You’ve thrown up a website for your business. Maybe it’s new, maybe it’s been up for a while. Maybe you built your website enthusiastically, or maybe it was a chore. Even if you didn’t want to, you pretty much had to do it, because in business today if you don’t have one you stick out like a sore thumb. Even if you were enthusiastic about your website, when there are tons of other things to do, the tendency is to put up a “brochure” style website which describes your products or services. Then move on to conducting “real” business! Hopefully you don’t really feel that way. Modern businesses generally need to be “website-centric”, with the bulk of your marketing activities oriented towards getting qualified traffic to your website. The goal of the website is to move this traffic farther down the funnel, culminating in a qualified lead or sale, depending upon the structure of your business. This makes it critical to follow website design best practices.
Especially as a SaaS, mobile software or hardware tech company, it’s very important that your website doesn’t fall short in the eyes of your prospects. You’ll be held to a higher standard than other businesses. Let’s take a look at some of the most important things both tech and non-tech companies NEED to get right on their website:
Website Design Best Practices
An easy-to-find & easy-to-use contact page
You may find it odd that I am starting with the contact page. Seems like the tail wagging the dog. But think about it; what is it that you ultimately hope to have happen when someone visits your website? Unless you are selling your software or hardware directly on you site, it’s to have the visitor contact you, thus becoming a prospect. This is probably the most important, but easiest to follow web design best practice on this list. While this seems elementary, I’ve actually seen more than a few tech companies without any obvious contact page, or at least one that is buried and difficult to find.
So make sure you have an easy-to-use contact page which is ABSOLUTELY resident on a top level menu. Collect the information that you really need on your contact form – but no more than you really need. There is a clear inverse relationship between contact form complexity and number of submitted forms. And always use a form rather than simply an email address. If you do It’s easier to track in your analytics and your corporate email account won’t be filled with nearly as much SPAM if you use a form.
Prioritize goals for each page
It’s helpful to think of your website as you might think about laying out a retail store. Retailers spend a lot of time designing their stores so that the customer takes the most desirable (“profitable”) path through the store, culminating at the check out counter. In the same fashion, you should design the paths you want your visitors to take, ultimately becoming a buyer on your eCommerce page or a prospect by filling out a contact form. Visitors don’t go from the top of your homepage and go directly to getting out their credit card or providing you with their personal contact information. So you need to think about what you are trying to accomplish in the various steps on that journey. On a website, that means having a prioritized goal for every significant page, whether that’s to watch a video on that page, click to a more detailed page, fill out a form to subscribe to a newsletter, etc.
Call to Action on Every Important Page
Building on having a prioritized goal for every significant page, another critical aspect is having a call to action for each important page. This call to action is intended to fulfill that page’s goal by taking the visitor to the “next step” in the process, effectively moving them down the various phases of your sales funnel. It may be as simple as “read on for more detail” to spur the visitor to read the entire page, “click on our video” for specific information, fill out a form to have a case study sent to them, or click on “contact form” to ask a question or have someone contact them. These calls to action should be carefully thought out based upon the important steps in your specific sales process. Remember, asking for the sale prematurely can be counterproductive and turn off many visitors. Don’t do this early in the funnel process unless you have an extraordinarily simple value proposition offered at a very low cost. Your website should be designed to educate and bring comfort to visitors early on, nurturing them through the steps required to feel comfortable becoming customers.
Provide a Blog or other valuable content
As discussed above, it’s difficult (though not impossible) to be successful these days with a simple “brochure-ware” style website. If you have a great well-known brand, low prices, a simple value prop and people already have a high opinion of your products or service when they visit the site, that may work out fine.
But for most businesses and the bulk of their prospects that’s highly unrealistic. And really not what a modern website should be designed for. The heavy lifting of a website is the educating and converting visitors who have found your site on the web by using a search engine, maybe a social media mention or some other referral method. These folks typically need to be nurtured, not jammed through your sales funnel, if they are realistically going to end up as customers. So how best to do this?
There is no one perfect way of implementing this website design best practice for everyone; it needs to be specific to your business. But in general you need to offer them something of value to get them to stick around more than a few seconds. In addition to being valuable, it is best if what you are offering them also builds affinity to brand. My favorite way of doing this through a Blog which contains articles that are valuable to your target audience. You can mix in a bit of more “salesy” content, as well as telling folks about upcoming trade shows and other important company events. But the bulk of the Blog content should consist of valuable information to your targets, such as “how to” articles.
