Website design isn't about gaining the first spot on page one. It's about ranking high enough that your website appears when your audience searches for a solution to a problem that your brand offers. And it's about providing an exceptional customer experience that entices your audience to care about your brand and the products and services you sell.
Great web design is about driving qualified leads to your business. It's about presenting content in a meaningful, attractive way that ditches the fluff and provides substance and value to your audience.
Whether you're interested in replacing an existing website or are planning to build a site from scratch, it all begins with the fundamentals, but it doesn't stop there.
Great web design requires research, planning, testing, and open-mindedness to launch a product you are proud to share with your family, friends, and expanded audience. It stands up to a discerning audience's expectations and delivers a powerful punch in value that your customers want, need and expect.
There are many ways to design a website. You could do it yourself, but bear in mind that even with a website wizard program to guide you, designing a good website is often time-consuming. That's OK if you're up for the challenge. But if you're not, you have more important things to do, or you simply lack the additional time, then investing in a professional website design service can bring you through this entire process seamlessly. Working with a professional is a great way to ensure you receive a return on your investment and your work is done in a timely manner. Most importantly, it lessens the amount of additional work you take on yourself.
Framing your web design through research and discovery
Before you brainstorm a single tagline or header, do plenty of research. It's time to discover who your target audience really is and what they are looking for when searching for your products and services. It's also time to begin crafting a user experience that helps your audience receive what they need quickly and easily.
Too often, many people begin a design process with flawed assumptions and forget audience research until things aren't working as anticipated and a "fix" is in order. Instead of using research as a bandage, take charge of your design. Be proactive by using research as your launchpad to understand your audience.
Gather the basics.
There is already a lot of information readily available online to give you insight into your target audience. Discovering your audience includes learning about their needs, their desires and their challenges. It also clues you in on how best your products and services can meet your audience's needs and solve these challenges.
Find out what makes your audience tick. Discover what they care about and learn what struggles they face that your brand can solve, then build trust by showing them how and why your products and services offer a better solution than their usual methods.
Identify your ideal audience.
Once you discover your audience, it's time to create a user persona. A user persona, also called a buyer persona, is an essential organizational tool to help you better understand a specific type of customer – the ones most likely to connect and engage with your brand. It describes their needs, wants, pain points, personality and more.
Don't stop with one persona. Go with at least two or three, depending on the size and complexity of your brand. Multiple personas help you avoid a one-size-fits-all approach while embracing who is most likely to buy from you. No brand can accommodate every user, age group, personality, or etc. Neither should you. So, what does a user persona look like?
It can be as simple as this:
User persona 1: John Smith
- Age 40-50
- Recently moved to the suburbs and works remotely
- Works as a customer service manager
- Loves the latest gadgets, but is only somewhat technologically inclined
- Needs a high-speed processor, lots of memory and a Windows-based system
- Thinks touch screens are cool and loves streaming movies
Although this is pretty basic, from this user persona, we now have a basic understanding of one of our target audience members, John Smith. Assuming we have laptops that meet his needs (high-speed processor, optimal memory capacity and a Windows-based system), John would probably go for a laptop that offers a folding screen for movie viewing or a touch screen for the "cool" factor. And, if we have a laptop that offers both of these features, John would probably be even more thrilled.
Create customer journey maps.
Once you have identified your personas, you start learning about their journeys toward buying your product or service. What inspires them to realize that they need your product or service? How do they start their research? When do they ultimately purchase? Map these journeys for each persona. This helps identify overlaps in unique customer experiences that you can then tailor your message to.
Sometimes you must change your initial assumptions
During the design phase, it's easy to focus on superfluous features that only serve a very small portion of your target audience. Rely, instead, on your research as an industry leader and work through your design and iteration.
Make sure you remain flexible as new information arises. Limiting distractions is not the same as ignoring new insight that runs counter to your initial assumptions. Keep an open mind as you gain new information and adjust your approach when necessary.
Keep it simple
Your website is an excellent tool to brand your business, but it can do so much more as well. The key, however, is keeping your website design simple. Some businesses solve complex problems with complex solutions. Their websites are a reflection of these services. But too complex of web design bogs down your audience's ability to properly use your website.
Accessing your website shouldn't be a major project on its own. Web audiences, whether consciously or subconsciously, expect a smooth and intuitive web experience, and will quickly back out to the search engine results page and try the next link if your website is too difficult to navigate. One way to prevent this is by starting with a clear, concise sitemap.
Your sitemap provides direction on where to find key topics, but even this is not the only thing to consider when branding your business with web design. Your website content is also important.
Use consistent language.
Have you ever visited a website, read an article and moved to another page only to wonder if you accidentally navigated to a different website? Content carries your brand's voice and tone be it serious or witty or just plain conversational. How your content speaks to your readers matters. What's more important is maintaining a consistent tone for your brand throughout your website.
