Creating a great web design is a balancing act between many varied and sometime contradictory elements. A website needs to please different groups of people and accomplish several functions at the same time. It combines left-brain, logical thinking and right-brain, artistic thinking. The average user or even owners of websites have little knowledge of what all goes into a truly great website, therefore I have compiled a list of the different things a website must accomplish to be considered great. Compare this list to your website to see where it might need improvement.
- Look good – This goes without saying and is the part you probably already knew. A good looking website portrays a positive image for the business it represents.
- Work on a wide variety of screens – Every web browser will render a page slightly different, so will different operating systems, there are also mobile phones, tablets and other odd platforms to think about.
- Be easy to navigate – The end user must find the site easy to get around in and not confusing or they will go to the competition.
- Achieve it’s goals – Whatever the site was intended to do, be that getting potential clients to call or producing online sales, the site needs to be designed to naturally engage visitors and funnel them towards that goal.
- Play nice with search engines – Almost any site will benefit by better search engine ranking. So another thing the website must do is make it easy for the search engine spiders to index the content of that site.
- Be easily maintainable – At some point every site will need updates, a well put together site will be created with updates in mind using includes, comments in the code and clean, easily readable HTML.
- Load quickly – Obviously, yet it is often not made a priority in web design. With the rise in mobile web browsing this element is more important than ever, yet still often neglected.
There are many other things a website needs to do, but these are the big ones. These are the items that separate the men from the boys in web design, the lowest bidder is most likely not going to nail these points. Likewise a person trained in traditional graphic design will not have all the skills necessary to create a great web design, it takes someone who understands the intricacy of website design, someone who understands things like:
- graphic design
- cross-browser and cross-platform website compatibility
- information architecture and web usability principles
- search engine optimization techniques
- W3C HTML and CSS standards
- server side scripting languages
- image optimization
A really great web design has to look good, work across all browsers and platforms, be easy to navigate, achieve it’s goals, be fully indexable by search engines, be easy to maintain and load quickly, among other things. Creating a website that can do all these things requires a wide variety of skills that you won’t find at every business offering web design services. So how does your website stack up?
It’s been my experience that most clients enter into a web design contract knowing no more about what they’re doing than they do about molecular biology. I wouldn’t hire a carpenter to build onto my house without some knowledge about what he was doing so I could know what I was paying for. Furthermore I wouldn’t go into surgery without reading up a little on the procedure first. It is generally true that an educated client is a happy client, and for every happy web design client there is a happy web designer. Therefore I present my list of 10 things you should know about web design.
- You get what you pay for
Your nephew said he can design your website for you. No doubt he can design that website, but it will most likely be like the Rolex that you buy from a guy on the street, it looks nice but later you find out it doesn’t work. The same goes for web design firms or freelance web designers with bargain basement prices. If they are offering to do it cheap, chances are they are not giving it the necessary time and attention to create a quality product, which leads me to my next point.
- Designing a good website takes a lot of time
A reasonably decent website today must do many things well. A website needs to work on all browsers and platforms, download quickly, perform well on search engines, meet current web standards, look great and be easy to navigate among other things. Getting all these items right will take any web designer a great deal of time. In addition a really good website won’t be done quickly partly because of the next point.
- There’s a lot of code behind a website
When you look at a website you are just seeing the end result of a whole lot of code that the web designer has written, try viewing a website’s source code sometime to see what I mean. And that is just the HTML portion, there may also be many additional files included in a web page such as scripts, style sheets and images. The point is, don’t judge a book by its cover, a web page has much more to do than just look pretty and chances are some web designer has spent many hours getting it all right.
- Your web designer has trouble with mind-reading
It’s helpful if you approach your web designer with some idea of what you would like in your website. Look at your competitors websites and make notes about what you like or don’t like. Some brief notes about features you would like to see, colors you would like to use and things you hate about other websites would be a big help. Your web designer will find it much easier to be creative with some initial ideas to work with.
- Every browser will render your website differently
There are more different web browsers available now then ever and each handles things a little bit differently. What your site looks like on your browser is not what it looks like on everybody’s browsers. There is no way your web designer can make your website render identically on every web browser. The goal is to make it look great on all browsers, not to make it look the same on all browsers.
