Who’s to say what better web design is, and why it’s important to take stock in your site now?
Web design has moved leaps and bounds over the past several years. With a trend toward sites built with a CMS; such as WordPress, to tackle SEO movement toward content driven results, new website development really moved from the early static-positioned small page designs in the 1990’s to today’s enormous pictorial and eye-catching designs in 2014. Then in 2015 websites started to incorporate even larger screen displays, started tackling mobile responsive views, and incorporated functionality like parallax movement and more complicated, but engaging interior page layouts.
Well it’s the start of a new year, and 2016 is the year to reinvent your site; if you’ve not already started tackling it, and really strive for better web design!
It’s important you keep your brand fresh in the consumer’s eyes! Often, this means making sure your digital assets, like your website, are utilizing best practices in today’s site technology, design, features and functions, and maybe even some common trends, but without compromising your brand’s story. (More on staying with your brand’s story in minute)
With all of the changes we’ve seen in web design over the years, we’re going to highlight a number of the do’s and do not’s to keep in mind when you’re ready start moving forward with your new branded web image. And, since our expertise lies with WordPress, we’ll focus a number of these tips under the assumption you’ll be building out your website on that versatile but powerful platform; although many of these tips can apply to other development options as well.
Before we jump into tips for better web design, I think it’s extremely important to understand the difference between Website Designers and Website Developers.
Understanding the different roles involved in developing your website can help you better understand the responsibilities, and expertise involved in bringing your site together. It can also highlight potential shortcomings or missing components during that process. For example, traditionally in the past, neither a website designer nor a website developer or programmer would be concerned with 2nd-hand user function or long-term SEO strategies. That’s not to say, some professionals (in either of these roles) wouldn’t think about it but it wasn’t their primary function, and therefore, it wasn’t a consideration in their task or wasn’t emphasized as a priority.
As web design becomes more complicated, you’ll find more and more cross-over of some of the tasking involved as well as micro-experts or teams focused on particular expertise you may need to involve. No matter what, it’s up to you to do your due diligence in researching the parties involved and resources available whenever you contract new website design or development. Be your own advocate and make sure you understand what’s covered in any quote, and what’s not.
To learn more about Web Development roles check out our article “Understanding the Difference Between Website Design and Website Development“.
Web designers are really the creative force behind new website creations. They are the graphic artists tasked with stylizing layouts and objects for the internet, and bringing to life the overall visual concept of your website.
A website developer is the one who is tasked with bringing the code together on the front end of a site, or programming functionality on the backend of a website to bring the visual concept to life. They code the framework and functional details the web designer has laid out.
Understanding these main two forces will prepare you when it comes time to interview Website Development Agencies or individuals carrying a title of Website Designer or Website Developer. Other players on the team to keep in mind would be content writers, SEO consultants, graphic developers, or programming specialists. There’s typically someone taking the role of a project manager as well. This person oversees all production and makes certain each member of the team who has been tasked with an area of project is working together. They cover all the bases and ensure the team is staying on track with individually charged tasks and collective goals or timelines.
Now that you’re aware of some of the team players, here are ten things you should watch for in 2016 to ensure better web design on your next project:
- Make sure you don’t compromise your brand. Just because big moving picture websites are all the rage, doesn’t mean this look or feel is necessarily right for your brand. Make sure you don’t alter your look so much that your loyal consumers are confused when they reach your site.
- Don’t forget substance. Again, it’s easy to get caught up in the eye-catching, pictorial-driven website designs we’ve been seeing across industries over the past year, but remember this – search engines cannot “read” pictures. Make sure your story is reflected on the home page. This doesn’t mean you need to have a huge company bio published there, but you better have a strong elevator pitch to support a meta description of your site to visitors. Those big sliding images won’t do you any good if no one can find your site.
- Keep it simple. Imagery is beautiful and engaging, but only when done in moderation. If you have too much movement, or too many images the eye gets confuse, and the brain becomes ‘decision-fatigued’. This will lead to more jumping around and distraction on the site; not to be mistaken with engagement. Distraction leads to more drop rates; reflected in your Analytics. The higher and more frequent you have ‘drop-off’ traffic, the more you signal search engines like Google that your site’s content is not relevant; or worse yet, is spammy.
- Make sure your team develops for function and not just form. It’s really easy to get caught up in the design of the outward (or public) appearance of your website, but is the coding clean? Are the developers using SCHEMA to help promote strong SEO strategies? How about the backend of the site? Are you able to easily make updates yourself, or are you locked into needing the help of the website developer because it’s either not user-friendly to the layman, or would pose a security risk for you to even access? It’s really important that you, as the owner of the site, can easily navigate the backend of the site to make simple updates or create new content or pages.
- Use ‘designer features’ in moderation. In 2015 we saw an insurgence of design techniques and features like parallax, infographics and HTML5 take hold of new website designs. Although these all create eye-catching and engaging content once a reader is on your site, they may do very little (or in the case of an infographic page, nothing at all) to help promote SEO on your website depending on how they are used or formatted.
