How to Improve Website DesignScott Williams
There is an entire industry focused on Website Design. It is impossible for us to pass on all that information to you in 12Faces, but we can provide you with some notes on the types of things to take under consideration when designing a website. Yellow Belt
Choices for Website Design
There are many decisions to be made about the website but the first one is probably the general nature of your website and its look and feel. If you are selling an impulse buy product that has high visual impact like women’s fashion, then you are likely to need a website that has a lot of visual material and appeals to that type of consumer’s interests.
On the other hand, if you are selling a service where people are buying your expertise, you need a website that demonstrates that you have that expertise rather than one that necessarily has glossy photographs.
For example, if you are a plumber selling solutions to rising damp, you may well have photographs that indicate what rising damp looks like and before and after shots.
You could have diagnostics on determining if you have rising damp and how serious it is. This might take the form of a questionnaire or an invitation for them to send you a photograph of the problem. This allows you to do a diagnostic – and by the way – gives you a contact with them to follow up.
Today, many people are looking at websites on mobile devices as small as a smart phone so your website must also be readable on these small format screens. You may need to give some serious thought to the use of photographs as they will take up a lot of real estate on a small smart phones screen.
If you want some inspiration of what your website might look like, you could also look at what might be “best practice” at another location and see what appeals to you. Chances are, if it appeals to you it will appeal to others. For example, if you are a rising damp specialist in Brisbane Australia, you could look at the websites of a rising damp specialist in Birmingham England and see what appeals to you on that site. You can repeat this for many other rising damp websites around the world and draw together the elements of what you see. This collection of websites and your comments of what you think is appealing will provide you a good brief to your website designer to incorporate those elements in a design they do for you.
Choosing a Designer
Not all designers are as good as they may think themselves. You are going to spend a significant amount of money with a web designer so some research in advance may help you find one that gives you best value for your money.
A very straight forward test is to do a search for web designers in your locality whom you think you might use. If they don’t come near the top of their listings, then they haven’t been successful at promoting their own website to people like yourself so the chances of promoting your website are somewhat low.
Choosing a web designer is rather like choosing a doctor or a dentist. There are plenty of them on offer but you really want one that you feel comfortable with and whom you feel has the professional ability that you are seeking (see our article on Choosing Professionals).
It might therefore be advisable to write a simple brief for your website, based on what you presently know, and provide that to several candidate web designers to see how they respond.
If you have a phone conversation, or even a face to face conversation, with them you might quickly form an opinion about their professional capabilities and how well you feel that you can work with them.
I would certainly ask for the links to several web pages that they have developed so that you can see the quality of their product from your perspective as a consumer. Also see how well these pages come up when you do a search engine inquiry into the topics these pages cover. If they don’t come up very well when you search chances are any pages they design for you aren’t going to come up either.
Most web designers will easily be able to confuse you with jargon and terminology. Very often the more jargon and terminology they use, the less preferable they will be as a choice. If the two of you can’t communicate well there is going to be plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings and they will always end up costing you rather than the designer.
When looking at some of the websites that these people have designed, always make sure you look at them on both a large desktop browser and a small smart phone browser. The site should be readily accessible and easily understood on both.
If you are having trouble narrowing down the search between alternatives because each of them have different strengths and weaknesses, try using our weights and scores technique to choose between them (see Weights and Scores article).
Producing Search Engine Candy
A website sits there quietly until someone needs to find it. Almost invariably, they are going to find you via a search engine.
These are very valuable potential clients for you as most people will only search for a topic when they have a need for that service. Your task is to convince them to use your service.
Your first job therefore, is to have your website appear near the top of the searches they do for the businesses that provide your service. If you are not near the top, or worse, on the second or later pages, the chances of people requesting your service because of a search engine request drop substantially.
You should give thought to designing your website around various search engine requests that people are likely to make and which you can cover.
A good start for this would be to write down all the search terms that you can think of that are relevant to your business. Ask your friends and others as well so that you get some independent ideas on what people will type. Quite possibly you should also ask people of different genders and levels of knowledge as people less experienced in your arena might use different types of questions to people who know exactly what they are looking for. If you have, or are getting, a Google AdWords account, you can see the popularity of various requests as part of that service (see Google AdWords article)
If you happen to be a plumber specialising in water-proofing, for example, your search terms could include such things as:
- Rising damp.
- Water ingress.
- Rain damage.
- Broken pipe.
- Leaking sewer and so on.
For each of the search terms that you think are relevant to you, aim to develop a specific “landing page” that is very “rich” in the terminology related to your topic.
The reason for the separate web pages is to make the topic stand out much more clearly to the search engines crawling over your site. If you happen to have 10 plumbing services that you could provide and all ten of them are promoted on the same page, the search engine struggles to know whether you offer service 1, 2, 3 and so on to service 10.
On the other hand, if you have a web page with nothing on it except things relating to service 1, the search engine is going to think that you are very serious about service 1. It will therefore give you a higher priority in the search results when someone searches on that key phrase.
Search engines also tend to pay attention to such things as the headings on a page.
They think that if you go to the trouble of putting a phrase in a heading, then it must be important.
In our rising damp example, you should aim to have headings on the page that include the keyword of this page – “rising damp”.
These might be headings such as:
- Causes of rising damp.
- Solutions to rising damp.
- How to spot rising damp etc.
All of these will contribute to the priority that the search engine gives this page when someone searches for the term “rising damp”.
In the same way, you may title the page as “rising damp” in the menu system that leads to it.
