With so many websites in the world, anything you can do to lift your head above the masses, is going to help. What follows, is my opinion of what can be done, to inject life into your website. Will everyone agree with me? Probably not. The first website I designed, was almost 20 years ago, so I like to think that I know something about the subject. Feel free to take on anything I say below. Enjoy.
If you’re reading this, then I’m assuming that you’re interested in creating, or looking to improve an existing website. These days, with online web builders like WIX or SquareSpace, you don’t need to know about the underlying technology in website construction. However, there’s much more to having an outstanding online presence.
Therefore, I would suggest that, you need to learn to develop a designer’s eye. Photo manipulation, including cropping, colour correction, touching up etc. is also a vital skill. With template based web builders, like the ones above, professional designers have already exercised their skills in producing some really nice looking themes. The problem comes, in my opinion, when people try to adapt an excellent, existing theme, to match their own brand, colours and images. Without the designer’s eye, people are often baffled about why their modifications don’t look anywhere near as good as the design they started with. It’s due to the lack of knowledge of the basics.
Therefore, as a starting point. some things to learn are:
- Photo editing
- Colour theory
- Content writing
- Graphic design
The rest of the following items, are not in any particular order of importance.
Your business, and your website, start with you. How interesting do you really think you are?
Can you remember the last time you enjoyed speaking with a boring person? Silly question? Of course it is. Nobody likes boring. Then again, people aren’t likely to become more interesting, just because I suggest it’s a good idea. If you’re already interesting, then great. Unfortunately, not everyone is… including me. So, what’s the solution? Obviously, make yourself a more exciting person.
“Great idea Einstein”, I hear you cry. “How exactly can I do that?” Well, maybe I can tell you how I did it. As a lot of business people do, I go to a number of business networking events, which involves talking to strangers about your business and yourself. If you’re reading this, then you already know how important web design is. It doesn’t mean that it’s the most riveting subject in the world. However, for me, I have another business, a beekeeping business. So, when I tell people at these networking events that I’m a web designer, just before their eyes glaze over, I tell them that I’m also a commercial beekeeper. All of a sudden, they really want to talk to me… always.
Okay, you might not be the kind of person who dresses up in funny suits, and opens up boxes of deadly insects, but you might be a church bellringer, or a glider pilot, or… you get the idea. If you don’t think of yourself as an interesting person, do some interesting stuff. Guess what happens then? You’re interesting. When you’re interesting, your business is interesting. It’s then a small step to translate that onto your website. However, be careful not to over-do it. Keep this in mind when you get to section 8 below.
Layout and Structure
This can mean different things to different people. So that you can understand where I’m coming from, this is what it means to me. Layout, is how things appear, visually, on screen. Structure means how things are arranged “under the hood”, in the code of the website page.
I see layout as a visual thing. If we’ve done the hard work, in getting visitors to your site, we definitely don’t want to put them off with an ugly site. Depending on your intended audience, you might want to be a bit flash. Especially if you’re in the preforming arts, or entertainment. Even if you’re serving a business market, you’ll still want to have a minimum standard. Therefore, play around with different layouts. Move your items around the screen a bit. Even be a bit daring, with overlapping elements. If you get stuck, search the internet for blog layout examples, etc. for some inspiration.
Structure is something different. It’s the HTML code that contains the words and most of the images. It’s the way that blind website visitors see your content. Watch out for an article about accessibility I’ll be writing soon. Did you know, that Google is blind? If the underlying structure of your web pages, don’t follow certain rules, it won’t be understood by Google, so it won’t know where to rank it.
In summary, use of good layout to make your content look organised and appealing, will make your website stand out from others around you. Don’t be tempted to use structure to design layout. This is an advanced topic, that will take some dedication to learn. Or… you could employ the services of a professional to do it for you. I know of at least one, who would be more than happy to talk to you about it.
Make it Mobile-Friendly
If you already have a website, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. People have been talking about it for years. And for good reason.
If you ask your favourite search engine, what percentage of website visitors are using a mobile device, then you’ll find it’s over half. Even looking at my own site stats, I can see that is the case. If people don’t have a good experience on your site, if viewed from their phone, they’re not going to stick around. That’s half your audience gone already!
Back in the “old days”, designers like myself, would create two different versions of a website. The main (desktop) version, and a mobile one. These days, it’s very rare to see that method used. Instead, the good designers (yes, I’m including myself in this group… he says modestly), will employ a responsive approach.
Responsive web design, can be achieved in a number of ways. Ultimately, it comes down to the skill of the designer, and their ability to create clever CSS (the code that makes your site look pretty). If you, or the person designing your site, used a theme, then this might already be responsive. A word of warning, these only go so far, and in my opinion, always need fine tuning. So many people, including professional designers, are still getting this wrong. However, if you get this right, it will certainly make your website stand out from your competitors.
In short, over half your visitors are using a mobile phone. Be kind to them, or you’ll lose them to someone else.