- Infographics have become a phenom in the past 1 to 2 years seen all across blogs, websites and social media. And, although they are extremely engaging and useful to explain a point of view, depict statistical data, or provide helpful “how to guidance”, they are best used in social media applications. When you use them on website pages in and of themselves, there is absolutely no SEO value to that page because the search engines cannot crawl that information. Infographics are essentially one big, flat, yet colorful image. But, that’s it. However, if you use the infographic as part of a blog post (versus its own static page), and are able to create a captivating and unique infographic that you can promote to the masses (such as through social media), then the link-back (backlink) power of that post page could be powerful to your SEO strategy.
- Parallax is another popular design element that started popping up more and more in 2015. And, again, although it can provide a beautiful backdrop it is no good for SEO for a couple of reasons. (1) Most sites using parallax are designed on one page and use little contextual information on the page. Search engines are not able to crawl this information; especially if any of the text is embed to the images used in the parallax. (2) Parallax scroll designs using large imagery, or in multiple sections can have an extreme effect on site performance and load time.
- Consider infinite scrolls. Infinite scrolling is term that describes the release of new content to a page as the user/read continues to scroll down the screen. A great example of this implementation would be your Facebook newsfeed or Google+ posts page. Web designers can use a framework like Bootstrap to implement a crawlable AJAX which allows you to keep all of your content on one singular page, but still keep Google happy. With that said, some sites don’t “shine” with an infinite scroll… such as financial or legal sites unless the content is limited in length on one page, and then additional resources allocated to other pages throughout the site. What’s most important is a “lazy loading” effect on sites where large images are regularly used which can help to increase overall site load time.
- Using unique and oversized typography. Many large brands, as well as kitchy new startups are exploring the use of multiple unique, yet complimentary, font styles across their websites now to help draw the eye of the reader to different segments of a page, or even elements within a page. Using a variety of different style and sized typography on your site can help you focus your visitors to key messages or tell your story, but there are important things to keep in mind:
- You should consider the font style selection carefully, and based on the message you want to convey with each. Are you trying to be laid back, whimsical, or serious? Is the message inspirational or informational?
- You should make sure to work with your designer closely to ensure the application of these font styles are in keeping with your brand, and have the ability to be applied across browsers. Unless the font is hosted through Adobe or Google, for example, it may end up displaying awkwardly on different devices. This is because, not all font files are supported by all browsers or computers.
- One last tip: Although you can use as many fonts as you like, the more fonts you use the more “cluttered” the site may feel. This causes a reduction in legibility or readability; a ranking factor in the search engines. So, it is recommended you stick with no more than 3 font style variations.
- Avoid front-page carousels. Carousels seemed to be popping up in just about every industry or business segment in some form or another in 2015. And, although they can seem quite engaging, and are often visually appealing (when in moderation), it’s the opinion of some that these feature has been so overused that it now makes many sites feel more cookie-cutter in design. Here are some additional reasons to consider another design option:
- When you have sites that are nothing but imagery on the home page, you’ve just tossed any SEO strength out the window. Remember, search engines don’t read imagery. Those bots are looking for contextual information to crawl. And, simply putting your meta description behind the page will not help because those search engines want supportive content.
- Furthermore, many sliders (Revolutionary Slider is a notorious one) use HTML5 to create eye-catching slides with contextual overlay. This text is wrapped in H1 headers that change when the slide changes. When this happens the h1 keywords or phrases are often devalued; adding to SEO challenges.
- Mobility is still the key! Those sites that are not mobile-responsive are already feeling the negative consequences in the search engines. For 2016, make sure that a clean mobile view of your site is one of the top priorities. Mobile responsive sites make shifting your content easier and reduces the need for extra files for a separate mobile sitemap, and therefore, easier to comply to SEO techniques or track analytics. But, in some cases, a separate mobile file structure may make more sense for your business segment.
We could go on and on way beyond those ten tips, but at the end of the day if all you could remember was one summarized point, make sure it’s this: better web design shouldn’t come down to just aesthetics. You need to consider any “new trend” from every angle to make sure it makes sense for you and your brand, and whether or not it could have a negative impact on your site’s performance overtime. It won’t matter how “pretty” your site is if you cannot drive traffic to it, or have to spend a fortune on black-hat techniques or advertising to get traffic there.
One last side note: Choose your website design team carefully.
It’s always hard to decide the best path to go when your design goals are regulated by your tight budget. Going with that inexpensive template website builder seemed like a good idea at the time, until you wanted to move your site or have someone else manage additional marketing or SEO strategies for you, let alone redesign the site. When you don’t have control over the ownership of your site files and content, you don’t have full control over your brand. And, starting over can be painful to your pocketbook in the future and slow down business. So, consider the long-term strategy for this site. What’s your exist strategy? How much control do you have over your own business assets and their destiny?
Furthermore, be careful of those quick-up, templated websites because the content provided is recycled and not unique to you. This makes you literally invisible to the search engines until you spend the time or resources to rewrite it all.
For more information on a new or refreshed website design to bolster your online business brand in 2016, give Back2Basics a call today at 763.951.3913.