When the Internet emerged more than 25 years ago, the first websites were akin to a magical land of unicorns and casinos, resplendent with scrolling marquee text, flashing lights and bright sparkles. It felt like a visit to the Red Light district every time a user connected to the brave new Internet World via modem at the blistering speed of 14k. Companies didn’t realize what a great business asset an effective web design could be. Instead they structured their sites to serve as giant “About Us” pages as a way to invite recognition for their traditional brands.
In the last 25 years the Internet has changed substantially, and consumer behavior has changed even more. Websites now dominates the way we communicate, the way we shop, and the way we make decisions both online and also in the face-to-face world. The glorified “About Us” pages are gone, replaced by mobile and secure business sites that serve as powerful lead generation tools for anyone with a business-to-business or business-to-consumer product or service or information resource to sell.
To commemorate 25 years of the Web I’ve invited Gabe Shaoolian, founder and CEO of web design and online marketing firm Blue Fountain Media, to provide 25 tips for current best practice in making your website the best it can possibly be as a vehicle for enabling your company to capture more leads and conduct a better business, as follows:
1. The 5 Second Rule
Remember that you have just five seconds to explain your value proposition to users when they enter to your site. The back button is the most widely used command on the web. If you don’t answer a user’s needs right away, he or she will click “back” and exit your site. Make sure your site features compelling copy that draws readers in and gives them reasons to stay.
2. Proper Messaging
The most important aspect of a site is its messaging. The most effective sites feature clear, concise, bit text messaging in no more than a few words. Do not put long paragraphs on your homepage. Your homepage is a gateway into your site. Use short messaging that gets to the point.
3. Call to Action
Look at any successful ecommerce or service provider site and you will notice they include a CTA, or a “Call To Action.” The most common calls to action are “Request a Quote,” “Buy Now,” and “Work With Us.” The best CTAs clarify what you are offering as opposed to forcing people to figure it out on their own. Calls to action should be in the top masthead area and body of a website (above the “fold” that requires the viewer to scroll). If your page is long enough, having another CTA on the bottom of your page is beneficial as well.
4. Building Trust
Building trust is critical if you are selling products or services online. Zappos became successful by offering free shipping and a great return policy. By leveraging the positive experiences of their audience through customer testimonials, Zappos was able to build brand loyalty and grow their business. Similarly, other sites highlight their guarantees and feature certifications or a phone number potential customers can use to contact a real person if any issues occur. These features can make the difference between someone hitting the dreaded back button and making a purchase.
5. Keep it Fresh
Content is still king. You don’t want visitors to your site to see outdated content and think your business isn’t active online, which could affect your bottom line. Your site is your company’s face to the world. Make sure your site shows that your company is up to date on industry trends and is actively engaged by regularly creating new content.
6. Incorporating Social Media
Social media is one of the best ways to build loyalty and establish a brand voice. Make it easy for your audience to share your content by integrating social media into your web design. This simple step provides a great opportunity to create brand advocates who will attract new customers and help your website to drive more sales for your business.
7. Don’t Make Me Think
User experience is the key to any good web design. People should be able to navigate throughout your site without confronting dead ends that cause them to navigate away from your site. Your website’s layout should straightforward so that users can easily move from page to page.
8. Web 2.0 – It’s About the User’s Needs–Not About You
In the early days of the Internet a lot of business websites concentrated on themselves. They went to great lengths to show what they did and why they were a great company. While this hasn’t exactly changed, these days the Internet’s best sites are much more focused on what a business can do for a user. Concentrating on what you can do for the user instead of what you want the user to know about you will help your site to become a more effective sales tool.
Today’s Internet is accessible to users at blistering speeds beyond the wildest dreams of the web of 25 years ago. One of the best ways to take advantage of this new speed is to put multimedia and videos to work for your business. Video allows customers to see what your business is about in a highly relatable way that builds stronger bonds than copy alone.
10. Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
While it can be tempting to build your website from scratch with your own CMS, it is better to use existing open source platforms. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and Magento (for ecommerce) are great alternatives that are relatively painless to set up and can allow all the functionality you need. These CMS options come with the added bonuses of plug-ins that will simplify your online marketing efforts and support any issues you might encounter.
11. Don’t Fall Behind – Your Competitors Will Beat You
While getting to the #1 position for a great organic keyword or building up a massive and engaged social media following can make you feel like your business is on top of the world, it’s important to not get carried away. One of the best ways to fall behind to your competitors is letting your illustrious rankings or followers go to your head as a sign your work is complete. Always stay on top of your online presence and continuously work to ensure your website is as optimized for business as possible while keeping track of what your competitors are doing as well.
