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Website Design 101

Every modern business needs a website. It doesn't matter how small or locally focused your business may be. To be competitive in today's marketplace, in any industry, and for any kind of customer, you must have an online presence. But if you don't know responsive website design, you might worry about embarking on this admittedly big project.

Maybe you're wondering: Why is it so important for every brand to have a website? Just think about the last time you were in the market for something. Did you get in your car and drive around town, popping into stores to compare prices, services, and goods before deciding? It's more likely that you did what most everyone else does — you went online.

Many owners of small- and medium-sized businesses make a mistake in thinking that creating a social media page is “good enough.” After all, it is an online presence. But it's a risky one. What if Facebook shuts down tomorrow? What if a hacker takes over your page so that you can't access it? The only way to ensure control over the digital presence of your business is if you create it.

There are currently 1.8 billion websites according to the statistics compiler Statista.com. But not all of them have the same quality or the same impact. That's where professional website design comes in. When you learn about graphic design and simple best practices in digital marketing, your business is more likely to get noticed in today's crowded online (and offline) world.

Of course, working with a marketing professional or a graphic designer relieves a lot of pressure — after all, you probably hire a financial professional to help with your taxes or a real estate professional to help you find an awesome storefront location. Still, it's a good idea to get a basic knowledge of website design and search engine optimization before you invest the time and energy into creating a site or renovating an old site that isn't generating the traffic you had hoped.

In this guide, you'll learn some important things to look for when designing your business website as well as what to avoid. You can follow the best practices of digital designers to make sure you're doing everything you can to help your brand stand out among the competition, no matter what goods or services you're offering.

What Is Website Design?

Websites are designed from two distinct perspectives: the front end and the back end.

The “front end” is where customers interact with you and get a feel for your brand. This is what most people think about when they hear the word design: the color scheme, the photos, the videos, the font, what is written on the page, and how everything looks.

Let's say you're selling shirts. The front end can be designed in a way that makes it easy for a customer to browse through and purchase your merchandise. You can incorporate other elements like a blog or links to social media to help customers know what kind of person you're targeting with your products. Maybe they'll get a pop-up screen after a few seconds on your website with a discount offer. That's all on the front end.

How does all that navigation happen? Enter the back end. This is where things get a little more technical with different software languages like HTML and CSS. If you're like most business owners, your eyes are probably glazing over at the alphabet soup. Don't get overwhelmed. The most important thing to know about the back end is that it helps everything on the front end work as designed. Good design needs to work on a laptop or a mobile device so that the user doesn't get frustrated and click on another site.

To be clear, some marketing professionals call work on the back end “web development.” There are plenty of templates and drag-and-drop tools to help new website owners make something that functions properly without having to learn code or hire an entire team to troubleshoot the inevitable technical issues.

The back end is meaningless if it doesn't support a front end that looks good and contains the right content. Learning the best practices of graphic design and marketing strategy will help you create a website that helps your business grow and thrive.

Why Do I Need Website Design?

Good website design makes it more likely for visitors to your site to stay and connect, either by purchasing an item, calling you with questions, or getting in the car and driving to your physical location.

In the simplest of ways, the design of a website is like making a sign for the front window of a brick-and-mortar establishment. The goal of the sign is to get people who happen to be passing by to remember your business and walk in when they're in the market for whatever you're offering.

Just as you want customers to walk in the front door of your store, you want them to find your website when searching for what you offer. And just as you don't want people to walk in your front door and immediately turn around, you need to make sure you don't give website visitors a reason to click elsewhere.

Good website design:

  • Creates a pleasing user experience for the customer
  • Feels fresh and modern, knowing that information on the internet is always dynamic
  • Makes the site easy to navigate, so the visitor knows where to click next
  • Isn't annoying with an obtrusive use of audio or video elements
  • Simplifies the structure of the site, so everything is organized in a thoughtful way
  • Prioritizes an intuitive user interface
  • Helps the entire site load quickly
  • Boasts a responsive design and an immersive, positive experience

The above are reasons why a visitor might get frustrated with a website. Think again about your own experience online. Have you ever experienced a site that just wasn't helping you solve whatever problem you had, like trying to find a plumber or considering the best engagement ring to pop the big question? Without good website design, you (and your potential customers) will take business elsewhere.

