20 things to think about in 2021 when designing your website

1. Know your target audience
A little research about your target audience can go a long way. Knowing who they are and what they want gives you an advantage over your competition right from the get-go. Imagine you are visiting your website for the first time as a potential customer. Navigate through your customer’s journey. What are they thinking as they explore your pages and posts? This exercise will help you to build a more user-friendly website.

Good website design considers the target audience with a look & feel users want to engage with.  Take a look at this website, Dropbox. It’s designed for consumers as well as business users. It tells you exactly what it is and who it’s for right at the top of the page.

Dropbox

2. Keep it simple
Marketers have known how to attract consumer’s attention to what’s important long before the Internet. These principles haven’t changed much over the decades. Think back to the last time you were window shopping at a high-end store and your attention was drawn to a nice pair of shoes or the latest high-tech gadget. Now think about what else was on display in that same window. Most likely, not much. The window display was meant to focus your attention on one item or a grouping of items. You probably didn’t see any flashing lights or arrows pointing to the items. That would create too much “visual noise” distracting your eye from the object. This principle still holds true for website design. Keep it simple and place high-quality images and information in strategic locations on your website pages.

I love the Slack homepage design. It’s simple with unique illustrations and tells visitors exactly what they should do, sign in or try it for free by creating an account.

Slack

3. Keep your layout consistent and uncluttered
We’ve all seen websites that look haphazardly put together. Different-sized rows and boxes with way too much information. Our first instinct when we come across these websites is to reach for the back button of our browser as fast as we can. What we want our visitors to see is a well-organized layout that guides them where you want them to go.

Create a focal point – Where do you want your visitors to go? An e-commerce site should drive your visitors to buy your product or service. Other types of websites should drive visitors to a demo or free trial. You may just want to get newsletter sign-ups. Whatever your website purpose, make it the focal point of your homepage.

Green Mountain Energy is a great example of a consistent, uncluttered layout with a clear and concise focal point. A simple call to action to “Get Started” tells visitors exactly what they want them to do.

Green Mountain Energy

4. Color palette
The first step here is to have a professionally designed logo that uses colors to reflect your brand. The colors used on your website should start with those used in your logo. Keep the number of colors to no more than three. Colors have a strong psychological impact. They will affect your visitors’ opinion of your company and brand. If you’re not sure how to pick the best color palette for your brand, a professional graphic artist or website designer can help.

Make your content relevant to your target audience
Abacus Plumbing is a good example of the use of a well-defined color palette. The black and gold used in their logo are carried throughout the website in a consistent manner.

Abacus Plumbing

5. Easy-to-use Navigation and Search
Usability is of great importance in website design and navigation is the cornerstone of usability. It’s always best to keep top-level navigation to the most essential navigation options. Limit them to a maximum of seven choices (The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two) and create very clear sub-categories.

Use clear labels with familiar words such as Contact Us and About Us.
Keep the number of clicks to reach what a visitor is looking for to a maximum of three.

Include some navigation options in the website footer. Visitors expect to find contact information, terms of use, and privacy policy there.

Everything on your website should be easily searchable. Don’t make visitors spend more than a few seconds to find what they are looking for.

CrunchBase does a great job of keeping its main navigation menu and search box easy to find and use.

ChrunchBase

6. Give some thought to your Header
It used to be that the header was only a thin strip at the top of a website containing the logo, navigation menu, and sometimes a call-to-action button and a search box. Today, we consider everything “above the fold” as the header section of a website. The header is the most important section of a website homepage because it promotes the brand and tells the visitor the purpose of the website.

Common elements contained in the header include:

  • Logo
  • Navigation menu
  • Social media buttons
  • Call-to-action
  • Contact information
  • Search field
  • Login field
  • Shopping cart (for e-commerce sites)
  • Page title
  • Language options

Most websites don’t need all of these items. Use only those that are necessary for your visitors’ experience. Keep it as simple and uncluttered as possible. Too much information can be confusing. Too little makes it difficult for visitors to understand how to navigate through the website.

Use easy-to-read fonts, high-contrast colors, and plenty of white space when designing your header. Use high-quality images or animations and make sure your heading and sub-heading tell your visitors the purpose of your website in a few words.

Headers can disappear as you scroll down the page, or they can be fixed (sticky) where they stay at the top of the visitor’s viewport even as they scroll down the page.

Fhoke, a branding, design, and development studio use animation, a clear, easy-to-read navigation menu, and large font for its heading. It tells the visitor exactly what they do with a call-to-action, all above the fold.

Fhoke

7. Footer
Website footers used to be an afterthought to website designers. Not anymore. If your visitor scrolls your entire page and reaches the footer, you’ve done a good job of keeping their attention so far. This is where the visitor decides whether your site is valuable to them or not. Let’s not waste the opportunity.

What should your footer contain?

  • Copyright notice
  • Terms of service
  • Privacy Policy
  • Contact address & business hours
  • Social media buttons
  • Call-to-action

Optional items may be recent posts, calendar and other widgets where appropriate

Avo uses many of the above-mentioned items in a beautifully designed website footer.

Avo

8. Don’t use too many Fonts
My rule of thumb is to use three fonts. One for the main headings, one for the sub-headings, and a third for the body text. I find that websites using more than three fonts tend to look chaotic and unprofessional. Use easy-to-read fonts even when your instincts may tell you to use fancy script fonts.

Headings should be your biggest fonts with sub-headings somewhat smaller and body text the smallest. However, make sure all fonts are a minimum of 16 pixels for readability.

Sybaris is a good example of the use of fonts to match their brand. Stylish headings and body copy using the easy-to-read Lato font.

Sybaris

9. Use headings and lists to break up content
Avoid using big blocks of text. Remember that the attention span of users on the Internet is about that of a toddler😊. Use headings to get attention, sub-headings to refine the idea of the text that’s coming next, and short paragraphs to explain.

Mix in lists, images, and call-to-action buttons to break up the content to keep the visitor’s attention. Keep your most important information near the top of the page and your least important towards the bottom.

Fitness Blender is a great example of doing this right. Notice how their content is broken down into short, get-to-the-point headings with images and calls to action mixed in. They have also incorporated plenty of white space to give each section lots of breathing room.

Fitness Blender

10. Images
Avoid stock photos whenever possible. There’s a place for them in business websites, but tweak them to make them match your brand as much as possible. Original photos are always a better option, but make sure the images are high quality, professional or professional-looking.

Use images strategically to convey your message. Don’t overdo it. Make sure your images are optimized for the web and the file size is as small as possible without losing resolution.

Lyft uses images on its homepage sparingly but effectively. They match their brand and each image helps to tells their message.

Lyft

11. Mobile responsive
Provide a good mobile experience. With Google, mobile responsiveness is king. If your site does not meet their mobile guidelines, they will penalize your website in their search results even if your desktop website is perfect.

More and more visitors to your website will be using mobile devices. In many cases, mobile visitors far outweigh desktop visitors. Make sure to invest in mobile-responsive or mobile-first design so your visitors will get a great experience no matter the device they use.

HubEngage uses mobile-first website design effectively.

HubEngage

12. Platform
The platform you design your website on will make a difference down the road even though it may not be apparent at first. There are platforms that make it very easy to build a website like Wix or Squarespace, but they lock you into their website hosting, and a site you build there can’t be migrated to a new host.

I build all customer websites using WordPress. Don’t confuse this with WordPress.com. I’m talking about WordPress.org where I download the WordPress framework and install it on any hosting company I choose. I use WordPress because it allows me to design anything I want and there are literally thousands of developers making plugins to do things like image sliders, contact forms and others. WordPress is by far the most used website platform in the world with nearly 40% of all websites built with it.

Loran is a great example of what can be done using the WordPress platform and a little imagination.

Loran

13. Hosting
Many business owners make the mistake of thinking that website hosting is a commodity with the only difference being price. That may have been the case in the beginning, but I can assure you that this is no longer true. Page speed or lack of it can make or break your website. Slow loading pages will not only have your visitors hit the back button, but Google will penalize your website in their search results. Visitors expect pages to load quickly. No matter how well optimized your website is, bad hosting will kill it.

On the other hand, great hosting gives you a big advantage. I host my customers’ websites on a managed WordPress host with lightning-fast servers. They are Rocket.net. There are other good ones out there, but I found Rocket.net to be the best.

Rocket.net

14. Call to action
The whole idea of most websites is to get visitors to do what you want them to do. It may be to buy a product, sign up for your newsletter or read your blog posts. It’s not easy, but there have been many marketers that have found the formula to designing a compelling call-to-action. Use simple imagery, along with short sentences containing active verbs. Make it look and feel exciting to elicit an emotional reaction.

GiftRocket does a great job of this:

GiftRocket

15. Contact page
Let’s face it. If your website does nothing else well, but your contact page gets visitors to contact you, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition. Most business owners I know say they can tell their story and close leads consistently if they can just get some time to talk to them. This makes the contact page one of the most valuable pages on your website.
Let’s first review what great contact pages have in common:

  • They are easy to find
  • They include email and phone numbers
  • They include a short form asking only the most relevant information
  • Include a call-to-action as a second option if they prefer not to fill out the form
  • Links to social media accounts
  • Redirect the contact form to a thank you page that explains how and when you will respond

Make the page creative and memorable so as to leave visitors with a positive memory.
Hubspot does a great job with their contact page:

Hubspot

16. About us page
Your about us page is often the second-page users visit right after your home page. They want to know who you are, what you do, what matters to you, and how you do it. The about us page is often a deciding factor visitors use in deciding whether they want to do business with you.

Your about us page should tell your story, but not your whole story. Leave that for a formal conversation. It should provide some kind of social proof like testimonials and maybe some personal details users can relate to like family, education, or experience. Make it engaging and accessible by using an informal writing style. Don’t make it sound like a resume. Remember, your website visitors are looking at your about us page to see what sets you apart from your competition.

Bull Dog Skin Care does a great job of telling visitors who they are and what they do in a casual personal way. They use images effectively and have calls to action throughout the page.

Bull Dog Skin Care

17. Service Pages

Service pages are one of the most important pages on your website, especially if you are a B2B company. To make your services pages as effective as possible, it needs to:

  • Look great so as to attract visitors
  • Tell a story of what your company offers
  • Describe how your services or products provide solutions to your customers’ most pressing needs
  • How you are different from your competition

There are five steps to focus on when designing your services pages:

  1. Talk about benefits rather than features – Customers are less interested in your product or service features than they are in the benefits they will get from your products and services.
  2. What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? – Your services pages must define what sets you apart from the competition. What is unique about what you sell and how you do business?
  3. Keep your design simple, straightforward, and easy to navigate. – Less is more on services pages. Keep it easy to understand and leave the details for a face-to-face or phone discussion.
  4. Remember who you’re writing for – write the content for your target demographic. Leave out the acronyms and keep the content benefit-based. Link to your FAQ page when appropriate.
  5. Case studies and/or Testimonials – Showing proof of success is the best way to build credibility and goes a long way to making visitors feel comfortable with you and your company.
    Hootsuite has an effective services page that focuses on benefits. It uses visuals to help tell its story in an engaging way.

Hootsuite

18. SSL Certificate
It almost seems silly that we still need to talk about this in 2021. Everybody is security conscious these days when it involves anything online. SSL certificates are not just for e-commerce websites. They are for every website. In fact, Google has said that they give priority in their search results to secure websites!

SSL certificates can be purchased from your hosting provider for $50-$100 per year. Better hosting providers offer free SSL certificates.

You can tell if your website has a functioning SSL certificate by looking for the padlock in the address bar. It looks slightly different depending on the browser you use. Here is an example of it in the Google Chrome browser:

the-webs-we-weave

 

19. On-page Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Pick a primary keyword for each page and try to optimize that page for that keyword

  • Place your keyword in the headline and sub-headline
  • Include them in your body content
  • Include them in the alt tags of your images
  • Add them to the page URL

Title and description meta tags
Meta tags are lines of code placed in the background of your web page. They help search engines to know what your website is all about.

XML sitemaps
These help search engine crawlers find all your pages more effectively. SEO plugins like Yoast or RankMath make these, but you can also use online generators to create XML sitemaps.

301 redirects
Have you ever navigated to a website page and experienced a “404 message” or “Page not found” error?  Whenever the URL to a page changes, that page must have a 301 redirect to the page that replaced it. I find many small business customers who had a new website built and the website designer neglected to add 301 redirects to the new website which resulted in the business owner losing all the search engine “juice” they earned over the years.

Yoast

20. Blogging
Many business website owners think they don’t need a blog. But there are many reasons to have a blog:

  • It gives you the opportunity to create fresh content, which helps your SEO efforts
  • It helps to establish you as an authority in your industry
  • It helps to get more traffic to your website
  • It gives you an opportunity to engage with your visitors and customers through blog comments
  • It may help to get inbound links to your site, which helps SEO

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