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Clean Design: Keeping Your Homepage Free from Clutter

Posted Wed, April 17, 2013 by Julie Short

Client’s often want to cram it with as much content as possible on a website’s homepage. However, the designer is striving to maintain the integrity of the design. In this blog, I'll give you a few ways keep your homepage clean and why it's important to help your clients see the benefits of a clean design. 

More and more people look to search engines to find content, instead of a site's homepage. The search engine takes the user directly to the information they require and can completely bypassing the sites homepage. Obviously, this deep linking seriously reduces the prominence of the homepage. 

Add to this factor the rise of RSS feeds and more people accessing information via mobile devices, and you begin to see the focus shifting from the website homepage towards the individual pages of content. That is not to say homepages are no longer important, they are simply not as important as once they were and so do not justify the level of competition they receive in some organizations.

Don’t rush the homepage
By starting with standard textual pages, which makes up the majority of the site, you get to set the design style before it gets diluted by the land grab for homepage real estate. Once the client is on board with the design they will perceive it as being more important and so are less likely to allow it to be railroaded by content demands.

A homepage should reflect the sites content at the highest level and signpost the user to key content deeper in the site. In the majority of projects I work on the client hasn’t finalized all of the content in the initial design stage. It is hard to create an effective homepage until you have a full understanding of what content it is meant to signpost and represent.

Communicating the importance of white space
In the case of homepage design the heart of the conflict between designer and client is often a perception of the importance of white space. Every designer knows that white space is a fundamental tool of good design, but designers often won't express why whitespace is necessary in a way the client can associate with. 

Or in other words; the more you add, the less importance anything has. Designers sometimes sell white space on the basis that it looks better. Instead sell it on the basis that every item you add to the page detracts from the main message. 

You might want to suggest that a user has 10 points worth of attention they can give to the homepage. Every “module of content” added to the homepage takes a minimum of 1 point. More points should be assigned to more important elements. This approach will quickly show that the more you add to a page, the more likely important elements are going to get lost in the crowd. Use this as a method to focus the clients mind on what is important.

A clean homepage will help users navigate a site easier, make it look better and keep the visitor's focus on important content. 

Posted in : Websites | 
Tags : website design


Design Basics: Embracing Constraints

Posted Mon, April 15, 2013 by Julie Short

If you’re a creative person you might believe you are at your most creative without any constraints. In reality however, this isn’t true. Your creativity needs a focus. If creativity guides you without any boundaries, it’s easy to go overboard. Constraints limit the actions that can be performed by the user and increases the usability of the design and reduces the probability of operational error. Restrict yourself to just a few design elements and a set deadlines to positively direct your design efforts. 

The Hazards of Creative Freedom
The greatest gift a client can give is creative freedom. On the other hand, the worst thing a designer can do is allowing themselves total creative freedom. It should be in the client’s interests to leave the designer to do their thing because a good designer can identify the key elements required to make the project a success. The client can tell us the problem they need a website to promote a new product and it’s up to the designer to create a solution. The good designer gets to the design stage with a big list of constraints from the discovery phase: they know the demographic, branding guidelines and, through various conversations with his contacts there. For the responsible designer, the truly open brief doesn’t exist. And even when they have got a set of constraints from the client, they might well impose still further constraints upon themselves.

Time
The first constraint to put upon yourself is time. Speed helps in the early stages of a design because you get down key concepts without focusing on details. Working fast also helps switch your brain functions. It encourages use of the right side of your brain and it’s the right side of the brain that does the creative heavy lifting. If you have a serious time limitation, you aren’t able to rationally analyse your work. You simply don’t have time. Instead, if you force yourself to rely on the subconscious and intuition, you will be using the, creative, right side of your brain. You can produce acceptable designs working from the left side of your brain, but they will have been processed rationally, based on existing solutions. Force yourself to use the right side of your brain and you can get away from these rationalised processes and make decisions based on instinct and gut reaction - and it’s here the original and innovative processes can take place.

