Understanding Site Design

The design of a company’s website plays an important function in attracting prospects and customers, generating leads and potentially creating sales.

Generally speaking, a website has between 15 to 30 seconds to convey a favorable impression about a company as well as the products and services offered to online visitors; therefore paying attention to the site’s design is a critical factor in how well it performs.

Design Basics

To some extent, a website’s design will be influenced by a company’s industry and culture. As an example, a website for a law or accounting firm will likely take a more serious design approach than a party planner or an ice cream parlor.

An effective website blends design, text, images and video to provide a good overview of a company and what it offers. A website’s images can highlight both team members and the workplace, as well as provide a personal touch that helps differentiate a company from its competitors.

To avoid increasing a website’s startup or “load time,” it’s a good idea to optimize images for online display. Because the screen resolution is lower than print, using a "save for web" command in a photo-editing program reduces the "density" of the image so it will load more rapidly. There are also many plugins available for WordPress designed sites that will aid in optimizing load time for pages and images.

It’s also helpful to consider readability as a site’s design is prepared. Dark text on a light background, for instance, is easier to read. It’s also a good idea to consider the target market’s age — if your target market skews over 40, making text easy for on-screen reading will help improve your site’s usability for visitors. Font type is also a key factor in the design of a website. Fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana or Georgia are all easy to read fonts that can be read clearly through a variety of browser types.

Improving Search Results

A website’s content is a critical factor in how the site is indexed by search engines. Thus it is important to make sure that headlines and content relate to products and services offered.

Consider what keywords or phrases customers are likely to use as they search for offerings that a company specializes in and include those phrases in page titles and headlines. Avoid repeating keywords over and over, since search engines may penalize for "keyword stuffing," yet make sure that the site describes the company and what it does utilizing the terms necessary to find the website online.

Prepare for Scanners

Since most visitors scan a site quickly (think 15 seconds) instead of reading it carefully, it’s helpful to break up text with headlines, bulleted lists and images. Keeping sentences and paragraphs short is another helpful way to improve the appearance and readability of a website.

Important elements and the company’s contact information should appear "above the fold," which is the portion of the screen visitors can see without scrolling down. Most people won’t bother to look for information that’s not directly in front of them.

Navigation Drives Results

While most people think of how a site looks, good design also includes navigation menus that are straightforward and easy to understand. Therefore a web designer should make it as easy as possible for visitors to find their way around the site since confused visitors will likely hit the back button instead of exploring a website further.

Some navigation tips:

  • Place a company/brand logo in the upper left corner of every page, and make that logo a clickable link to the home page.
  • Keep navigation menu items to a minimum, professional web designers suggest using 7 items or less on a navigation menu.
  • The navigation menu should use descriptive titles. Summarize what a user will find on the specific page. Rather than have a menu item called “Team” consider expanding it to “Meet Our Team.”
  • Keep design usability in mind. A user should never have to go more than three levels deep (or three clicks) away from the homepage to find information.

Enlisting the Help of a Professional

Depending on goals for the website, enlisting help from a professional web designer could be a good investment in making the website as appealing and functional as possible. If you’re technically inclined or wish to tackle the site’s appearance yourself, most web hosting companies offer a wide range of website templates designed for small businesses. Additionally many website building companies offer templates for little to no cost. WordPress and Wix are just two of the most well-known companies that offer simple solutions for web design that don’t cost a fortune nor do they require a programmer to code.

When working with a professional, it’s important to ask if you’ll have the ability to update or add content yourself (and how easy those updates will be to perform). If you have to rely on the web designer for future changes, additional costs will be incurred and possibly delays in having the website updated. Instead, ask the designer to include content management features so you or your colleagues will be able to update the site yourselves.

If you prefer to do it yourself with a design template, customize the images or graphics to give the site a more personal look and feel that better matches your company and its personality.

Either way, remember that creating a website is not a one-time project. You’ll have to plan for frequent updates as you develop more content and change your design periodically to prevent the site from appearing outdated.