Websites with good designs also:

  • Make it more likely for a potential customer to “convert” into a paying customer
  • Make it less likely for someone to immediately leave a site after visiting
  • Works on both mobile and desktop devices
  • Helps sites rank higher on search engines results pages (like Google)
  • Feel seamless: It does what you expect when you expect it

If you already have a website or online store but haven't redesigned it in years, take a critical look. If you're finding it lacks anything from the above list, it might be time to take another pass at your website design.

Common Web Design Mistakes

Before getting into the best practices, let's start with design elements that should be avoided. As a business owner, you'll need to know this whether you create your site in your spare time or hire a marketing professional to make it happen.

Not Branding Your Site

A brand is the “look and feel” of your company. You probably know big brands like Nike or Starbucks if you just saw their logo. You likely know what they sell, what values they stand for, what color their employees wear in the store, and what to expect if you buy something from them. All of this information comes from the company using marketing to develop its brand identity.

While few companies have the same marketing budget as those international corporations, you still can share your brand on your website. To start, you need to have a logo design. A logo is a visual icon representation of your business. It contains a unique image and the name of your business. Some businesses also include a tagline, which is a short phrase that sums up your values or services.

Besides having a logo, you'll want to make sure your site has a color scheme, visuals, and words that fit with how you want your company to look and feel to customers.

Too Much Going On

There's a lot you want to share with your customers, but you don't need to blast it all at once on your home page. When there is too much text, too many images, pop-up videos, songs, ads, deals, discounts, buttons, lists, and more, it's an overwhelming experience to a first-time visitor. It's the opposite of a beautiful website.

Remember the popular acronym: KISS, or “keep it simple, smartypants.”

Not Telling People Where to Go Next

Maybe you have a hands-off approach when it comes to selling your products or services, and that can work well for customers who prefer to take their time or know exactly what they want. But when it comes to website design, you must do the opposite. This marketing practice is known as a “call-to-action,” or CTA.

A CTA is a clear arrow that serves as a gateway to a deeper relationship with your business. Buttons on a web page that read, “Buy now!” or “Click here to learn more” are examples of CTAs. Make it easy for the customer to do exactly what you want them to do.

This includes having a good navigational flow to the website. For example, let's say you click on the “Buy Now” button and it takes you to a helpful blog. That's not very helpful. If a customer is looking for something about your company online, they should be able to find it quickly through your website. A good design can make that happen.

Hard to Read

A font is a style grouping for each individual letter or symbol on a page. Some fonts are really hard to read. Think about cursive fonts with all uppercase letters. Some designers may think that using a cursive font will underline the fact that your business is elegant and sophisticated. But if potential customers can't even read the words on the screen, they'll go someplace else for fancy.

Whitespace is another design element that can make websites harder (or easier) to read. The whitespace is literally the white area that surrounds a block of text or an image. It serves as a frame. Think about it like artwork in a museum: Really big frames can be dramatic, either setting the painting apart for focus or detracting from the artwork because it's so huge.

In general, too much whitespace isn't the problem. Sometimes, it takes the trained eye of professional designers to determine the right balance of whitespace and content. An experienced designer knows how to use enough and to use it well. But if you have a feeling that the business is trying to cram too much on a webpage, it could have to do with a lack of whitespace.

Tips for Excellent Website Design

Now that you know what to avoid, the best practices of website design professionals can help you with a project of creating the first (or newest) digital presence for your business. Here are some tips for excellent design for your site:

Plan It Out

Before you start adding elements to a website, plan out your online presence with offline tools. A simple pen-and-paper brainstorming session with your team can help determine who you're trying to attract and what kind of experience you want. The plan should start with no more than five web pages:

  • Home page
  • Your products (or services)
  • Blog, if you want to include a content strategy
  • About Us
  • Contact Us

Collect and create the photos and words you'll need to explain your business in clear, non-ambiguous terms. Decide on a small palette of colors that look nice together and portray the same feeling as your logo. Use original, interesting, and professional photographs with good lighting. This may eat into your budget, but it's worth the money. Savvy customers can recognize stock photography a mile away.

Think about that CTA. What exactly do you want to accomplish with the website? Create some measurable goals so you can see if your website is performing well or if you need to change things up.

