Designing a website – where do you start?

Web development has come a long way in such a short space of time. Years back, you could make a simple site with a bit of HTML knowledge – and get it out there in cyberspace. This is still possible of course, but surfers are now more demanding. People expect to see great designs, visuals and interactivity.

To help meet this hunger, there are lots of pre-built templates out there to get a website up and running, and most people opt for that. But, if you’ve heard of Bootstrap and Foundation, you’ll probably know that you can still use special frameworks to build a site. Let’s look at the key things you need to consider when delving into web design.

Far more than a homepage…

Some people never look beyond the shop window. That’s not what you want with your website. You should be designing a site that not only has a nice-looking home page, but a site that also has a personality of its own.

When thinking about the design of your site, you should pile effort into the homepage, but also look beyond it. The design should be about the whole experience of entering the site as a user, the journey that it takes you on, and how easy it is to reach the destination.

Image, interactivity and content are all important – and they should all be part of your design-thinking process. It’s crucial you take the time to map out this vision as you conceptualise where you want to go with your website design.

Understand your audience

When designing a website for a company or organization, no matter what they do and offer, it’s always important that you understand your target audience. This goes for most things in business. If you don’t understand their needs and desires, how will the website bring people in, and ultimately revenue – often the sole purpose of a website being designed and commissioned.

So, ask yourself… Why am I developing this website? What kind of visitors do we want to attract? What will they expect to see? How will we engage them? And how will we use the site to help convert their visit into business?

You need to know your target market, the website you’re coming up with will be confused if the audience is not defined. But some do make the mistake of trying to cater for everyone and, in most cases, that doesn’t work.

Don’t discount detail

When it comes to the content of your website, you shouldn’t shirk on detail – it could mean the difference between success and failure. If there are spelling mistakes in the text, links that don’t work, poor interactivity and navigation and an overall appearance that looks shabby, then you’re likely to make a bad impression on that all-important audience. But don’t get hang up so much on the detail that you then can’t see the woods for the trees!

You also want to be thinking about what goes into your text, your product descriptions etcetera, as the search engine robots and spiders crawl this content. What they spot will help determine whether your site appears in the ‘natural’ web listings – that’s the ones you don’t pay for.

You’ll also want to be thinking about having a key focus on each of your pages, that could be a particular product or service for example. A noisy page, with lots of different messages, could be confusing for your visitors – and not have the desired effect that you had been aiming for.

And then there’s the all-important call to action. It’s no good attracting visitors to your website, presenting them with your services – if they then don’t do anything else. What do you want them to do? If you’re selling home goods online for delivery, then of course you probably want them to place an order. Or for a specialist service, for example consultancy, you may want them to get in touch to request further information or to make an appointment. Your content should make this happen, and lead the user on this journey.

It’s ‘all-white’ to use white

If you’re new to web design and development, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have to fill all of the pages with text, logos, images and video. But you actually need to give your site visitors a chance to have a break from all the content that’s in front of them. You can’t expect someone to keep read through endless text and look at endless images. You wouldn’t do that with anything else in real life. You wouldn’t write a 10,000-word thesis with no paragraph breaks, would you?

The advice from the experts is to use white space in your web design, but make sure that it relates to what else is on the page it’s sitting with. It’s not just a random addition, there needs to be balance in the overall appearance.

Keep it fresh!

You wouldn’t look at a moldy loaf of bread on a shop shelf next to fresh ones and think that you might buy it! The same goes for your website. If the content looks stale or out of date, then you’re likely to have a negative effect on your visitors. They may think the company or organization has lost its way, has failed, or just can’t be bothered.

Once the first version of the website is designed and developed, that work needs to continue. It needs to adapt to changing trends, market information, you need to keep it real!

You don’t have to be changing the overall design, but features like a regularly updated blog can help the site stay fresh – so it’s worth incorporating this feature. Linking to relevant social media accounts can also help to drive traffic to the website, but those accounts need to be appropriate and have active followings – to make the best impact.

The key advice is to keep the website active, don’t just put it online and forget about it!