1. Who are you, what do you do, and who do you do it for?
These questions MUST be answered within the first 2-3 seconds of your visitor landing on your site.
Who are you?
When a visitor comes to the site do they immediately recognise your brand? By the way, this doesn’t mean your logo needs to be bigger (web designer joke). Yes the logo needs to be prevalent, but keep it simple, in most cases top left corner will do. Consistent colour and font scheme, use of white space, tone of voice and style of images all go to the personality of your brand and need to be recognisable across all your marketing assets.
What do you do?
Is it clear to your visitor what your site is about? Do you have a company tagline that is more than just fluff and actually expresses the meaning and purpose of your business? Does your tagline entice the customer with the information they were seeking?
This is one area the web differs here from offline. In offline advertising you are interrupting people, you need something catchy to get their attention so they recognise your brand and create some positive emotions around your brand. This offline technique needs to be repeated many times to work, you don’t get that chance with your website, often they are there just once and you have less than 10 seconds to let them know who you are and what you can do for them.
“Just do it” was a hugely successful campaign, so much so that I don’t even need to mention the brand. But this is a completely different model, unless you have a huge budget for offline adverting your website tagline needs to be factual, simple, and most importantly explain to you audience what you can offer them.
Your tagline needs to be at the top of the site either next to or just below the logo. It can be even more effective if it is accompanied by an image that offers a visual representation of your core focus. Both images and text will not only cater for the different users comprehension preferences, be it words or imagery, but also support each other to give a stronger overall statement of positioning.
Who do you do it for?
Is key to your positioning and can set you apart from the competition by defining your niche and positioning yourself as a specialist in that niche. If you are an architectural firm that specialises in commercial developments then state this, the benefits of being regarded as a specialist in commercial will be greater than the few missed residential projects. This niche can be refined even more, for example; landscape construction for commercial urban developments. Or whatever it is you want to specialise in.
2. Size Does Matter.
Websites now need to be built for both smaller and larger screens than we had years ago. Monitors have increased in size and olds websites can look very small. One of the first websites I built was in 2001 and best practice then was to make the site wide enough to allow the user to have their favourites open on the left hand side without the page going off the screen. This site, which will remain anonymous, and I am embarrassed is still up (despite my suggestions to the owner for an upgrade). My screen is particularly large, but presently it takes up about 1/6 of the screen real estate.
The other side of the coin is that now it is reported that over 50% of web traffic comes from mobile, admittedly the percentage of “money” traffic is a lot less, but we still need to prepare for a wide range of smaller and larger screens that we used to. The introduction of responsive design has its’ challenges, but for now it is the best option and there aren’t too many business cases for not going down the responsive route.
Google Analytics is free at this stage and very easy to set up. Do it today!!
No matter where you are in the development/design cycle the longer you have been collecting data from real visitors the better. There will be questions that come up down the track that you cannot predict, and when those questions do come up there is a likely chance that your Google analytics history will be able to offer at least some insight. If you don’t know how to set it up here is a good link
4. Images say 1000 words.
The quality of the images and careful selection of which images are used speak volumes. They will convey either a professionalism or near-enough-is-good-enough approach depending on how well this is executed.
A professional photographer is optimal, but if some basics are adhered to product shots can be done in house with some small investment into equipment. Systems and process is important, all your product or design projects shots need to look like they are members of the same family. This can be achieved by creating a photography style guide that sets some simple parameters.
Even if you are doing the photography in house then it might be worth contracting a professional to offer some consulting and help setup these systems.
A professional image editor is compulsory and will add the finishing touches. I have had good success finding international contractors do this for around $15-20 per hour.
Consistency is something we all look for in a company we want to deal with, just look at the success of McDonalds, not the best burgers, but you know exactly what you will get.
Even the most basic one page style guide that sets the colours, typographical elements, and image specifications will make the world of difference. Having all your Headings, sub-headings and body text consistent and sticking to a colour pallet is crucial in promoting your brand in a consistent and professional manner.
Image size also needs to be looked at, especially product images. All thumbnail images need to be the same size and if they zoom into a larger image those images all need to be the same size and same aspect rather than having some portrait and some landscape. Conveniently the technology we have today with content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress do a lot of this for you.
6. Site Architecture
Can users find what they want? Can you find what you want on your site? If you can’t, you can be pretty sure your users will have trouble.
Spend 10 minutes browsing the site and have a couple others from the office and some family or friends do the same. At this stage you only need to identify any major difficulties and obvious problems, as you progress we can do some more systematic user testing.
Who gets bored waiting for a site to load? Who has left a site because it loaded too slow?
I do regularly. There is a lot that can be done here, but the number one is image size and optimisation. Sure images say 1000 words, but if they take so long to load that your customer cannot see your words then they are worth nothing.
It is a fine balance between image size, quality and loading speed. It can be a temptation to want to present your product or service images as big and as sharp as possible. Avoid this temptation, there are better ways to present your work that will not slow up your site like linking to pages that do have high res images, but are optional to click to.
The other issue with speed is hosting. You get what you pay for.
8. Treat Your Website Like a Bad Neighborhood. Don’t Go There Alone.
Don’t build your website yourself. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
If you have a technical or design background that’s great, and your skills will be a valuable asset to the website, but you don’t know what you don’t know and it will always be cheaper in the long run for you to hire a web professional and allow them to help structure the project correctly.
Would you recommend a web designer create the final plans for their house?
Of course not.
At the very least you need a web professional to help you construct a roadmap and the basic schematics of your “online business solution”.