Crushing a Rock Star Website Design – Part 1 (Website Design Basics)

by Kim Tonkovich; November 23, 2020

Perhaps you’ve noticed for quite a while that your website hasn’t been bringing you new business.  And you realize that it’s been years since you’ve updated it.  Well, in a remote work COVID economy that can be a big problem!  Your website design is critical for your brand.  And not just for visibility.  But most importantly so users can engage with you.  Because nearly a quarter of working Americans are remote, this means that it’s essential now more than ever that you have a strong online presence.  With doors closing and social distancing guidelines, your website may now be your “storefront” and the only visual representation that consumers have of your business. 

So let’s get to it and start crushing your new Rock Star Website Design!

In this 4-Part series of articles, we will discuss the basics of designing your website, how to boost your search engine rank, ways to promote your website, and how to analyze your site’s performance. 

Why Is A Rock Star Website Design So Important?

In the year 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds.  In 2020, that has declined to 8 seconds…a second less than the attention span of a goldfish!  Which means your website must clearly communicate your brand, simply identify your products and services, be concise, easy to navigate, user friendly, look sharp, and captivate users within seconds.

Why Is Having a Stellar Website More Important Now Than Ever?

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom calls an effect of the 2020 COVID crisis the new “working from home economy.”  Many businesses have been forced to close and many have revised their model away from brick and mortar, moving toward virtual.  A study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas estimated that in August 2020 about 24.2% of American workers age 18 to 64 are now doing so entirely from home.

In August 2020, “buy online pick up in store” (BOPIS) surged by 259%.  And in the 2nd quarter 2020, online shopping in the U.S. rose by over 44% compared to 2019.  That’s an increase of over $60 billion dollars in online spending.

These statistics tell us that more and more people are looking for products online rather than in-store.  And because of COVID, consumers are much less likely to visit your business to discuss services.

Consumers need to find their options easily and online.  And if you want users to choose your service, you had better be able to quickly grab and hold their attention with your website.

Here are some website design basics to get you started :

  • Using Templates

In some cases, using a web design template is fine.  But remember, if you use a template, your website will look pretty much like everyone else’s.  And it is incredibly important that you differentiate your business from your competitors.  Using a template won’t do that.  It’s fine to start with a template design to get an idea of the look and feel you want.  However, be sure to start with one in a platform that allows for custom coding.  That way, either you or a hired website design professional can make essential changes to the basic design so it’s customized for your business.  It is also important that the template be mobile responsive and have various header and navigation options.

Keep in mind that your website is essentially the face of your brand.  So it needs to be consistent with all of your marketing collateral and effectively communicate exactly what you want users to know and how you want them to know it.  In today’s economy, a template may not be the best way to go.  Toying with them a bit may give you some ideas about the look and feel you desire.  But it’s not recommended that it be your end product.  Consider hiring a professional to create a custom website that is designed specifically to fit your business, has all of the functionality to ensure a high user experience, and can be successfully optimized to drive traffic.

  • Clean Aesthetics

You might be excited to build a flashy website with lots of colors and images.  But before you do that, consider that if your website is too busy, complicated or overwhelming, that might actually drive customers away.  So consider a balance of clean colors and text fonts.  Be sure that the flow of information is consistent and not confusing.  And be sure to make use of the white space (the blank spaces between content on the page) so your page doesn’t appear run-on and look like too much to digest.

Keep in mind that if you’re working with a designer, they are experts at making your website look great.  But you still need to do your own work to ensure that it doesn’t only look good, but actually generates traffic and leads to conversions.  Marketing and conversion expert Ott Niggulis of the CXL Institute wrote, “Don’t let your message get lost in a fog of creativity.”

  • Easy (and Leading) Navigation

Navigation is your site’s architecture that helps users find their way around. It should be simple and understandable, like a roadmap.  Visitors shouldn’t have to work to try to find the product or service that brought them to your site in the first place, or have to guess at how to find what.  This also helps search engine crawlers find more pages.  If your customers can’t find their way around and abandon your site after visiting only one page, this increases your bounce rate, and will lower your search engine ranking.  So it is very important to ensure your visitors can easily find what they need.  Some examples of navigation are menus, icons, buttons, and linked text.

  • Short Introductions

It is said that the introduction of your page is where 90% of users decide whether they will remain on your page or “bounce”.  And your bounce rate is one of the third biggest factors in Google’s algorithm to determine your site rank.  It is recommended that your introduction should be somewhere between 5 to 10 sentences.  Users already know what information they’re looking for and a little bit about the topic.  So your introductions shouldn’t discuss the topic, but rather clearly let users know that the information they’re looking for can be found on your site.  It should be short, but captivating enough to encourage users to read more or perform some other directed action.