- Every screen resolution, monitor and device will make your website look different
This is related to the previous point. Depending on the screen being used to view your website, the screen resolution, and a variety of other settings like color depth, your website will look very different from one device to another. It is often a game of compromises to make it look as good as possible on all and the best on the most screens.
- Fonts will look different on different computers
Windows and Macs handle fonts very differently, furthermore the individual fonts on a computer vary widely. So this is yet another example of what may look one way on your computer may look different on another. Your web designer looks for a compromise that looks the best on most computers.
- You need to play by Google’s rules
Google has about 65% of the web search market, its nearest competitor Bing has a mere 15%. This means that any website hoping to be at least mildly successful online needs to do well on Google which means playing by their rules for search engine optimization. The guidelines that Google offers provide some limitations to what you can do with your website, but the benefits of following these rules are many.
- Visitors will not flock to your site when it’s done
The road to internet success is littered with the remains of websites that have failed to make an impression in the market. The key thing to remember is that a successful website does not just happen. People need to be able to find your website on the search engines when searching for relevant keywords, for this to happen you will need at least some basic SEO services. You will need to promote your website to current and prospective clients, put your web address on all your marketing materials. And one other thing is required to make it successful, our next point.
- Your website will need to change… often
People will return to a website that changes often, but not to a brochure website. The most successful websites are those that are more than just static information about your company, consider incorporating a business blog, discussion forum, RSS news feeds, photo gallery or at the very least have the ability to go in and change things around occasionally.
Now that you’ve completed your crash course in web design basics you are ready to go out there and hire a web designer. You will be a better educated consumer and your web designer will be happy that you have done your homework and can carry on an intelligent conversation on the subject of website design.
Your website may look great but how is its performance? A website can be compared to a car in this way, it is important for it to look good but the real test is in its performance, where the rubber meets the road so to speak. If your website is not out there bringing in new business then you’re broken down on the information superhighway.
The problem is that business persons who pay to have a website developed often don’t know how to judge their website’s performance initially beyond its looks. In the long term they will notice if it is not getting new business but even then they are often not sure what specifically is wrong or how to fix it. You need an easy way to give it a website performance check.
If your website is sputtering we recommend a 10 point website performance check of all moving parts. Here’s the rundown of what’s involved.
You should check:
- HTML code formatting: Is your basic HTML code broken? If it is this could be holding you back. Clean, standards compliant code will work better in search engines, be easier to maintain and is more likely to look great across a range of browsers and devices.
- Download time: Long download times can discourage visitors from viewing your site and can even hurt your search engine performance since Google give preference to the faster loading websites. Remember that mobile devices are often browsing at much lower speeds.
- Image optimization: This is related to the last point, but images don’t just need to be the smallest file size possible, they also need to look good, not blurry or pixelated.
- Browser compatibility: How does your website look on all the most common web browsers? How about mobile devices? You need to look good to all potential customers.
- Web hosting: Your web hosting can have a huge impact on your website’s performance. Is your hosting company’s servers responsive and fast or sluggish and unresponsive?
- Keyword density: How frequently do the keywords you hope to compete with show up in your content? This is an important metric to how you will perform in the search engines.
- Keyword popularity: While we are on the subject of keywords. Just how popular are the keywords you are using? You should carefully pick the keywords you will use.
- Inbound links: More inbound links will help you improve your search engine rank. But be careful, links from low quality or spammy site can hurt your ranking.
- Outbound links: Your outbound links are also important, but just like inbound be careful to only link to high-quality websites.
- Google PageRank: This is a number between 1 and 10 that represents how important Google thinks a website is. The higher the number, the better you are doing.
Once you have completed this website performance check and got those 10 critical points tuned up, your site will be purring like a kitten and ready to tear up the road.
If you need help, iLab New Media can run your website up on the lift, check it out, and provide you our honest appraisal of what it needs free of charge. You will also get a written report of the results of our tests to keep and bring to your own web guy if you want. No obligation and no hard-sell. Just contact us today for your free website performance check.