Separating Creativity and Art
It’s worth noting that there is a separation between creativity and design. Exactly what we’re calling these is semantics, but the above process is one to encourage free, unrestricted, thought with the goal of promoting innovation. This is the creative process. The design process requires you to take the creative work and pull it into a more cohesive shape. For a website designer this requires assessing how the creative designs can also be usable, functional, designs. We’re building websites not making art.

Your design should guide the user through the process. It shouldn’t overly embellish. Sometimes the embellishments are appropriate, but you need to understand why they’re needed. Understand what elements (font, colour, image type, text size, line weight) are required for the design and embrace them. These are the constraints that will allow your creativity to really shine and offer site visitors the best usability experience. Try utilizing symbols to creatively increase site usability. Symbols are useful for categorizing, clarifying and cautioning users about certain actions. A good example of symbols being used for constraint in design would be the error sound that a site makes when an entry is incomplete or invalid. This serves as a warning to the user that additional actions are necessary.

Focus
Setting limits is not solely about not using design elements. It is much more about focusing on the few genuinely important elements that are required to convey the message of your website, and adding in other design elements only when they support the key elements. Choice doesn’t give us freedom. 

Constraining user behavior instead of enabling it may initially seem counter-intuitive, by limiting user actions they can actually focus on perfecting those limited options. Understanding and implementing constraints will help users engage your design with minimal error. Too much choice is often confusing, disabling and dissatisfying.

Posted in : Websites | 
Tags : website design


Email Marketing: Getting More Email Signups from Your Website

Posted Wed, April 10, 2013 by Julie Short

An email database is an important marketing tool. A large database allows you to proactively communicate with a large number of your customers, but before you launch an email marketing campaign you’ve got to build the list. Your website is the easiest way to gather email addresses from interested parties. Be sure to convince people to want to subscribe to your emails. You have a better chance to retain them in the long run if they find value in your emails and chose to sign up.

Incentives
Once, I signed up for a company's newsletter for $1 off my bill every month. A lot of customers will connect with you for a small value. This value doesn’t have to be monetary, but most customers need an incentive to receive another brand email in their inbox. They are probably already receiving a lot of similar emails. Think long term. Signing up is half the battle. You want them to actually open your emails. Get creative and find an angle. Exchange with them something you have of value for their email address. This value could be exclusive, behind-the-scenes access or even exclusive coupons.

Regular Newsletter
Your goal isn’t only to build a giant email list. You only derive value from it if the people in your list care about what you send them. If they delete every email you send, your effort was a waste of time. A regular newsletter’s purpose is to maintain and boost long-term relationships with your subscribers. After a list is built, this is an opportunity to communicate, compel them to buy and continue to offer the value they initially signed up for.

Online Archive
Some subscribers want a preview of what they’re getting into before they commit. Maintain an online archive of past newsletters and email correspondence to let interested visitors see what they should expect in the future. If your newsletter or emails typically offer value, an online archive can help you grow your subscription list.

Multiple Signup Locations
Different people decide to commit at different points in the perusing process. You can’t know when a certain visitor will want to sign up. Place the form obviously on the web page. Make it easy for them to find a way to sign up without having to search for one specific page. Try integrating your value proposition into a “Hello Bar” and drive attention immediately to signing up. A “Hello Bar” is a small bar that stays fixed at the top of a page while you’re on a website.  

Give Them a Reason to Trust You
Most people are jaded by the bad practices of other brands, businesses and spammers. Provide your subscribers every assurance you aren’t one of those brands. Under your signup form or on a signup page, let them know how often you email out and what they should expect. Brands that email every day, especially frivolously, annoy the typical consumer. Provide a link to your privacy policy. This will tell people how you intend to use the information you’re collecting. Show subscribers you have nothing to hide, you will protect their private information and that you won’t share it with any third party.

Posted in : Email Marketing | 
Tags : email marketing , content


Building a Website Better Than Your Competition

Posted Mon, April 8, 2013 by Julie Short

So, you’ve got the same product, similar pricing and offers as your competitors? Business is all about competition. With an effective call to action, your website should attract potential clients and encourage them to buy. You’re looking for any and every advantage over rival businesses. In this blog, I’ll give you a few ways to differentiate your website from your competition.

Google Analytics can provide you a lot insight into your website (traffic, conversions, etc.), but it will also compare your results to your industry average. This insightful tool will give you an idea of how well you’re doing digitally when compared to others in your industry.

If you’re in a highly competitive industry, you’ve got to have a website that sets you apart from your competitors. Give your customers a digital value they can’t resist.

SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is necessary for your website to compete. Several factors impact how your high your website appears in search results and if your competition appears first. Concentrate on content creation. Regularly posting fresh content makes your site more appealing to search engines and their automated indexing programs. Also, new content is an incentive for visitors to return to your site after the first visit. Pay attention to the keywords you’re using in your site’s content because it factors in. Focus on the search queries that yield the highest total traffic. To determine the most effective keywords, Google Analytics or Google's Webmaster Tools program provides traffic data for different search queries. Effective SEO strategies are constantly changing. It’s crucial to monitor the trends, SEO news and your site’s effectiveness. You may be due for an overall site update to stay competitive.

Design
Your website’s design should complement your content. A site’s design should be attractive without being distracting. A clean design, with lots of white space, no dense copy and clear offers will translate well to your unique visitors. Avoid huge blocks of content. A homepage isn’t the place to provide the essay about your company. The homepage is merely the gateway. The important information and deals should be differentiated and jump out to the visitor. The site design should facilitate the buying process in the best way possible.

Easy Communication
Don’t make your customer jump through a lot of hoops to know more about your company and to connect with you. Make communication as easy as possible. Some sites require a visitor’s email address before viewing key information about a product or service. The casual customer, who is shopping around, could be driven away by this action. Too much personal information too soon causes customers to be sensitive. Include a contact us page on your website with an in-browser contact form. Eliminate the need for your customer to go through another step by having to open their own email to connect with you.

Strong Central Message
Successful websites aren’t cluttered, employ a clear call to action and have a strong central message. Give a direct, concise summary of what you’re about, what you offer and why you’re the best choice over your competition. Assume they know nothing about you and what you do. Give them all the information necessary information to choose to do business with you. Also, clearly state the next step in the purchasing process. If they can buy, sign-up for services or get a quote through the site, make it very clear and obvious. You will want to direct customers to the next step at every possible avenue on the site.

Posted in : Websites , Website Content , SEO/SMO/SMM | 
Tags : SEO , web design


Simple Techniques to Maximize Web Conversions

Posted Wed, April 3, 2013 by Julie Short

The conversion rate measures the number of potential customers that result in sales. On your website, it’s the number of visitors that result in sales. Some people focus solely on driving people to a website, either organically or through search engine traffic, but it’s important to go that extra step to ensure you’re getting a return on your website investment. Here are some simple techniques to improve a website’s conversion rate. 

Accessibility
You should strive not to prevent anyone from purchasing your products or services. It should be unacceptable for one person to be turned away because of an inaccessible site. The more complicated the website, the more opportunity you have to confuse or lose your customer. Users should be able to find the information they need. If you’ve got information your visitors want, it should be on your website. If visitors are disappointed by a lack of information, they’ll go elsewhere. 

If you’re selling products, pay close attention to how a user adds products to the shopping cart. I have a big problem with online stores that force users to proceed to a shopping cart page every time they add a product. This action slows down the shopping process and the inconvenience alone can deter customers from purchasing multiple items. Sites with one-click “Add To Cart” buttons give customers a clear call to action.

Dispose of Lengthy Forms
Don’t waste people’s time. Refrain from requiring an email address before accessing most of the information. In most cases, if your request is premature you will drive users away. Be clear and concise when you’re requesting information from a user. The user should understand the reasoning behind sharing information and know they can trust you with their private details. If you only plan to email your customers, you might not need a phone number. The more information you request, the better the chance of driving away the cautious customer. 

Focus on providing a positive user experience. This will translate into a positive view of the brand. Utilize compelling headlines and subheads. Visitors can scan for information easier with good headlines. 