  • Relevant Content

The content on your website needs to be relevant and clearly answer the questions that users are searching to have resolved.  Articles and blog posts are often recommended to be around 2,000 words.  Not only because long form content better and more thoroughly answers questions, but also because longer informative content increases “dwell time” (the time users spend on your page), which directly influences your Google page rank.  But be sure to break up your content into manageably sized organized blocks with sub-headers so it’s not run-on and users can identify different sections.  It also helps your Google rank if your articles and blog posts include the author with information tied to a verified online profile.  And according to Google, having comments on product, post and article pages signals user interaction and quality, and helps “a lot” with search engine rank.

Also consider that Google does penalize sites that are referred to as “top heavy”.  Google uses what’s called the Page Layout Algorithm that determines if there are a lot of ads or images, and not a lot of content “above the fold”.  If it’s too difficult to find relevant content amidst a sea of ads and images, Google will lower your search engine page rank and users are more likely to quickly bounce from your site.

  • Calls To Action

A Call-To-Action (CTA) is an image, button, or line of text that prompts users to take a specific action such as “Call Now”, “Request A Quote”, “Buy Now”, “Register Here”, “Watch The Video”, “Read More”, etc.  The CTA needs to briefly let users know what will happen when they click on it.  For images and buttons, the design needs to stand out and contrast from the rest of your page, as well as be a noticeable size.

Your CTAs are extremely important and are what make the difference between bounces and creating conversions.  They provide your site visitors with specific direction of what to do.  Pay attention to placement, and they should be on every page.  Studies have suggested that Internet users scan web pages in a “F” shape.  Starting from top left to right, then scrolling a little down and scanning again left to right, then scrolling and scanning down the left side to the bottom.  So your CTAs ideally should be placed prominently along the left side top to bottom, and/or in the top right of your header.

  • Images

It should go without saying that it is absolutely essential that you use high quality images.  Your images are the eye candy that grabs your users’ attention to get them interested in the content.  Just keep in mind that, unless you’re an art museum or photography studio, your images should complement your content, not be the content.  Remember, if your site is too busy or overwhelming, users will bounce before they even see what you have to offer.

If you’re selling products, it helps to show them in context, in the setting or environment they’ll be used in.  For example, if you’re selling lamps, multiple views (and even 360º views) of the product are fantastic.  But also consider using CGI environments to show your lamps as they would look in a living room.  Graphic design artists can be hired that use professional equipment, lighting, and special software to create these 360º and natural environments.  If you want to showcase the details in your products or art, it helps to use a “view larger image” or zoom feature.  All of these features substantially increase conversion rates.

It has also been shown that images of real humans can result in a significant increase in conversions.  Consider including photos of customers alongside testimonials.  You can also include a photo of your customer service representative next to your contact information.  It is also beneficial to include pictures of the author in articles and blog posts.

Studies have shown that when users land on a page, they generally look at the image first.  Then they look at the headline.  It has been found that when a headline is placed above the image, users are less likely to actually read the content of the page.  Therefore, it is important that your primary image is above your headline.  Also, images placed throughout body content draw attention away from the copy itself.  Research has shown that captions under images are read about 300% more than the actual content.  So images throughout the body should be used sparingly.  And when used, it is important that they are captioned with something that will guide readers back to the actual message.  They should add appeal to or demonstrate what you’ve written in your content.  If your images don’t supplement your message, leave them out.  They’ll only be a distraction.

When using images, make sure they are compressed and optimized for your site.  Too many and unoptimized images will slow your page load speeds.  And in a study conducted by Google, it was found that merely an increase from a 0.4 second to 0.9 second page load speed increases user abandon rates by a whopping 20%.  The longer it takes, the more users bounce.  So be careful.

Do not ever copy images that you find on the Internet.  Many images are copyrighted.  If you have no other option and are on a budget, and choose to use stock images and photos, subscribe to a stock photo service online where you can find thousands of images you can use on your site.

  • Videos

Studies suggest that using product videos can increase sales by an incredible 144%.  According to Forbes, users spend about 88% more time on a website landing page with video.  And the Aberdeen Group found that it also results in an average 34% higher conversion rate.

Videos as short as 30 to 90 seconds on a landing page that briefly explain the content and its importance can make a significant difference in your sales.  Even short testimonial videos of customers have a huge impact.  Just be sure to incorporate directional cues at the end of your video to guide users into doing what you want them to do after watching.  But remember, videos can have the same impact on your page load speeds as images can.  So if they slow your site speed too much, they may not be a good idea.

There are nearly 2 BILLION sites on the web, of which about 600 million are active.  Now you may have an awesome website, but it doesn’t matter if no one can find it!  In Part 2 of this series we’ll review some ways to boost your search engine rank.

Crushing a Rock Star Website Design

> READ PART 2 - Boosting Your Search Engine Rank

> READ PART 3 - Promoting Your Website

> READ PART 4 - Analyzing Your Site Performance

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  • Stanford Research Provides a Snapshot of a New Working-From-Home Economy; by May Wong; Stanford News;; June 29, 2020
  • Commuting Patterns During COVID-19 Endure; Minorities Less Likely to Work From Home; by Alexander Bick, Adam Blandin and Karel Mertens; Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; September 01, 2020
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