Inconsistencies in the way your content speaks to your audience across your website and beyond will understandably leave your readers confused. It may even discourage them from further interaction with your brand. Consistency is essential. Provide a simple and seamless user experience across your entire website to brand your business while providing your audience with the best customer experience possible.
Include clear calls to action.
Speaking about content, a good call-to-action is essential. But, this is one area that requires a skilled writer. Get the call-to-action wrong and you risk coming off as pushy instead of helpful. Spammy-looking CTAs, popups or irritating web design discourages your site audiences. In some cases, it can even send them clicking over to your competitor's website. A better way is to create visible calls to action using clear language and letting your audience know exactly what they are getting when they take the action.
Having an additional but less noticeable navigation tool such as a breadcrumb trail on a more complex site allows your audience to quickly retrace their steps back to a higher-level page. This also improves the overall customer experience with your website, and it brands your website as user-friendly.
A breadcrumb trail is how your audiences can keep track of their journey. It gives them an easy way to return to a previous, higher-level page. It also helps them decide whether they have gone in the wrong direction. Multilayered websites can be complicated, but if your audience knows that they can retrace their steps, they feel empowered to explore. And, who knows, they may even find additional benefits from your service they didn't initially anticipate.
Say more with a clean design.
You can further enhance your brand with a clean website design, and, honestly, you should. Busy web design often projects a dizzying effect on many audience members leaving them confused. It can even send them packing early on, particularly if the design feels too spammy.
Don't let your audience arrive feel overwhelmed by common design mistakes such as excessive information or an unclear hierarchy. The harder your audience must work to find the information they came for, the less likely they will stick around long enough for meaningful interaction with your brand. Choose your color palette, visual hierarchies and simple navigation wisely to keep your audiences at ease, interested, and coming back for more.
Mobile-first design principles
Having a mobile-first website design is another great way to boost your brand, especially given that so many of us today surf the web via smartphones and tablets.
Simplicity is a key, here. One of the easiest ways to ensure mobile compatibility is to start your website design process with the smallest screen ratio possible. When you begin your design this way, you are forcing yourself to prioritize the most important pieces of your audience's journey.
Consider progressive enhancements
While it may not seem like branding, designing your website using progressive enhancements will help a broader audience to better connect with your brand. Once you have identified and designed for the most important elements of your website on the smallest screen possible, you can then scale up to the next screen size and so on. Design professionals call this process "progressive enhancement," and it forces you to start with the basics and go from there.
Improving your customer's overall experience with your brand keeps them coming back for more. It also encourages your audience to engage with your brand more frequently. Begin the design process with the bare minimum and add from there. You and your audience will find the entire journey much easier and more inviting.
Design for SEO
Your content must be organized with simplicity, and designing your content for search engine optimization helps you achieve this. It should never confuse or unsettle your audience. Focus on a strong SEO strategy for a significant advantage when it comes to your search engine rankings, but at the end of the day, good SEO must serve your audience's needs.
Go beyond the basics of SEO
To the uninitiated, SEO is simply dropping in relevant keywords throughout your website, but to an SEO professional, it's so much more. It's writing content that your audience finds interesting, useful and engaging. It's having the right meta descriptions, title tags and even alt image descriptions. When your audience visits your website and finds it speaks with authority, they are more inclined to return, share, and engage on a more meaningful level – all of which boosts your rankings.
Organize your content
SEO requires your website's content to be written clearly and concisely. It must use headers, title tags and meta descriptions to support your audience's needs and wants while also giving your business a leg up in the search engine results pages.
Using clear headers and subheaders provides a visual hierarchy for your audience. It allows them to scan a page of 1,500 words and identify the sections that are most relevant to their needs. At the same time, search engine crawlers scan your website and use the H1, H2, and H3 tags to index your content.
Beware: (Low) speed kills
Although speed might not seem a likely component to branding, it does far more for branding your business than you might realize. Think about the last time you scoured the web for something, visited a promising website, but the page took seemingly forever to load. Speed matters.
Beware the siren song of widgets, add-ons and other website extras. Don't inundate your audience with things like chat boxes, popup calls to action, embedded videos (especially ones that aren't muted by default) and other extras. Doing so might send them clicking away to the other brand.
Simplify with options that don't bog down your website speed. Consider the following:
- Use compressed images.
- Avoid unnecessary design elements.
- Use consistent typefaces.
- Avoid autoloading videos and animations.
Keep it simple to brand your business well. Keep it simple to keep your audience coming back.
The final word
These points only offer a limited set of fundamentals. Yet, they are vital stepping stones to better branding and a better website experience for your audience. Tracking performance, interviewing your audience and making necessary adjustments along the way is an ongoing process. Stay relevant and reach the audience who will benefit most from your services.
With the right website design, your brand will attract the attention it deserves and reach the audience you intended. Don't just brand your business. Brand it effectively with the right website design.