“Good design accelerates the adoption of new ideas.”
---Yves Behar (Swiss designer, entrepreneur and an educator)
Over the years, we’ve helped a good number of startup companies and non-profit organizations develop and implement long-term growth strategies. Without question, one of biggest challenges we typically face when working with their leadership teams is convincing them to invest aggressively in their brands.
We’ve found that entrepreneurs and non-profit executives often place branding on the lower end of the priority scale because it's difficult for them to see the tangible benefits. Oftentimes, they assume that money spent on branding diminishes their operational capacity. Such thinking tends to be a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach.
This is particularly true when it comes to web design. In today’s world, your website is typically one of the first points of contact between your organization and your target audience. Strong web design often propels your organization to success. Conversely, poor web design can completely subvert your mission.
First impressions matter. Make a bad impression, and you’ll likely lose potential conversions. Make a good one, and you’ll typically gain new customers. More importantly, you’ll potentially earn a customer for life if you make a great impression.
In other words, quality web design is crucial to your mission. A high-quality website greatly increases the value of your brand in the minds of your target audience. Furthermore, wise investments in your digital assets ultimately build brand equity for your organization. With this in mind, here are the twelve design rules we suggest you follow in order to squeeze the most out of your website.
of your design will be evaluated instantly by your visitors. Their first impressions will likely determine if, when and how they decide to interact with your site, brand or business. A visually pleasing design scheme will create a favorable first impression and increase visitor engagement.
Here are the design elements that attract your visitor’s attention first and foremost:
Tip: Effective visuals and a crisp, clean design add credibility and legitimacy to your website. Effective design also helps establish trust in your brand. This is especially important if you're trying to convert a sale or sway opinions. A visitor will associate the experience they have on your website with the experience they are likely to have with you in real life.
RULE #2 – Get to Know SEO
To make the most of your Internet real estate, you need to design and build a website that can be found on the major search engines (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.).
The art and science of ranking in search is commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). An effective content strategy accounts for the search terms your target audience uses on a day-to-day basis. An effective strategy also incorporates customized content (e.g. videos, blog articles, podcasts, e-books, etc.) based on your audience's demands and preferences.
Successful SEO requires patience and attention to detail. An extensive knowledge of how search engines work is helpful, and it generally takes time and practice to achieve sustainable success. That said, you’ll be off to a good start and probably gain an advantage over your competition once you get the basics down. After mastering the basics, you can always move on to advanced levels of SEO down the road.
Tip: If you’re just starting out with SEO, it’s a good idea to begin simple. For example, concentrate on improving your site in each of the following five areas:
RULE #3 – Responsive Websites Rank Better
Mobile search now accounts for over 60% of total search volume; and that figure is only expected to increase over the next few years.
Indeed, 80% of internet users own a smartphone, and Google indicates that “61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.” Therefore, the look, feel, form and function of your website on mobile devices is crucial to your long-term success.
based on the dimensions of the viewing device. For example, the look and feel of a site viewed on an over-sized desktop computer monitor, a laptop, or devices with small screens such as smartphones and tablets, is generally consistent across all devices.
Tip: Most of the major drag-and-drop website builders (e.g. Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) now include responsive design templates as part of their standard product offerings.
RULE #4 – Your Navigation Menu Matters
Navigation is a crucial component of effective website design. Your navigation menu is basically a map that displays the key places you want your visitors to explore. If your website’s navigation menu isn’t effective, visitors will overlook important content. Worse still, they may become frustrated and abandon your site altogether.
When examining the effectiveness of your website's navigation menu, it's important to ensure that it’s clear, concise and relatively simple. Common characteristics of an effective navigation menu include:
Tip: The bottom of your page isn’t necessarily the end of your site and the space for your copyright notice. An effective footer also allows visitors dig deeper into your site. Meaning, you shouldn't forget to include a secondary navigation menu in your website footer. As an added benefit, the additional internal links positively influence your page search rankings.
RULE #5 – Take Time When Crafting Your Content Headers
If you effectively utilize and optimize your h1, h2 and h3 header tags, you can greatly improve your website’s search rankings and thereby increase organic traffic. That said, designers all too often miss the mark when creating the header tags for their web pages.
Header tags are a critical on-page SEO factor because search engines use them to categorize your site’s content. Search engines prioritize the copy in your header tags above your text paragraph sections. The hierarchy begins with your h1 tag and moves down in importance to the h2, h3, etc. In other words, your header tags supplement the mission or purpose of your web pages.
It’s important to structure your header tags appropriately. To truly be effective, it’s important to include short-tail and long-tail keywords in your header tag content. When the search engines crawl your site, they read your header tags and recognize the keywords you’ve incorporated. They’re factored in to the algorithms the search engines use to prioritize and rank your pages in their search results.
Tip: Your h1 tag should contain keywords targeted toward your audience. Your keywords should relate directly to your page title as well as your body content. As a general rule, you should only use one h1 tag on each page.
Your h2 tags are subheadings. They should contain keywords related to your h1 tag. Subsequently, your h3 tags are subheadings for your h2 tags, etc. In short, order your header tags in a hierarchy based on importance.
Also, ensure that your header tags are grammatically correct and coherent. Packing your header tags with keywords may in-fact hurt your search rankings. Google and Bing’s algorithms are sophisticated – attempts to manipulate search rankings generally do more harm than good.
Most visitors are comfortable scrolling a web page these days. Consequently, design emphasis has shifted toward optimizing aesthetics and form styling in recent years. A longer home page is now acceptable and offers some strategic advantages as well. Including 3-5 sections on your home page helps point visitors to key areas of your site. It also creates a more seamless user experience for your visitors.
