Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Elements of Great Website Design

Interestingly enough – coming from a graphic design firm – we often tell clients that when it comes to website design, the "design" part may be secondary, if not tertiary, to the overall effectiveness of the website.

I mean, sure, if the homepage is crammed with text, and not much else, the visitor probably can't hit the back button quick enough. But, when it comes right down to it, how important is the design?

One sentiment I've often repeated when discussing the subject is, "a great website design is only great if people are seeing it". To spell it out; if no one visits your website it's virtually a waste of internet space, no matter how great the design.

So, whats in a website design? Below are 5 important things to know when building a website.

1. Content is King
Content, plain and simple, is king. Owners - take note here, because this means you'll probably have to contribute at least some content; no-one knows your business better than you (least of all lowly graphic designers). When writing homepage content, focus less on what your selling and more on who your selling to. Self-indulging, static content may quickly draw a visitor away. Instead, offer informative articles, facts, and tips within your industry; it will keep visitors on your site longer, and ultimately provide more incentive to do business with you. If you're an electrician, for instance, write an article about how to change a light switch to a dimmer switch, and change those articles frequently.

2. Meta Content is the "Hidden" King
Yep, like the one tucked under your leg in a poker game, meta and source code content isn't visible to your visitors, but it is to search engines, and search engines drive traffic. Designers take note here - it is a basic, yet invaluable piece of the website pie; yet many aren't aware of the importance. Be sure your web site contains properly written meta content and html tags. Take the "alt" tag, for example. Originally intended to provide a one or two word "alternate" description for an image or graphic (mainly for visitors who could not view the image), it was often left blank by designers who felt it unnecessary to the site design (and outwardly, they were right). Now, the "alt" tag plays a vital role in defining and indexing a page by search engines. The same is true of nearly every tag in your source code, each plays a role in SEO and it is important to understand that role.

3. Use images, video and animation wisely
Internet speeds have come a long way in the last two decades; even in the last 5 years. With faster load times, many developers and designers have taken to creating lavish site designs with complex navigation buttons, flash animations, backgrounds and images. But the reality is, most of this does nothing to improving your sites visibility, usability or even its attractiveness. Certainly a website must be compelling for its' target audience, but this does not have to mean complex graphics and animations. For example, how many times have you hit the "skip intro" button on a websites opening video? And do other Flash buttons and effects really enhance the users experience? Most often not. A website should, at the forefront, load quickly and look great at the same time.

4. Create a Great Design

Now that the hard part is complete - writing useful content and determining the right graphics - its time to show it off in a great way - that is, create a great site design and architecture. The growing trend here is to offer visitors a variety of options at a single glance, in an interesting and dynamic way. Websites of yester-year would have a series of navigation buttons, some intro text and maybe a picture or two. Todays' websites offer a whole lot more - tips, faqs, whitepaper, current news, blog, quick contact, networking, resources and more all at your fingertips. The trick for the designer is making all that information look great and stay organized.

5. Share your Content

Bringing the conversation full circle, your new, great website is only as great as the people seeing it. Once again, if you're the website owner, you may have to do a little upkeep work here. Website design is no longer a one-way street, where a designer or developer creates the entire design, posts it and all is done. As described earlier, content must be constantly updated to keep visitors returning. And then, it must be shared. If no one knows your sites' content has been updated, they'll never see it. That's where social networking sites have become key resources for spreading the word. Set up accounts on popular social networking sites and blogs - and share information with others. Ask clients to review your product or service through popular websites and search engines.

In the end, design is only a small factor in the overall effectiveness of website design. Be sure to research your site carefully and choose your designer or developer even more carefully.

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