Kyle Phelps, from Dallas based content marketing agency D Custom, says less is more when it comes to web design. Winner of The Content Council’s prestigious gold award for best web design for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s site, Enterprise Forward, Phelps says designers should keep it simple. He believes first impressions count and that the design, look and feel of a site can win a user’s trust or put them off entirely. Here he shares his top 10 tips on creating websites that will attract, retain and convert customers.
1. Work out the purpose of your website from the start: A lot of companies come to us and say they want a website, but they don’t know why they want one. The first question we ask them is, “What do you want it to do?” We get them thinking in terms of things like selling more products or acting as a thought leader? That helps us to align our design strategy to the client’s needs. It ensures we design and build a website that delivers what the client expects.
2. Create a site you can own: Making a new site that might be apart from the corporate site, but within branding, is a great option. It gives you the ability to make sure it can do what you need it to do, without having to alter an existing branded corporate site. This way new sites can support a wide variety of content types, and content can be uploaded instantly, without having to go through layers of bureaucracy just to get it visible (a stumbling block for larger brands).
3. Focus on the user experience: The design needs to do just enough to add to the user experience, to present the content in a pleasing way, but not get in the way. It needs to be slick and have a very nice hierarchy. But it also must be very fluid, because nowadays you’re dealing with lots of different screen sizes. If the design isn’t fluid or adaptive, you’re going to run into some issues, especially when the next wave of tech comes out, when screens may be wider or smaller.
4. Plan SEO from the start: One thing we do when we approach large sites is we start with the strategy, and that’s when we start building on the SEO phase. If you put the taxonomy and categories together from the start, plan how the content is going to be tagged and categorized and you work out where things are going and what function or purpose they are going to serve at the beginning, the site will make a lot more sense and will support your SEO strategy upfront.
5. Pay attention to navigation: You really have to keep asking yourself how is this going to work? Is this going to cause a usability issue with the reader? Is putting that navigation button there intuitive? Are users going to be able to understand this? Are they going to be able to do this? If a user has to click on an icon, will it work without a mouse click? How will it work if they're on mobile? Will the navigation become "sticky" and follow them as they scroll? If users can't figure out how to navigate your site, then your website has zero chance of succeeding.
6. Prioritize functionality: The design of content heavy sites needs to be simple and clean. The content must be front forward and presented with a beautiful interface. As part of this you need to consider things like how the menu works, the type of animation you’ll use and how much content you’re going to load at a time (in one case, we only loaded 30 articles at a time to keep the site fluid and as if it were constantly moving),. We’ve used Ajax loading with HPE’s Enterprise Forward site to give the user the impression that the site never loads a new page, making it appear faster and more responsive to user interactions.
7. Consider adaptive design: You’ve always got to think about how the content is going to look and work on mobile. One of the biggest problems, when you’re dealing with mobile design, is the headline length and size. You’ve got to work out how you are going to adapt the headlines to the various screen sizes. They’ve got to be designed so that they don’t take up much screen real estate.
8. Don’t leave the design to guess work: You have to eliminate all the questions before it goes into the developer’s hands – there’s no room for ambiguity – they have to follow instructions. If you leave them to guess, they’ll guess wrong. Developers don’t always see your vision; you have to be very detailed and organised.
9. Follow a hierarchy: The design really needs to follow a hierarchy to help guide the user through the site. The hierarchy sets up the rhythm and pacing of the site, even if it is a mash-up of tiles. The hierarchy helps to guide users through the site. Depending on what you want the content to achieve, more often than not, you want to make sure the headline and the content are front and center. For example, on a single article page, you need to have the headline at the top, to make sure it doesn’t get hidden by any of the other elements around it, such as the pictures.
10. Keep your load time to under one second: People are impatient, and they don’t want to wait. They just want to get to what they want to get to. For example, on a content heavy site, people don’t want to wait for the whole page to load or for a huge graphic to appear. They are coming to a site to read a certain piece of content, and they want to read it right then, without waiting for frivolous stuff to load around them. So you have to be careful what you put on your site, especially if you’re wanting large background images. They may look pretty but they slow load times, especially on mobile.