Don't Use Stock Photos
I’m going to almost retract that statement already. Let me explain. Having no photos on your site, is bad. It’s bad for SEO, and it’s bad for user experience. See section 2 above, about being interesting. Faced with the choice of no photos or stock photos, I’ll go for stock photos virtually every time.
By far, the best way to make your website stand out, is to hire a photographer to capture the essence of your project or business. Whilst I’m at the level where I can take a reasonable snap with my phone, I’m a long way off what a professional photographer can do. Therefore, when I’m designing sites for people, I have a number of professionals I can call on.
In between the two, is stock photos. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of stock photos available, are of excellent quality. In fact, I often use it. The resource I goto first, is pixabay.com. On there, is some beautify imagery, on virtually any subject. It’s not the quality of the stock photos that’s the issue, it’s how they’re chosen. When you, or if not you, your customers, spend long enough on the web, the same photos begin to crop up time and time again.
There is a solution, and it’s this. We already know that the quality of stock images, isn’t the limiting factor. It’s how we use them. If we take an image off a stock photo site, and use it as is, without modifying it in anyway, we’re not being original or unique. This is what I do. Sometimes I’ll find a image, but only use a part of it, maybe a patch of sky, or part of a building. Also, I usually play around with the colours or contrast etc. By the time I’ve finished with it, not only will I have an image that’s an excellent fit for the article it’s going next to, but the original photographer probably wouldn’t recognise their own work. Anyone is able to do this, and companies like Adobe, make some excellent photo editing software to do this. However, this can be expensive. I use, open source (free) software, like GIMP, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
So, you don’t have to stop using stock photography, just be more creative when doing so.
Graphics and Imagery
Now that we’ve sorted out what to do about the photos on your site, let’s now discuss other graphics and imagery. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the same thing, but I’m talking about splashes of colour here and there, lines and colour to break up large blocks of text, and even typography as graphics.
If you look around this article, you’ll see a few features to break up, what is quite a lot of text. When visitors are faced with huge blocks of text, it can be daunting. It runs the risk of frightening people off, before they’ve started to read anything.
It’s important, not to be too distracting, we’re trying to provide value in the article after all. Some people like to put animation onto web pages. Some people like to put a LOT of animation on them, making their site stand out for the wrong reason. This is subjective, but in my opinion, too much flashy stuff, starts to become distracting, and not the reason people visit your website. A little bit might be good, but please, resist the temptation of putting too much on. Don’t do it, just because you can.
Don't Forget the Content
Content is King. After all, it’s the meat in the sandwich. It’s what the search engines have read, indexed and offered up to your visitors, and what they’ve come here to read. Gone are the days where you get away with a couple of hundred words and you’d end up at the top of the search pages. Occasionally, you’ll find a few sites that are an exception, but they’ll be other reasons that they’re there.
So, what do your website visitors want to read about? That, dear friends, is an excellent question. The website owners that answer that question the best (then write that content), are the ones that will succeed. I’ve written an article, that may help you along the right path.
Good content, written the right way (see the next section), is the foundation of a successful website. Time spent planning this, will pay dividends in the future. It’s not everything, there’s SEO issues to consider, but it’s a vital step, that shouldn’t be ignored.
Make It About Them
“It’s not you, it’s me!” Okay, let’s not go down that route. So, you have your website. It’s your baby. You’re proud of it. You want to show it off. You want to shout it from the roof-tops!
But, and I hope this doesn’t come as a shock, everyone isn’t always as interested in you, as they are in themselves, especially if they don’t know you. We could discuss whether this is good or not… but we won’t.
This is the most common mistake that people make, when creating their own website content. It’s true, you probably know much more about your subject than your readers. That’s why you created your site in the first place.
What people often do, is get bogged down in telling their visitors, what qualifications they’ve got, what materials they use, how they plan their work. What your visitors are really interested in, is how your product or service, can help them. How you can solve a problem they’ve got.
It’s difficult to do, but writing in a way that’s going to interest others, is a skill. That’s why we often employ the services of some trusted copy-writers. It will make the world of difference in your visitors minds.
Keep Your Website Content Fresh
Whilst some content is timeless, some will have a best before date. When you’re looking for information on the Internet, I’m betting that you want the most up-to-date info you can find. For example, if you’re looking to see what films are on at the local multi-plex, or even the latest software to write your website in, you want to know about now, not last year.
Does that mean that, all of the articles you wrote over the last 5 years, is now rubbish? You’re in luck, no it doesn’t. You can update and even re-purpose it. Search engines love it when they see that you’re on top of things, and your information is up to date.
Yes, it can be a lot of work, but you can be sure that, if you don’t keep everything up-to-date, others will. Then, their website will stand out instead of yours. You decide whether it’s worth it.
Find the Right Designer
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new, and can go away and put something you’ve learned here, into practice.
It might be though, you’ve realised you’re at a point where you need to call in a professional. You won’t be surprised if I offer my own services. Feel free to have a look around this site, to see what we can offer. If you think we could work together, please get in touch.
Good luck in whatever you decide to do.
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