When it comes to website traffic, if you're not sure how to organize your site so that navigation is easy, the home page is a good place to start. This is where the digital world can benefit your design goals — you aren't limited by the length of a page. Visitors can scroll a home page to see things like:

  • An introductory video about your business
  • Overview of what you offer
  • A statement about your company's mission or more important values
  • Product features or what sets you apart
  • Success stories
  • Links to complementary services
  • Seasonal specials or other encouragement to buy
  • Contact information

Don't forget to add links to your social media in your plan, too!

Make It Mobile-Friendly

Websites look different on a laptop than on a mobile device, and this is where the backend plays a major role in making your front end look good and function well. Many older websites force the mobile user to pinch to adjust sizes and scroll longways to navigate the site.

Again, always strive to make it easy on your customer. If you find yourself getting frustrated when you pull your website up on your phone, it's time for a redesign. If you're creating a new site from scratch, make sure your templates or professional design plans translate well to a mobile screen.

Figure Out Your Keywords

Remember how you go online to search for a business? Most of the time, people just plug in what they want on a search engine like Google. They'll write a few words describing what they want and voilá, a long list of potential websites appears. Those words you type into the search bar at the top of the Google screen are known as keywords, and they're the key to getting people to find your business website.

This is the start of what's known as search engine optimization or SEO. There are companies that provide SEO services integrated into the product design, but there are free tools you can use as well.

Use a free keyword generator tool, like Ahrefs or Google Ads Keyword Planner to experiment with different words people may use in a search for your business. Make a list of the results and integrate them into your website. Modern website design includes thought and energy into how people find the site, not just what the site looks like when they get there.

Be Different From the Rest

If you haven't already, spend some time scrolling around the websites of your competitors. Jot down what you like as inspiration and don't like as lessons. What makes you different from them, and what can you write or show that proves it?

When a visitor clicks on your website, they should immediately know what your business does. They should know how to get the information they seek, and they should be able to get those answers quickly. But what's more, they should get a feel for why your company is better than any other they may be considering. Incorporate your values and brand personality into your visual design to hook potential customers right from the start.

Think About Your Customer First

Entrepreneurs are often enamored with their products or services — it's their passion, after all! But it's a mistake to plan a new website design without having a clear understanding of your customer. Your online presence should be a helpful, educational, or entertaining space for the people you want to do business with.

This is one reason why so many businesses have a blog on their website. Blogs are free, relatively short articles that are published online that share wisdom or experience with a reader. This content is a tool for deepening the relationship you have with current or future customers. But they also serve another purpose: If you include the keywords from the list you created earlier in a strategic way, Google and other search engines will find your site that much more easily.

Consider Adding Testimonials

Website design can help a business to establish a strong reputation within the industry if you incorporate testimonials on your site. Today, potential customers want to hear from their peers to check out if they're pleased with their purchase or satisfied with their service. Even if that person is a stranger, they'll consider what they have to say.

There are plenty of online review sites, such as Google My Business, Yelp!, and other industry-specific platforms. While you should be monitoring what customers say (and responding to each comment with a positive, professional reply), you can add your favorite testimonials directly on your website.

When it comes to the design, there are a few ways a testimonial could look on your website. Testimonials could be a separate page or you could include feedback from previous customers on the home page to be discovered as visitors scroll down. Testimonials could be:

  • Videos
  • First-person quotes or other short text
  • Words along with a picture of your customer
  • Links to the actual review page or screenshots of short reviews
  • “Case studies” that are longer descriptions of a customer's experience
  • From an individual or a business representative

Most importantly, these testimonials should be easy to read and clearly genuine. By using graphic design principles to lay them out on your webpage, you'll be able to build trust while encouraging others to have an experience with your business.

Website Design: A Constantly Dynamic Process

After you figure out what kind of content you want on your site and how to organize it all so that visitors can navigate it easily, be sure to integrate graphic design principles to make everything look great. Examples of this include:

  • Contrasting font or colors to make certain elements stand out
  • Balance on the page, which includes alignment of photos and text
  • Proper whitespace
  • Hierarchy, which makes it clear what you should read first on the page
  • Patterns, like having all your CTA buttons the same shape

Once you've launched the website, celebrate! It's a lot of work, but the work isn't over. The best websites must be managed and tested so that you'll know where to focus improvements next time. Create measurable goals for your online presence and gather the appropriate data so that you know if it's meeting your goals.

Working with professionals can help, especially when business owners are short on time. Scorpion Design partners with small businesses to help them grow in today's modern marketplace. To learn more about our full platform of tools, log on to our site today.

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