Let's face it - web design is no longer a simple task. In today's world, to maintain a productive and efficient website, you have to have computer programming knowledge, a background in marketing, and a fundamental understanding of how the then-current social media and search engines work. Most marketing agencies are great at churning out stunning visuals for print and digital marketing. Still, few have specialized skills in developing world-class websites that utilize the latest opportunities to build brand momentum online.
Putting the right foot forward for every potential customer can sometimes be a much more significant challenge than you'd think. Yes, you know your intentions regarding how you envision running your business, but customers can't always see your vision through a poorly designed website. With some of our clients, Organic Traffic can often represent over 75% of the traffic to their website. Because there is so much to keep in mind when designing your website, we'll distill the most critical considerations into a five-point shortlist to make sure you never miss a beat.
1. Search Engine Optimization
Easily the most crucial concept to consider when designing a professional website, Search Engine Optimization is a critical element of the web design process. Professional web developers will often get agitated whenever the subject of SEO comes up. The term is widely misused, and amateur designers flock to SEO as a go-to buzzword to make them sound knowledgeable about the subject. The basic tenet of Search Engine Optimization is that your website will get more Organic web traffic if it is easy for search engines to interpret and classify it.
SEO is the main reason why the best web designers will never try to sell you on designing a single-page website. While it may seem efficient to dump all of our content into a single webpage, the reality is that you’re talking about a lot of different subjects on a single page, effectively making your webpage a jack of all trades, but master of none. To make your website stand out from the pack, you have to do the opposite. Like in high school and university, where you separated your thoughts into separate paragraphs when writing essays, you must separate each subject into a different web page.
This website, for example, is a perfect illustration of this concept. Each of our articles has a separate page. The implementation of professional writing on your website is a powerful tool for SEO. Still, to learn more about that, you should familiarize yourself with Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and how they work.
Search Engines rely on logical processing. Logically organizing your website (on this page, I will talk about this, on that page, I will talk about that) makes it even easier for search engines to understand the intent and value of your website. Remember: a search engine isn’t going to return your page simply because your business does what the user needs. Search engines will return to the user pages that represent what the search engine interprets as good resources on a given subject. Search engines return search results when a user is looking for a particular piece of information - ensuring that your website has individual pages that provide that valuable information will make it more likely that your site is within those results.
We do want to stress that SEO is much more than creating categorized content that places well. SEO is a process used at every stage in the design process, and what we have discussed here is merely a drop in the bucket. No matter who designs your website, make sure they know what steps they will be taking to optimize your website to be highly visible on search engines.
2. Responsive Web Design
Responsive web design was not a concept that was present when the internet was first born, however, it is now an integral part of modern web design. A real example of how technology imitates life, responsive web design has become necessary as a result of the emergence of widespread adoption of mobile devices - and all of their different shapes and sizes. We've all seen websites that are not responsive, and more often than not we expose ourselves to responsive websites without even being cognizant of their responsive nature - they just always appear to be designed for the screen we are viewing them on.
This brings me to the main crux of responsive web design. We as web designers put so much time and effort into the tiniest details that matter a great deal because they need to be in the background. Responsive web design inherently needs to be expected, unobserved even. When your website does not customize its layout to fit the dimensions of the viewer's device, they notice, and it detracts from the overall experience. You won't win any brownie points with your users for having a responsive website, but they won't revolt against you now that it is responsive!
3. Marketing Continuity
Most websites today are being designed alongside a growing expanse of marketing materials for the business it is being designed for. Similar to the reasons for focusing on responsive web design, it is important to also make sure that your website represents a continuity of your other marketing efforts. Brands create the greatest emotional impact when they tell a continuous story - a story that is built piece by piece using a wide array of marketing mediums. When casting a large marketing net, customers need to know where the message is coming from and using the same colour palettes, photo assets and themes communicate to the viewer subconsciously that they are consuming more of this brand story. Vary your marketing mediums, but don't vary the core message.
This is not to say that you're not allowed to update your marketing materials ever! Your marketing efforts need to be coordinated. Every voice speaking about your brand needs to be sharing the same overall message - that your brand is good; it is valuable; it is essential. This is why large companies spend a great deal of time planning their marketing efforts far in advance. Every detail should match with the brand's core values and business proposition and should support the overall core goals of the marketing campaign. Any content that does not support the overall core goals of the marketing campaign simply does not get used. It can be tempting to use every single photo from a professional photoshoot, or to plug in a catchy retort in your marketing copy, but if it doesn't match the rest of your campaign it loses value.
There have been plenty of studies that suggest that consumers are affected on a subconscious level by marketing messages, which is why the most profitable restaurants, grocery stores, clothing shops, and furniture stores are laid out and presented in the way that they are. Get lost recently at an Ikea? By Design. Buy more groceries than you had on your shopping list? By Design. Order more food simply because there was a combo that "saved you money"? By Design. The way that you present your brand to the public matters in every single flyer, poster, coupon, web page, and pamphlet. Our brains make millions of calculations every day without us being cognizant of them, so it is important to make sure that when consumers' brains are judging your business in the background, every message you send them speaks to what your company is about, and tells a consistent story.
4. Web Spend Before Ad Spend
Many companies dive into spending thousands of dollars on paid advertising to direct traffic to their website but fail to invest enough marketing dollars on making the website itself worthy of their customers. Whether it be cost-per-click advertising through search engines or social media networks, or an in-person word-of-mouth campaign by your staff to elicit additional web traffic from your customers, if your website doesn't capture a positive emotional response when it is viewed, you're flushing all that marketing ad spend down the drain, because people gravitate to websites that inspire positive emotional responses.
While I will never tell a company to not spend money on online advertising, the primary focus of any business with a sub-par website needs to be identifying ways to enhance its web presence before promoting it! You wouldn't debut a poorly-rehearsed musical in front of a live audience, and so too you shouldn't debut a poorly-designed website to the public either. A quality website should enhance the overall customer experience of your brand, and all too often, companies put the cart before the horse, or forget that there is no need to buy a horse if there is not cart to pull! (Your website would be the cart in this case).
5. Create Added Value. Always.
Every website should have a value proposition for both the viewer and the company. For a website that focuses on the Franchising aspect of a restaurant concept, the value proposition might be automating the beginning stages of their sales pipeline; Offering basic information about the brand to encourage form submission for the prospect to gain access to more specific details of the Franchise system, and setting up automated communications to facilitate the beginning stages of the sales process, track ROI and engage sales reps for follow-ups.
With one of our recent restaurant clients, we built in several value-adds for their business. Interested franchise applicants can get basic information about the franchise, but must submit a contact form to receive the brand's profile package, which comes with specific information about standard store build-outs and required financials. The website logs the contact form responses into a database that sales reps use to track their contacts at various stages through the sales pipeline and ensures that no prospect falls through the cracks.
At the bottom of their catering page is another contact form for customers interested in coordinating a catering event, and at the bottom of the home page is a contact form themed towards customer feedback, which aids in directing negative feedback away from social review sites which affect the company on a public-affairs level. We also developed a resource portal for their existing franchisees to access standard marketing materials and graphics, review corporate memos and news postings, place logistics orders for uniforms and take-out menus, and share training videos with their staff to enhance brand consistency.
With one of our local church community group clients, the primary value add is community. For this project, we built in a subscription system whereby interested viewers can submit their email addresses and be kept up to date with news and events from the group's directors. While developing for a new boutique hair salon, we designed a custom booking system that enabled customers to book themselves into hair appointments and enabled stylists to manage their schedules, prevent double-bookings, and manage their time-off.
Whoever designs your website has a lot of information to absorb, and even the best web designers continue to build learning into their daily lives. We live in a world where innovation happens daily and it can be tough keeping up with all that is happening in the world of marketing. Make sure that the person building your website knows what they are talking about (and challenge them to show as much), and knows how to implement their knowledge into a real-world final product. Most important of all, the person or company you choose must be aware of the limitations of their knowledge and capabilities and must be able to give you a realistic understanding of the results they can produce for you.