This may seem self-explanatory to some, but website security is one of the most important parts of a well-designed site. Never store data on your site that can compromise your business or the privacy of your customers such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, and personal addresses.
13. Start with SEO in Mind
When you are initially designing a website, make your site as optimized as possible for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) concerns. Take note of the terms you want to rank for and use them in the appropriate title tags, URL chains, H1 tags, and H2 tags to help your website rank more highly on search result pages and to help your website generate non-branded organic traffic that leads to new sales.
14. Long Page Forms
When creating page forms such as request a quote forms or checkout pages it is important to avoid long page forms. Many people don’t take the time to scroll below the “fold” to see additional content. If your checkout or CTA button is present only at the bottom of a lengthy form you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Many visitors will navigate away from the page in frustration or before they’ve had the chance to fully consider your offer and act.
15. Don’t Make Me Squint
One of Shaoolian’s biggest peeves is a website that requires you to squint to see the copy. There is no reason to publish website copy in a tiny font. If a website isn’t easy to read, there’s no reason for your audience to stick around for the additional effort.
16. Be an Industry Leader
Being an “industry leader” is no longer just about holding a great position at a well-respected business. These days, the term means that you are actively sharing your practical with others. Whether it’s on your website or via a social media platform like LinkedIn, sharing your practical advice and knowledge with others shows that you and your business know what you’re talking about. This “thought leadership” is a great way to build brand recognition and sales.
17. It’s No Longer Just About the Desktop
When the Internet was in its infancy there was only one choice for users who were trying to connect. It was desktop or bust if you wanted to experience the Internet. That’s no longer the case, with users accessing the Internet on desktops, tablets and mobile devices and 17.4% of global website traffic originating from mobile devices as of the end of last year. Keep mobile development in mind as you develop your site, Shaoolian says, so that all of your customers can achieve optimal interaction with your website, from whatever device they employ.
18. Don’t Attempt To Target Everyone
When building a website, it is important to remember who your target audience is. While building for everyone in an effort to get massive traffic can be tempting, remember that defining a target audience and designing with that target in mind will lead to more conversions and a better conversion rate for your company.
19. Monitor Site Performance
Keeping tabs on how your website is doing is extremely important, particularly when you’re trying to find ways to upgrade your site. Knowing exactly where your website is falling short is the only way to make the right changes that will make your audience happier and motivate them to convert to customers at the highest possible rate. Monitor keyword rankings, conversion rate, and bounce rate as you plan your website’s future design.
20. It’s Web Pages, Not Websites That Rank
When you are building out your website it can be easy to forget this simple SEO fact. At the end of the day, your domain is not going to rank on a search engine result page – it’s your individual pages that will. To avoid cannibalizing your business’ search engine results, take the time to build out each page of your website to make it both informative and visually stunning. For example, if you have a landing page for a service that you offer and want it to rank for that specific service keyword, make sure that the landing page is substantial enough to attract inbound links and ranking to reduce the possibility of attracting links to only your homepage instead.
21. Your Website is a Component of Marketing
Your website is the primary point of contact for our digital marketing efforts. Ultimately, everything you do online that isn’t intended for brand recognition alone will be driving traffic to your website in an effort to get people to complete a predefined goal. Make sure you give your website the time and care it needs from a design perspective to be as effective as possible. This will ensure your digital marketing efforts pay the biggest possible dividends for your business.
22. Good Websites Grow Businesses
It’s easy to forget the purpose of your website when you’re building it out. The best websites don’t necessarily have to be the most visually appealing. The best sites are effective in generating conversions and in helping your business to generate more leads online.
23. Flash Websites Are Dead
There was a time not so long ago that the most visually stunning websites were created with Flash. But that’s no longer the case. Flash websites keep a business from attracting the growing base of customers on iOS mobile devices that don’t support Flash, and they produce a slow and unresponsive user design that frustrates customers and costs your business’s sales.
24. Respect Text Contrast
One thing that hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years is the importance of text contrast. While it is true that the early Internet was overloaded with flashing banners, what many businesses did get right in the early days was effective contrast. Black text on a white background was and still is the most effective way to present text. The right contrast can make the difference between users clicking where you want them to go or navigating away from your website altogether.
25. The Future Requires Full Integration With Wearable Tech
Looking to the future, optimizing your web design for wearable devices can pay dividends for your business. Gadgets like Google Glass and Pebble are early indications that the future of the Internet lies in wearable tech. If you want to get ahead of the curve, take the time to be sure your website is fully integrated now to give early adopters as full an experience as possible when they visit your site.
Thanks to Gabe Shaoolian, CEO of Blue Fountain Media (www.bluefountainmedia.com) in New York City, for his contributions to this post.