Also, the name of the page should be something like “rising_damp.html” so once again the search engine is aware that you consider this to be a page about “rising damp”.
You do not necessarily need to have all your “landing pages” done on day one. Ideally you will certainly have the ones that you think are the most important from your point of view. However, over time there is no limit to the number of additional “landing pages” that you can add to your site to make it more and more “rich” in search engine candy.
It is important that each of these landing pages fit within your menu structure in some way. A page that sits off by itself and is not in a menu structure will not get “crawled” by search engines and may be inactively discriminated against as it thinks its sole purpose is to attract the search engine rather than a human user.
If you are uncertain about the various keywords and phrases that people will use to search for you, you could register with AdWords and use their keyword facility. This invaluable service can indicate to you which keywords are most often searched so that you focus on ones that are commonly searched rather than ones that are searched infrequently (see our Google AdWords article).
Behind the scenes on every web page there are meta-tags. These come in many formats but the three of most interest to you are likely to be the description meta-tag, keyword meta-tag and possible the locations meta-tag.
If you have never noticed meta-tags before, right click on a website and see if there is an option to “display source”. If so, usually towards the top of the page you will see the term meta-tag and you will be able to see if that page on a website has any tags stored.
You may have wondered where the short paragraph that usually shows in search engines, when it lists a website, comes from. Quite often, this will be drawn from these hidden meta-tags on a page. If you or your designer do not fill in these meta-tags, you are missing a great opportunity to further tell the search engine what your web page is about and various slightly different keywords that people might search for that are relevant to this page.
The location meta-tags may be of use to you if you offer a service to a restricted location. If you only offer services in Santa Monica, Los Angeles then by putting that geographic meta-tag in you are telling the search engines to prioritise it for that location and not others.
When filling in a description meta-tag, always start with the most important terms because you do not know how many words from your description the search engine will display. If you write a description that has your most important terms at the end, those terms may never get displayed.
Writing Copy for Webpages
When writing copy for your webpage, it is worth considering the technique that has been used for decades by newspaper journalists. They write in what is known as the “inverted pyramid” format.
The philosophy is that you start a piece of writing with an eye-catching headline. In our case, an eye-catching headline uses your search engine keyword term.
Under this you write your copy with the most interesting and relevant material first then slowly work down through less and less interesting copy.
At some point, people will cease reading an article any further and move off to something else. You will find yourself doing this all the time when you are reading a newspaper article.
However, someone who is particularly interested in your topic, will continue to read quite a lot longer than someone who is not interested.
Therefore, you can have comparatively long copy providing it is giving valued information to a reader that they consider is a reasonable use of their valuable time.
As you move down through your copy, you might have various “Calls to Action” so that someone who is already convinced can click on a link and undertake some action to connect them to you; perhaps an email, get a phone number or some other action.
If you are not a great wordsmith yourself, you might look at text on other people’s websites in other parts of the world that take your fancy and use them as a template to write your own. You should not exactly duplicate that material as that would be a breach of their copyright. Sometimes a search engine might find exact duplicated copy and downgrade you considering that you are trying to fool it into giving you a higher priority.
“Calls to Action” should be scattered around your website so that people can reach you. It is probably not such a good idea to provide your phone number because people may ring you at quite inconvenient times, but certainly you could provide an email or a text only phone number.
To further qualify your customers so that you do not get a lot of irritations, consider setting up a short online survey that asks the same questions you would normally ask during the first contact to see if you are able to help them. This has the advantage of educating the customer as to whether the problem they think they have is the one they do have. It might also make some people aware that they do not have the problem consequently they do not go any further. Finally, if the online survey has a button at the end which can be clicked, that can be emailed off to you along with answers to routine questions so that you can make a quick assessment of the likelihood that you can help these people. If there is a low likelihood, you could use a time saving email to respond to them, but if there is a high probability that these people could be a client they would be worth a telephone call to further engage them.
An approach like this has the advantage of thinning out potential clients and leaving only those with a genuine interest and saves you time in processing what might be idle or irrelevant demands on your time.
Many businesses operating on the web are looking for people to express some interest in what they offer. They often have free give-aways such as, a free consultation, a free e-book or some other service. To obtain one of these free offers, you would need to submit your email address. This provides the website owner with contacts to follow up.
It is also a great way to thin out nuisance enquiries. The 80/20 principle (see The Amazing 80/20 article) tells us that only about 20% of the people who may want to ask you questions are genuine buyers. By putting a few hurdles in front of them, if they do jump over these hurdles, they are increasingly interested in what you offer.
An important by-product of having people provide their email address is that you can continue to send them “tickler” emails indefinitely to keep the service you offer in front of their mind. If they do not have a need for you right now, a periodic email from you may keep your business in the front of their mind so that when they do need a service they think to contact you.
If you are going to be serious about your website, the free Google Analytics service will be invaluable.
Once registered, you can collect a vast amount of data on how many people are visiting your website, how long they are staying, how many pages they read and so on.
If not many people are visiting, or they are not staying on your site for very long, then clearly things are not working very well.
You can also see how many people are landing on your various landing pages so that you can see which of your topic specific landing pages are working the best.
This allows you to focus with the 80/20 rule on those pages that are working well. Alternatively, it indicates those pages that you think should work well which aren’t and which might benefit from some improvement to their copy.
Bear in mind, by the time someone has arrived at your landing page, they are interested in what you say. If they go no further, the fault is on the landing page and this is a clear indication that the page can be improved.