Understanding Site Design¹

Understanding Site Design

The design of your company’s website plays an important function in attracting prospects and customers, generating leads and potentially creating sales.

Since your site has less than 30 seconds to convey a favorable impression about your company, products and services to online visitors, paying attention to the site’s design is a critical factor in how well it performs.

Design Basics

To some extent, your site’s design will probably be influenced by your company’s industry and culture. A website for a law or accounting firm, for example, will likely take a more serious design approach than a party planner or an ice cream parlor.

An effective website blends text, images and video to provide a good overview of your company and what it offers. Your site’s images can highlight your team members and workplace, for example, and provide a personal touch that helps differentiate your company from competitors.

To avoid increasing your site’s startup or “load time,” it’s a good idea to optimize your images for online display. Because screen resolution is lower than print, using a "save for Web" command in a photo-editing program reduces the "density" of the image so it will load more rapidly.

It’s also helpful to consider readability as you prepare your site’s design. Dark text on a light background, for instance, is easier to read. It’s also a good idea to consider your target market’s age — if your target market skews over 40, making text easy for on- screen reading will help improve your site’s usability for your visitors.

Speaking of fonts, be sure to use Web-safe choices such as Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana or Georgia to be sure your text can be read clearly with a variety of browsers.

Improving Search Results

Your site’s content is a critical factor in how the site is indexed by search engines, so it’s important to make sure your headlines and content relate to your products and services.

Consider what keywords or phrases customers are likely to use as they search for your offerings, and include those phrases in your page titles and headlines. You want to avoid repeating keywords over and over, since search engines may penalize you for "keyword stuffing," but make sure your site describes your company and what it does using the terms necessary to find you.

Prepare for Scanners

Since most visitors scan a site quickly instead of reading it carefully, it’s helpful to break up text with headlines, bulleted lists and images.

Keeping sentences and paragraphs short is another helpful way to improve the appearance and readability of your website.

Make sure important elements and your company’s contact information appears "above the fold," the portion of the screen visitors can see without scrolling down. Most people won’t bother to look for information that’s not directly in front of them.

Navigation Drives Results

While most people think of how a site looks, good design also includes navigation menus that are easy to understand. You want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find their way around the site, since confused visitors will likely hit the back button instead of exploring your site.

Some navigation tips:

  • Place a company logo in the upper left corner of every page, and make that logo a clickable link to the home page.
  • Include links to major site sections along the bottom of the page as well as a tabbed menu at the top of the screen. Visitors who have scrolled down a page will appreciate not having to scroll up to find navigation links again.
  • Place search boxes in the upper right corner of your screen so visitors will know where to find them.

Do You Need a Professional?

Depending on your goals for your site, enlisting help from a professional Web designer could be a good investment in making your site as appealing and functional as possible.

If you’re technically inclined or wish to tackle the site’s appearance yourself, most Web hosting companies offer a wide range of website templates designed for small businesses.

If you work with a professional, it’s important to ask if you’ll have the ability to update or add content yourself (and how easy those updates will be to perform). If you have to rely on the designer for future changes, you’ll incur additional costs and possibly delays in having your site updated.

Instead, ask the designer to include content management features so you or colleagues will be able to update the site yourselves.

If you prefer to do it yourself with a design template, customize the images or graphics to give the site a more personal look and feel that better matches your company and its personality.

Either way, remember that creating a website is not a one-time project. You’ll have to plan for frequent updates as you develop more content and change your design periodically to prevent the site from appearing outdated.