Regular Updates
Regularly updating content fosters trust with the customer. Updates lets them know you still exist and are operating. It also gives them the best decision-making information possible. If you’ve got specials or sales, don’t keep them a secret from your website. Keeping the user informed through every step of the sale process is a great idea. A company that shows it cares about their customers, even after they've finished shopping, will make a user far happier and far more likely to return.

Offer Payment Options
This may sound obvious, but offer a reasonable selection of payment methods. Not everybody has a credit card, and those that do don't always want to use them. Consider alternatives to the usual methods. Options like PayPal and payment upon pickup may endear you to the online customer. Make the user's life easy and give them what they want.

Give Visitors Value
This may be the last listed, but it is an important suggestion. Understand why your brand and website is special. Give important content the best placement. Great customer service, low price guarantees and free delivery are all examples of factors that endear your website to customers over your competition. Be the authority in your field. If your website is branded into a user’s mind, they’re more likely to think of you when they need that certain product or service. Make your digital customers a special offer they can’t refuse. 

Are people looking for something, not finding it and then leaving the site? Analytics and surveys are the best tools to really understand why visitors are leaving. Use an analytics tool to remove obsolete pages and build on content pages with high traffic. Select “The Biggest Loser” within your website. This is a page that is receiving a lot of traffic and has a high bounce rate, but contains important content with the potential for improvement. 

After working on all these different areas, be sure to test, analyze, adjust and repeat.

Posted in : Websites , Website Content | 
Tags : web conversion


Understanding the Features of Good and Bad Web Design

Posted Mon, April 1, 2013 by Julie Short

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The difference between a good website and a bad one is often amateurish designer mistakes. Eliminating bad and ugly design mistakes won’t guarantee pages will be more attractive, but it generally enables more effective communication. Features of web design can be divided into categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. Bad design missteps aren’t the end of the world, but can make pages look unprofessional and awkward. Ugly mistakes can often render a website ineffective and sometimes harmful to the reputation of a person, business or brand. After all, every website is a direct reflection of a brand’s professional digital image. 

The Good
A good web experience puts users in control and empowers them to be engaged. Utilizing Content Management Systems (CMS), clients update content themselves without assistance. CMS empowers the client to communicate quickly on their website, generally without needing help. 

In a solid design, consistency is crucial. From colors to messaging, branding should be clear and consistent with the offline presence. Every website should accomplish a clear goal. Users should easily understand the call to action. Good designs are organized in a way that engages visitors. Text should be easily readable and links will stand out. Links are often considered a website’s call to action. Using different colors or underlines for links will help them stand out. 

The Bad
It’s important to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are design qualities that distinguish a designer’s competency to execute a good website. Starting with a basic principle, images on the website should be crisp and clear. Using a grainy image smaller than the standard browser size (1024x768) as a page background is an amateur designer’s first giveaway. Poor color scheme choices and a lack of contrasting colors are other amateur mistakes. 

Most designers agree, the most crucial component of web design is typography. Typography and font choice impact a lot of website components. For example, overused, plain fonts like Times New Roman aren’t distinctive and can be hard to read. Typography is important because it’s the messenger carrying the main message. Don’t overlook its importance. 

The Ugly
Inferior web design is a curse. As we tell our clients, your website is often your first impression in an age where we are dependent on Internet information. A bad website can be very damaging to branding and reputation. One of the worst things a designer can do is prioritize style over substance. Users are impatient and expect pages to load quick. With this attitude, designers must stop incorporating elaborate animation and visuals that delay pages from loading. An extensive use of flash will slow down pages for web users and completely exclude mobile users from certain content. 

Some of the worst features are truly ugly design choices. Busy pages with large blocks of content, that lack a reasonable use of whitespace, leave visitors confused and annoyed. Problematic sites lack imaginative, well-planned navigation. Navigation and organization are crucial components of a website’s success or failure. Designers have to accurately anticipate what topics visitors will be looking for when they come to the site. Visitors shouldn’t have to click multiple links and buttons to find information. Designers have got to organize the data to be discoverable. Sounds like an easy task, but it’s not for the lazy designer. 

Posted in : Websites | 
Tags : web design


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