Great web design is as much an art as it is a science. Here in Huntsville, Alabama we have no shortage of technical brilliance, and we’re also home to a thriving art community. But finding someone in Huntsville who possesses both incredible creativity and expert technical skill, can be a little more challenging. So where are local businesses to turn when they need to build—or update—a website that is beautiful, easy to use, and optimized for that all-important Google search ranking?
Look no further than Zellus Marketing. At Zellus, we never sacrifice functionality for visual appeal, nor visual appeal for SEO optimization. We give each element equal importance, and weave them together to design web sites that are as enjoyable to use as they are easy to find on Google.
In this post, we are happy to share advice and best practices for designing an optimal website in 2018.
- Google is transitioning to “mobile first” rankings.
For most of the Internet’s life (the last 25 or so years) people have gotten online through desktop computers and laptops. Mobile access has only been around for about the last 10 years, and it didn’t become the more popular way of going online until late 2016—barely one year ago! So it makes sense that up until now Google looked for “desktop” websites when it sent out its little bots to index them in its search database.
But now that mobile access is officially more popular than desktop access, Google is changing its ways. It is now instructing its bots to look for sites that are optimized for mobile devices, and to prioritize them over plain ol’ desktop sites in Google’s search index.
This graphic from Moz.com illustrates the basic change in the way Google’s bots will work:
What does this mean when it comes to designing your website? It means that your site better be designed to be displayed and used on mobile devices, or else your Google rankings will take a hit. No need to panic though if your site isn’t yet mobile optimized. Google is rolling out this new indexing method slowly to give everyone time to make the changes they need to. But don’t dally either… the sooner your site is mobile optimized the sooner you can edge out your competitors on Google!
- Optimize your site for conversions.
This is one of the biggest mistakes we see people make when designing their websites: they put great care into making it beautiful, ensure that it’s easy to use, and may even optimize it for Google searches. But what does it matter if your site is easy to find, if there’s nothing people can do on your site to give you business?
Unless you’re brand new to digital marketing and/or web design, you probably already know that the actions people take on your website are called “conversions.” And your website should be designed to get people to take as many of these actions as possible. The action may be as simple as signing up for your newsletter, or as significant as buying $10,000 worth of your merchandise. One may be better than the other, but all conversions are good. All conversions lead to more (potential) business!
As you build conversions into your site, make sure that they fit in well with the natural navigation flow of your website. Don’t put an important conversion on a seldom-viewed page, for example! You may need to spend some time studying the way users move through your site to know what the best pages for conversions are. Where do people enter your site? Which features are they engaging with? At what point are they leaving your site? It’s even helpful to understand who your users are: their ages, locations, interests, etc. Fortunately, Google Analytics provides powerful tools that make tracking all of this easy.
Once you feel good about the placement of your conversions, it’s important to monitor how many you’re getting. Do this by creating pages within your site that users will land on when—and only when—they complete a conversion. Then simply track these pages in Google Analytics to determine how many conversions you’re getting.
- Consider marketing automation and chatbots.
“Automation” is one of the buzziest words in the marketing industry today. But what is it, exactly? Simply put, it is a web-based platform that allows marketers to “automate” specific, repetitive marketing tasks with the help of data. They make marketing to large populations more efficient and more effective.
Automation platforms are still a relatively new tool for marketers, and incorporating automation into a website design is not usually a priority for most designers. But we strongly encourage businesses to consider it because it can dramatically speed up the time it takes to send your users through the all-important sales funnel and get those valuable conversions.
Most automation platforms still center around email marketing, but they are rapidly branching out to include robust automation elements for websites. Among the most useful of these are chatbots. As the name suggests, a chatbot is an automated program that engages in a conversation with visitors to your website. If you’ve ever visited a website and seen a window pop up with a smiling face that invited you to ask questions and “chat” with a company representative, that was likely a chatbot.
These automated programs keep potential customers engaged on your site. They are godsends for companies who want to reach consumers on a personal level but don’t have a staff of round-the-clock representatives to sit and wait for people to log on (which is about 99% of us!)
- Embrace new design trends in 2018.
There are tons of new web design trends out there. The trick is to know the difference between the good ones and the bad ones, and to know where the limits are.
A few of the trends that we’re excited to see in 2018 include:
- Bold colors
- Innovative Navigation
- Subtle animation
With any of these elements, be wary of overdoing it. You don’t want animation that serves no purpose, is distracting and continues on a perpetual loop for example, or navigation that is so “creative” it’s nearly impossible to figure out. Those things will drive people away from your site.
Here’s a website that really impressed us. It manages to combine each of these three elements into a responsive design that is high impact, fun, and functional. Plus, it’ll teach you about Polish Electronic Music. A winner all around!
If you’re having trouble knowing where to start with your website design, how about looking at some of your favorite sites and thinking about how they’re using design. Notice the colors, the layout, the fonts, the photos. Navigate through the site to see what you think works well and how functionality could be improved. There’s also no shame in using pre-designed templates as a starting point.
- Balance SEO and user experience.
Some web designers may argue that SEO and user experience can never be perfectly balanced—that one will always suffer at the expense of the other. But we at Zellus beg to differ. As we mentioned in our opening, never sacrifice usability for SEO, or vice-a-versa. And you shouldn’t either!
We recommend that you start your design with a focus on usability—clear messaging, pleasing visuals, intuitive navigation, and then optimize for search as you go. This includes using key search terms in your text, properly tagging all non-verbal elements of your site, and including as much copy as is appropriate throughout the site. If you’re a business here in Huntsville, Alabama, for example, you’ll want to be sure “Huntsville” appears in as many places throughout your site as is appropriate.
You don’t have to have a degree in web development or design to build a beautiful site that is fun, engaging and easy for people to find. You just have to be willing to think a little creatively and to perhaps learn a few basic technical skills. And of course, you must constantly monitor your site’s success, figure out what’s working and what isn’t and be willing to make changes. Like all things in life, success comes with practice. Good luck and happy designing!