Over the years I have become well versed with the ability to take one look at a website, and know whether it needs a full re-design, just a tune up, or not to be touched at all.
As experienced internet users, we all know which websites we like to land on and browse through, but we also know which websites send us running back to the Google search results faster than shareholders bail from myspace.com (BOOM, roasted). Yet, do we know why exactly?
I’m a firm believer that there are 5 standard web design principals that every website should follow. If a website has these going for it, it’s alright in my books. Let’s take a look…
1. Consistent layout & structure
I put this one first because it’s a personal pet peeve of mine, both as a web designer and as a user, to be browsing through pages of a website only to be introduced to a different look for each area of the website. The colors may be different, the navigation may be in a different spot, even the basic alignment might be totally off. Any one of these (sometimes several combined *shudder*) really make for a lowsy viewing experience and likely won’t keep visitors around for long.
2. Organized, clean, readable text
This is a basic print design principal that should be applied to a website, yet seems to be ignored by some designers. Picture yourself being handed a business card or a brochure. You should be able to look down, and quickly be able to find and read the most important information on that material within the first several seconds. If you’re not able to, it’s human nature to become disconnected and less engaged. The same thing happens when you land on a website. If a viewer is confused as to what to read, or has difficulty following what the site is saying, you’ve lost them!
3. Proper Home Page Length
Let’s face it, as a society we’re becoming less and less interested in reading or spending much time finding what we came to get. If there are paragraphs and paragraphs of text on the home page our eyes glaze over like a child listening to grandpa’s button stories and we start scanning for the ‘cut the crap’ button (spoiler alert, there is usually never a ‘cut the crap’ button on these websites unfortunately). The text on the home page should merely act as a brief synopsis of the company (typically 2-3 sentences) and usually accompanied with a ‘read more’ link that then brings the visitor to a more complete ‘about us’ section where there IS plenty of information. Giving the visitor the control to ‘read more’ means that once they see more text, they will be much more inclined to read through it (well, most of it anyways).
4. Descriptive Title Tags on Each Page
This is one of the basic search engine optimization principals as well, but even if you’re not involved in an SEM campaign, having descriptive title tags is a must! Still so often I see people using just ‘home’ as the title tag for their home page, ‘about’ as the title of their about page and so on. The title tag has many uses such as being one of the key elements search engines review when deciding where to rank your website, and it’s also the key peice of text that appears whenever someone shares your website link on a social networking website or add’s it to their favorite list on their browser. Do you really think people are going to want to click a link that is described by ‘home’? Maybe if their name is Dorothy and have a dog named Toto.
5. Consistent Branding to Match other Company Material
I can’t believe this one is all the way down on number 5, because it’s one of the first things I consider when starting a new project. The entire branding of a company should be consistent across all mediums and should stem from their logo. A lot of time and skill should go into creating the most representative and attractive logo possible for the company. Once that is handled, the same theme / vibe and colors should then be applied to print material such as business cards. Then, the website should be developed to match the branding established by the logo and print material. When someone logs onto your website after receiving a business card, they should instantly recognize the colors and your company. There should be no uncertainly as to whether or not they are indeed on the correct website.
There are certainly other variables that effect the level of attractiveness and usability of a website, but if your website follows these 5 basic princiapls you’re ahead of the game!