The articles don’t need to be even be directly related to your product (although some of that is helpful); they just need to be topics of interest to your prime prospects. This will position you as a thought leader to your targets, which builds perceived value in working with you by buying your products or engaging your services.
There’s nothing magical about a Blog, per se. You can also create case studies, market research info-graphs, videos, etc. A Blog is simply a convenient method to publish content easily and regularly. While this may seem like a major time sink, if it differentiates you from your competition, it is well worth the time and effort.
A slow loading website make for a poor user experience, producing cranky visitors and excessive bounce rates. Not only that, but Google today explicitly considers website speed as ranking criteria in the results. So even if your site is beautiful and informative, a slow site can cost you that critical Google search traffic. So target your web pages to load in less than 2 seconds, and the faster the better.
So every website built today needs to be designed to be fast. This seems obvious, but it needs to be an upfront important design goal. A lot of websites are built by people trained as graphic designers, who by their very nature are going to value form over function (in this case speed) if left to their own devices. I see it happen all the time, and it can be difficult or impossible to correct after the fact without a total site rebuild. So make sure that you specify speed as an important design criteria and don’t allow designers to use bloated tools to build the site, which will make it nearly impossible to optimize for speed.
There are tons of tools out there to help you with this, depending upon your development platform. A good starting point that will analyze your site for speed and provide recommendations on the “low hanging fruit” for improvement is Google Speed Insights.
For most websites, well over 50% of their traffic today is of the mobile phone variety. So much in the same way every website needs to be built to load fast, it also needs to be built as natively mobile-friendly. There are a number of ways to do this today, but the most modern way is to specify that the site be built with “responsive design” methods. This means that no matter the size of the screen, the website will adapt dynamically and be presented to the visitor in the optimal viewing format, regardless of whether they are using a Smartphone, desktop/laptop computer, or tablet.
Like the speed discussion above, mobile-friendly design is very important for a good visitor experience. But once again, Google has pretty much mandated that a site be mobile-friendly as well as fast. And part of mobile-friendly means fast not only on a computer, but fast on a phone as well. Years ago Google created a mobile-specific index, and more recently designated the mobile version as the primary index. Google search traffic is critical to the success of most websites; design a site today which isn’t mobile fast and friendly at your own risk.
To check whether individual URLs on your website are mobile friendly you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.
Use Dedicated Landing Pages
Use dedicated landing pages wherever possible, which allows to you to “personalize” the visitors experience by talking to them in their own language. This may seem like a lot of work, and it is indeed extra work. But usually you can create a landing page template as a starting point, and customize it easily for the desired audience. Use a dedicated landing page whenever you can identify a set of incoming visitors with common attributes and referral method. For example, a visitors generated by vertical Google Ads campaign group should be sent to a landing pages customized for that vertical. If you have a back-link on a vertical industry website which is generating referral traffic, send this traffic to a landing page customized for that vertical, rather than simply to your homepage. Done well, you can see significantly raised conversion rates with this approach.
Write with a personality that fits your brand
Lastly, don’t write your website copy (and especially your Blog) in some generic, stiff, all-business manner. You need to be as professional as your target audience requires, of course. But let your company culture, brand and personality come through on your website. If your company is a fun place to work which doesn’t take itself too seriously, make sure that comes out. This will help make your site memorable and differentiate it from the millions of others out there. This is the “least followed” of my recommended website design best practices; I find this approach is not implemented on many software and hardware tech company websites.
Those are my views on some of the most critical website design best practices to follow on your company website. The one important thing I left off of this list is to design your website to be “SEO optimized” from the start. But if you follow the 8 web design best practices above, you’ll be well positioned to create a website with strong SEO. I’m sure that you have your own list of website faux pas. Please do enlighten us with your own opinions on web design best practices and why you feel that way. Please add your valuable experience to the discussion. Use the comment field below to keep the discussion going.
Follow Phil Morettini and Morettini on Management via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS, or the PJM Consulting Quarterly Newsletter. To ask a question or discuss a consulting or interim engagement, contact Phil directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you liked this post please share it with you colleagues using the “share” buttons below:
Leave a Reply