If you’re concerned about your website’s ability to effectively represent your company or brand, or to generate new business, the best practices outlined in this article should serve as a playbook for taking it to the next level. Don’t be passive when it comes to enhancing your web presence.

Technology will unfortunately not slow down, and neither will visitor’s hunger for sites that perform to their expectations. A strong website design is worth every penny, as it has the ability to attract, convert and retain customers. If you’re serious about your online business, here are some points for consideration.

First Impressions are Everything

Your website is your digital “storefront”, and a visitor’s first glimpse into how you present your business and showcase your products or services. Even if you don’t have a physical location, your website can serve as a digital sales brochure that highlights your offerings.

The visual representation of your business should give people a clear indication of what makes you unique. If not, you’ll become another cog in the wheel and lose their interest, and their business. People searching for services online have short attention spans, and you have just seconds to convince them they’ve come to the right place. An aesthetically pleasing website that follows best practices for user interface design will have a much higher chance at converting visitors.

Good user experience leads to happy customers

A website that is difficult to navigate, has technical glitches (e.g. flash animations or images not loading) or that does not properly guide people to the information they are looking for, fails as an effective business tool. There are fairly simple steps you can take to assess what elements should exist on a website, and how they should be arranged to create an easily navigable layout.

Websites that are user-friendly and well organized lead to low bounce rates, increases in repeat visits and more conversions. This equates to increased brand loyalty and a better return on investment.

1. Clear messaging
Use informative text at the top of your page to tell people who you are, what you do and what makes you special. You have 5 seconds to hold a visitor’s interest, so it’s vital to immediately hit them with an attention-grabbing message.

2. Calls-to-Action
Tell users where you want them to go next. Create user pathways that lead to points of action or conversion. For example, have a “request a quote” form that serves as your primary lead generator? Add a colorful button that leads to a form page.

3. A Clean, Well-organized Layout
Clutter causes confusion, so ensure you have designated areas of the site that serve distinct purposes. Your site should have an intentional hierarchy that places most important elements or features in the most visible areas. Trained web designers and information architects understand how a user’s eye moves across a page, which allows them to appropriately position important pieces of content.

Search Engines Like Well-Built Sites

Google has recently declared that it’s attempting to make its search algorithm “more human-like”. This means they appreciate the fact that as digitally advanced as we’ve become as a society, the end user is still human. Google has been penalizing sites that intentionally or unintentionally do not live up to it’s guidelines.

Below are two common scenarios in which a website would be punished by Google.

1. “Black hat SEO”
Years ago, before Google began cracking down on web spam, webmasters gamed the system by using clever techniques that tricked search engines and people. Common black hat tactics include keyword stuffing, hidden keyword text and gateway pages and links that led users to unrelated content. While these practices are far less common today, there are still a few rouges out there who think they can get away with them. The bad news is Google will catch up with them sooner or later, resulting in their sites being de-listed or rendered obsolete by search engines.

2. Improper Code Structure
When search engine spiders crawl the web looking for sites relevant to search queries, there are some key on-page factors they look for when determining where to place pages in search results. These elements are outlined by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which require sites to include things like a clear hierarchy, site map, informative content and descriptive and accurate title tags. 

If your site is improperly structured and does not follow Google’s guidelines, you won’t show up highly in search results and your online visibility will suffer. This could mean losing out on substantial amounts of money.

New v.s. Old Technology

The technology and techniques used to build websites have advanced considerably over the past several years. Sites built using the latest web trends and technologies, are well ahead of the curve and will undoubtedly surpass competing sites that remain in the dark ages.

1. Use HTML5
We all remember the days of fancy Flash sites and animations that took 10 minutes to load. The release of HTML5 made it possible to do away with Flash, and create motions graphics and animations that load consistently on all browsers, all the time. Additionally, as Apple products gained in popularity, this breakthrough was monumental, as Flash is not compatible with Apple devices.

2. Consider Responsive Website Design
Just two years ago, Responsive Website Design did not exist. This meant the only way to fully optimize for mobile was to build a stand-alone mobile site. Today, you have the option of building a single website that adjusts itself to fit any device or screen size. With mobile website traffic growing exponentially, it’s important to determine whether or not your business would benefit from a mobile-friendly web presence.

New Philosophies

If your website is more than 3 years old, it may have been built using outdated philosophies with regards to anticipating how users interact with it. Using similar approaches in 2013 is taking a huge risk, as users have much higher expectations than they did in the past, and are now accustomed to sites designed with user experience in mind.

1. Ignore the infamous “fold” rule
There was a time when web designers crammed every piece of important information above an imaginary line that came to be known as “the fold”. This line represents the bottom of a user’s browser window, meaning anything beneath it is not visible until a user scrolls down to see more of the page.

Today, the “fold” rule is rarely obeyed. The portrait orientation of smartphones got people used to scrolling to access information. Soon, desktop sites known as “deep scroll” began popping up all over the web. The thinking behind deep scroll this that if users are scrolling, it means they are interested in what they are reading. Also, it allows for information to be given appropriate organization and breathing room, without stuffing it all within the top portion of the page.

2. Make Sites For People, Not For Web Spiders
As previously mentioned, Google rewards websites built for people, not for spiders or robots. If you create a user-friendly and visually pleasing website, you’ll make both search engines and visitors happy. This will result in improved performance across the board, meaning your website will begin to pay for itself.


by Fuze July 26, 2013