Tip: Here’s a list of the key elements you should consider including in the sections of your home page:
RULE #7 – Make Effective Use of White Space
Believe it or not, white space is a critical design element. The term refers to the areas around your page elements that are empty and lack content or visual items.
White space improves readability and helps you compartmentalize your content. It also tends to decrease the apprehension level of new visitors. A page stuffed full of text and/or graphics with minimal white space generally appears busy or cluttered. This diminishes your user experience (UX) and typically leads to a high bounce rate.
Tip: If your web page lacks white space, review the page and strip elements or content that aren't necessary to the purpose of the page. After that, make sure this content is properly grouped so users are able to distinguish correlations on the page.
RULE #8 – Invest Time In Social Media
Effective use of social media really drives website traffic. In fact, over 26% of all traffic now comes from social media sites vs. 35% from search. Given that 62% of people list social media as a primary news source, your organization can’t afford to be silent on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks if you wish to stay relevant.
Besides being a valuable traffic and lead source, social media offers a unique opportunity to strengthen your brand’s awareness and reach. While organic search and paid advertisements generate attention, social media tends to spark interest. For example, people can begin following you with a simple click of a button on most social media sites. This provides an opportunity to engage with an interested audience on a regular basis and likely generate additional revenues long-term.
If all this sounds new to you, then we suggest you begin by setting up branded social media accounts and then embed social sharing buttons on the key pages of your website. Social sharing buttons contain icons from your preferred social sites and allow your visitors to share your content directly on their social media feeds. In other words, engaged visitors amplify your brand within their social circles and ultimately drive new traffic to your website.
Tip: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are social media juggernauts. However, they aren't the only players in the game. Indeed, the social media landscape has changed considerably in recent years and the industry is becoming more and more competitive. A plethora of new “free speech” social media startups offer unique opportunities to quickly make a name for yourself. We suggest you check out up-and-coming players like Gab, InfinitySN, Minds and Free Talk which currently seem to be operating under the radar of most major brands.
RULE #9 – Leverage and Grow Your Brand Assets
Your website is your public persona. It creates a lasting image of who you are. Therefore, carefully consider what you want your local, domestic and international communities to know about you, your product or your services. Once you've identified your desired game plan, meticulously craft your image and effectively manage your message.
Therefore, consider the following as you define or re-evaluate your brand:
Tip: Start by defining your ideal target market before you do anything else. Identify common attribute characteristics like:
Once you’ve profiled your ideal customers, create content tailored to the audience. Use language and imagery relevant to your target audience and relate on their terms.
RULE #10 – Font and Color Palates Really Matter
One of the keys to effective web design is to remember that digital marketing is principally text communication. According to Ryan Shafer (Lead Digital Designer at MTV & VH1), “I encourage all budding web designers to embrace that the web is fundamentally about typography design.”
extremely important when it comes to creating a cohesive color palette for your website and your other mar-comm materials.
A three-color palate is a good rule of thumb. That said, adhere to basic best practices in color theory no matter what color scheme you choose for your brand.
Tip: If you’re a design novice, a number of free online tools and resources are available to point you in the right direction. For color palates, we recommend Adobe Creative Cloud’s Color Wheel and Paletton. For font type selection, check out: Adobe Fonts, Wordmark and Type Scale.
RULE #11 – Maintain Fresh Content
The expression, “content is king” is widely-used these days in digital marketing circles. So, what exactly does it mean?
For starters, it refers to the fact that the search engines place a premium on new content. Indeed, the quality and relevancy of your content is essential in determining your page's position in search query results.
Simply updating or refreshing your pages on a regular basis doesn’t make your site “fresh” and more likely to rank effectively within the search engines. Similarly, adding new pages just for the sake of increasing the size of your digital footprint won’t necessarily boost your site on the freshness meter.
Google employs a tool referred to as "Query Deserves Freshness" (QDF) to rank and prioritize new content. This tool monitors search query activities and identifies trending topics that stand out from normal activity. When QDF is triggered, Google looks to see if there’s any fresh content on the topic and then gives that content a boost in their search results.
In other words, if you have fresh content on a trending topic, you’ll likely enjoy a ride at the top of the search results for a period of time. Once the QDF boost wears off, your page generally shuffles back to its original position in the search results.
If you’re a savvy and nimble organization, the QDF algorithm provides opportunities to generate a significant competitive advantage. For example, if you create relevant and robust content in pulse with the hottest trends in your market, you can quickly establish yourself as a thought leader within your industry.
Tip: Follow these five simple guidelines if you struggle to create fresh content:
RULE #12 –Utilize High-Quality Images and Graphics
Eye-catching visual elements that complement your branding have a tremendous impact when used properly. Here are a few factors to consider when selecting graphics and images for your website:
customized graphics from a professional designer. That said, there are plenty of affordable stock image sites to choose from if you happen to have tight resource constraints (e.g. iStock, Adobe Stock, Wikimedia Commons, etc.)
If you do decide to use stock images instead of proprietary artwork, be careful to ensure that every image you select matches your brand persona and correlates with your written content. Also, you want to establish a unique brand identity and protect your site from having a generic look and feel, so be sure to avoid popular images if you can.
Tip: Remember that page load time factors in to your site’s search rankings. This is especially true for mobile. Therefore, you’ll want to pay close attention to the size of your image files. Familiarize yourself with Google’s “Image Optimization” guidelines if you want to completely optimize your images.
As we stated earlier, your website is often your organization’s primary public persona. It holds enormous influence over your target market’s perception of your products and/or services. More often than not, healthy and flourishing organizations tend to have effective websites; while struggling organizations often have ineffective websites.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting