One of the highlights of the Mequoda Publishing Summit I attended last week was the session on effective web design. Using web sites from many top companies as examples, the workshop leaders highlighted ways in which the sites had been redesigned over the last several years in order to be more effective, sleeker, and easier to navigate.
There are 4 main concepts, or tasks, to keep in mind when reviewing the quality of a web site, or when testing your own design or redesign. The web site should easily allow the user to:
*Search *Browse *Join *Buy
If visitors to your site cannot easily do any of these 4 actions, they will most likely abandon your site.Many publishers do not realize their sites are confusing, or too busy, or do not have a clear call to action.
In order to avoid these problems, there are 10 key elements to effective site design that will help ensure your visitors enjoy the site, find what they are looking for, and convert to happy clients or customers.
Does the site embrace new media and current tools and technologies, or does it resemble the old-fashioned, bulletin board style sites from the Web 1.0 world?
Does the site clearly invite involvement, whether through social media, a forum, an invitation, or other method?
3. Labeling and Language
Is the copy audience-centric, using appropriate key words and phrases that visitors will relate to and understand?
4. Organization and Readability
Is there a good use of white space, a lack of clutter, and a design that leads the visitor clearly to where they need to go? Also, is the call to action, such as an e-newsletter sign-up, clearly placed above the fold (ie. in the top portion of the screen)?
5. Content Freshness
Ideally, new content should be posted daily. Search engines love fresh content, which is why so many online publishers are switching to blogs instead of web sites, or adding blogs as a key component to their site.
6. Fast Load Time
A load time of under 3 seconds is considered good, over 9 seconds not desirable -- you risk losing your visitors. Load time can be speeded up by making sure your images are optimized for the web. To check your site's load time, try pingdom.com, which offers free accounts for monitoring of one web site (other paid options are offered for multiple sites.) Pingdom monitors load times, as well as other site errors and malfunctions, according to a schedule that you can customize.
7. Good Use Task Depth
The user should easily be able to complete the tasks offered on the site, including subscribing, downloading content such as reports or e-books, viewing a video, or listening to an audio or podcast.
8. Aesthetics and Brand Preference
The aesthetic elements of the site, such as graphics, color scheme, logo, and typography, should be consistent with the purpose and brand of the site. For example, a site promoting green or sustainable living, should feature earth colors. We don't expect a serious news site to use flowery fonts, nor would we expect a fun or recreational site to have a black and white color scheme and minimal graphics.
9. Consistent and Clear Navigation
The site navigation and links should all connect coherently. In other words, a link should lead to where it's supposed to go. Dead links and confusing navigation are signs that the publisher had not thought through the navigation, or is not keeping up with their site.
10. Crisp Content and Strategy
The content on the site should be relevant, key-word optimized, and supportive of the higher mission of the site, whether that be to convert to customers or clients, provide entertainment or education, or serve as an informational resource. If you're not sure of how to write your copy effectively, whether it be your About page or the Services you offer, engage the services of a writing consultant like me. It can make all the different in making sure you have an effective site design and strategy.
What about you? Are you currently undergoing a web site design, and what have your challenges been? Have you seen a site recently redesigned for the better?