Website design is a critical way for you to set yourself apart from your competition and retain more of your traffic. Modern web design is a compromise between the demands of SEO standards, the aesthetic choices that will keep your readers interested, and the nature and purpose of your site. In this post, we’ll go over some design principles and tips to help you achieve your goals, even if you don’t have training as a web designer. Regardless of your need for web hosting and your plans for the purpose of your site, you need to know the basics so that your design will be a success.
Minimalism is King
If you have spent some time on modern and well-designed sites recently, or browsed through lists of sites for ideas, then you have probably seen one thing that has jumped out at you: minimalism. There were plenty of sites in the past several years that relied heavily on lots of graphical work, big, splashy landing pages, heavy use of Flash, and so on. Sites competed to have the flashiest intros, the most dramatic effects, because that was the best way to get the attention of visitors.
That is no longer the case. Now, the key is to make sites low-impact, simple, and easy to navigate. Whether it’s reducing all navigational info to hamburger menus or sticking most of the content on a carousel, designers keep coming up with new ways to present content while adhering to minimalism.
The reasons for this are fairly clear. First of all, readers want the content to be clear and organized, not hidden behind layers of graphics. The increasingly sophisticated users of today’s world won’t be fooled by flash. In addition, as SEO becomes more important as a determinant of traffic, the content of each page starts to matter more than the graphics surrounding it. In fact, because Google can’t pick up on content embedded in images yet, even trendy choices like infographics can mean you are hiding some content away from Google’s crawlers. Next, it is also becoming more important than ever to think about mobile users. A site with a lot of graphics and complexity won’t perform well on a mobile device, which has less power, a smaller screen, and might be operating on a limited monthly data plan. Minimalism is a movement in the direction of making content easy to access for as many people as possible. That is what makes it such an effective guiding philosophy.
In addition to practicing minimalist design, one of the best ways to retain your traffic and reduce your bounce rate is to remove all barriers to content. Barriers are things like buttons to press, pages to scroll, and anything else that stands between the reader and content. These probably seem like meaningless obstacles, but each one of them can cause a small percentage of your readership to leave. For example, on a page where you have to click through an initial graphic to read content, or where you need to scroll down to see all the content, then a few visitors will decide it is not worth the extra time and leave. Remember how much competition you face. You can’t afford to give up on even a few potential loyal visitors. Fight for that traffic and make content accessible by removing barriers.
For example, never write out big blocks of text without any subheads or at least spacing. That is intimidating and hard to read. Some people will just leave immediately if they see a wall of text. In addition, many readers like to skim first and then decide if the content is worth a full, in-depth read. Walls of text are not friendly to skimming: there’s nothing to pull out and no obvious places to look for summaries or key points. Create short paragraphs like a newspaper article and add in subheads. That gives readers a better idea of what the text contains. You can also add in bulleted lists. These are very skim-friendly and easy to read, but don’t overuse them or else they will appear gratuitous. You can’t break down everything to a list of three pros and three cons.
Trends in design can change fast, and new updates to Google’s algorithm frequently affect design best practices. That means you need to stay flexible and treat your design as a work in progress, not a finished work. Instead of rolling out occasional redesigns, experiment with small, incremental changes. There is a lot of software that can help you carry out A/B testing for design elements so that you can put some stats behind your changes. Be open to the fact that you might need to change anything about your site to keep it fresh and attractive. That doesn’t mean you need to overhaul it every other week, but you never know when you will need to, for example, redo your typefaces to make them mobile-responsive or start investing in local listings for local SEO. The things that stay the same about your design should be the philosophy and goals of the site. Everything else is potentially up for grabs.
The best way to maintain a good design compass is to keep in mind the customer’s perspective. Periodically go through the site as if you had never seen it before and take note if anything seems annoying or out of place. It is a good idea to ask friends and family to do the same thing and note their reactions. This is an informal version of real testing, but it gives you better and more detailed feedback. Regardless of your need for web hosting, your site still needs to work well for whoever will use it, and if you are monetizing the site, then you will depend on it functioning for your income.