A not-so-definitive list of basic web design principles that every website in 2014 should follow in regard to building dynamic content, and telling the story of your brand.
Looking up to the best in your field (or maybe not)
It's a common gesture to reference best practices within your industry. We all want to be the best, and have the best of what's available. In the more common case where you don't have an unlimited budget and you have to work with others to make decisions, you would likely recommend a course of action for someone you are trying to persuade.
When we think of effective design, we instinctively look to the Apple's, and the Nike's, maybe even the masters of the Renaissance, and those close to us who seem to know what they're doing. However, in referencing what can only be considered "pop design" by today's standards, shining examples of true mastery often get overlooked.
What comes off as premier design in the mainstream, most often times, is just well disguised noise. Be honest, when you think of a house, do you think of something like this? Would you consider for a moment what a museum looks like? Naturally, you imagine your museum built into the side of a mountain right?
The same psychic effect comes off when we discuss web design. A quick Google search on the "best web designs 2014" turns up a strong wall of fun eye-candy, but more importantly to note, is that a lot of these show-stoppers don't really have any sort of sturdy backbone or functional sense built into them. Something can only look so appealing until you're aware if it's flaws, and then you have to make the choice of living with them or not. For most business owners, such a decision coming too late into the process of building a brand is both time consuming and crushing on a budget.
For those that may not know or remember, a good example that immediately comes to mind was from last year in 2013, where parallax themes (the all-in-one page website) took off in the web design world. The overall idea was well intentioned: provide one page of solid content so busy internet users can read quickly and commit to a call to action either on their phones or computers. Upon closer inspection, the design builds consequentially led to terrible SEO and marketing efforts since content and links lacked considerably. Sure you'd have an attractive website, but good luck getting ranked on Google without some serious grind work in compensating the shortcomings of a one-page theme.
Some Brain Food for Web Design in 2014
These recommendations come from the anecdotal conglomeration of a few recent web projects we've worked on, and are by no means definite. Although not entirely ground-breaking as a museum built into the concave of a cliff, a few of these suggestions should help crack pre-conceived notions about what it means to carry strong web design principles in regard to rich content, and how functional design should work for your brand:
Tell captivating stories using your homepage and blog
And follow up with your social media channels to get your story out. You want people to keep returning to your site, not just show up, read some information, and never come back. The only way to retain an audience is to prove that 1) you’re interesting and 2) you can provide value to others if they get involved. If these two objectives can be completed, then your brand carries ethos, and will be considered an authority in your industry.
Make sure every single page on the website is rock solid
In regard to content, every page should be able to stand on it’s own integrity – online visitors should leave each page having all of their questions answered, and have a clear idea of how to get involved or take action. The general formula:
Provide value (a story, a deal, an experience, or an offer) --> Motivate to take action
Make sure Call to Action requests are simple and easy to complete
Once a prospect decides they want to be a supporter or a buyer, make sure the application process is simple AND there’s a clear method for following up with them. A contact form, a one page HTML5 application, a phone call, are all great examples on how to ease the process of bringing on new supporters. To win over the “swing” prospects, use volunteer / donor / client testimonies to sell them on the value of getting involved.
Keep top-level navigation to 7 items or less
Short-term memory, on average, only let’s us hold on to about 7 items at a time. So condensing a navigation down to the only the most important pages will help people navigate through the site and understand what’s there.
Well wait a second, what about the other pages that were so delicately and time-wrenchingly slaved over? No problem, just add them to a sidebar navigation or footer navigation and link those pages throughout the site using varying anchor text. Strategically placing these pages as links inside content creates an organic pathway for folks to take action, and search engines crawl the links too.
Eliminate all drop-down menu items if it's possible
People often times find them annoying and search engines don’t like them. Does your website have 40 pages on it? Chances are your audience is only reading about 4 of those pages consistently, which means the other 36 are just sitting there costing you SEO page ranking scores. Why not give people what they want and simplify everything? In the end, a clearer story means more conversions.
A side note, if your website has a silo navigation (drop-downs with tons of links), and you're not a printing or another type of industrial organization which requires a catalog, we should talk because that's a terrible design mistake!
Bring out your Page's inner Ubermensch
Intro, The Super Page. If parallax themes taught us one thing, it's that folks will scroll to the bottom of a page no matter what. What they won't do however, is consciously bounce from page to page to read a story or find information they want, at least without a strong motivation to do so (such as reading a lengthy magazine or news article). The sad truth is, internet users are lazy - we don't like to click or look around for stuff.
The goal here then, is to group similar content, and bring it all together on the same page. 3 weak pages with thin content is not effective design - it's annoying. With every click online users have to spend approximately 3-5 seconds to load a page that has one paragraph of text on it that was copied from a brochure. It's predictable and not inviting, and it's not just people who hate this, search engines hate it too, and will actually punish you for it. Instead, build yourself a Super Page that has a lot of content on it. Not in plain old copy / paste fashion, but with a little creative writing - similar sections carry the capacity to artfully blend together and tell a compelling narrative.
A prime example: 3 pages (About, History, Staff) with less than 400 word count each, no pictures or video --> 1 Super Page that tells the past and present narrative, and introduces the folks that are fighting for the brands future. Which sounds like a better story to you?
What do you think?
What do you consider strong design practices in building websites? Who are the best out there that you've seen, why? Tell us your stories (and nightmares)!