however, it’s about much more than that. If your site has a high bounce rate (lots of people coming to your site and leaving again within 10 seconds) search engines will think that people aren’t finding what they’re looking for and will deem your site irrelevant. So, you need to do as much as you can to reduce your bounce rate and one of the best ways to do that is to keep your site user-friendly which you can do by having clear signposting to other pages and using breadcrumb navigation. Keeping loading times low will also help to reduce your bounce rate so make sure any videos or images are compressed and optimised for the web. Also, don’t forget to make the site mobile-friendly as that will massively decrease your bounce rate from visitors on their phones and it is rated well by search engines in its own right too.
Make Individual Pages Search Engine Friendly
The previous point should have told you what to include to make the site as a whole more search engine friendly. However, each page has important SEO elements and although producing the written copy for a website isn’t your job, you can encourage your client to consider the right things. Ensure that every page has an overall title, and description, with plenty of content and a "< h1 >" tag so that search engines can quickly decipher what each page is about. Use images minimally because search engine crawlers can’t figure out what an image is about and therefore whether it is relevant or not. Instead, fill your pages with as much text as is reasonable and always include alt text for images you include. Alt text has the added benefit of making your site more accessible to visually impaired visitors and therefore benefits your user experience which, as we discussed in the previous point, benefits your site’s SEO rating too.
Avoid Image Carousels!
Do not use carousels if at all possible! Clients may like the idea of carousels as a way to put several products, news articles etc in one place but they are not the answer. Several studies have shown that they actually decrease conversion rates. While it’s true that the first slide is likely to generate attention, all slides after that have very low click-through rates. The Neilson Norman Group suggest that carousels cause frustration when people are unable to read a slide before it moves on. They also point out that the slides on a carousel can work against each other as each item is only in view for a fraction of the time and the more features you’ve included, the less time each one will be visible for.
Make Space for CTAs
Another thing you can encourage your client to consider, even if they’ve considered it already, is to include CTAs on all pages. Whatever your client’s website is supposed to do, we’re sure they would like some kind of action from their customers – be it to buy something, sign up to something or just to share their business on social media. You should absolutely leave space on the website to specifically ask for this action such as a button, social media icons, or a form built for the client’s specific needs.
Don’t Forget the Informational Footer
Footers are fantastic ways to include all the bits and pieces of information that don’t really have a page of their own to call a home. Visitors will expect to look to the footer for the more serious information so this is the perfect location for company information, a site map, contact details, and any legal information. A website footer should be more minimal in design than the rest of the page and should be consistent across all pages of your website.
We hope this blog post has helped you to realise that there is a lot more to website creation than the visual design aspects. Now that you understand these basic structural foundations, the websites you design from now on will be much more beneficial to your clients’ businesses.