The New York Times has a format for their articles that can be applied just as easily to good web design. The first two paragraphs tell you everything you need to know about the issue you are reading. The middle paragraphs detail the information presented in the first two paragraphs followed by the final paragraph, which summarize the entire article.
Good web design will tell you exactly what the site is about immediately. Then it will guide you through the detailed information and move you to a point where you become a user of the site. The analogy works when you consider the average website visitor only spends 27 seconds on each web page and the average New York Times reader only reads the first couple of paragraphs. Good web design is needed to move the visitor past the average time on page. The best way to accomplish this is to start by defining the business and user goals realizing that good web design should help users accomplish their goals.
Rules of Good Web Design
At Halyard Consulting we follow some basic rules for good web design. First, it has to be easy to read. The majority of our clients are service industry professionals like lawyers, house painters, and payroll companies. So it’s important that the design of their websites be clean and easy to read. If we had game companies or maybe artists we could work outside the box and get a little messy. Next, it must be easy to navigate. Not only is it important to make clickable links noticeable with the standard format of blue underline but the site needs to contain at least two forms of navigation. One form of navigation needs to be for the user while the second needs to be specific for the search engines. This is not to be confused with cloaking, which is when a website redirects spiders to different information than what humans see on the site.
When a search engine visits your website they are looking for a site map page. Originally, these pages were also made for human visitors and looked like the wireframe to the entire site. Now, however the site map link often leads to an .xml file, which is easier for a search engine to read. If you want to create a good web design site you’ll need to go past these two requirements and include secondary links like breadcrumbs and internal text links. Breadcrumbs show you the path you’ve taken in relation to the home page (ex. Home Page > Category > Content Page). Internal text links reside within the body of the content and reference other areas of the website. Be careful though because overly aggressive internal linking mixed with external ads should be limited to approximately five per page combined. Otherwise Google might see your site as spam and remove it from the index. Also, taking the most popular posts on your website and displaying them in the sidebar of internal pages helps to keep interested visitors reading your posts.
The final rule of good web design is the ease in which you can find specific material within the search engines. While this rule tends to overlap with good search engine optimization it’s important to note that good web design instills confidence that the site is legit. The ability to find the site in the search engines remains the responsibility of the optimizer but having the most important content above the fold and the contact information easily accessible lies in the designer’s hands.
Testing for Good Web Design
The best way to test if good web design is equally matched with powerful optimization is the five second usability test. Sit someone down and give them five seconds to review the home page, or any page you are currently working on, and ask them to point out all of the primary keywords. If your site passes the test with several individuals you are on the right path.
You can take that same test subject and ask them several more questions:
- Ask if the design enhances or detracts from the content.
- Ask the subject to go to a specific page and then ask if the website is easy to navigate.
- Ask what emotional state the design suggests.
- Ask the subject to find a certain piece of information (ex. Owner’s Bio) and ask if it was easy to find.
- Ask the subject if they feel the site is credible.
- Finally, ask if the site has value.
These key questions will help you better understand your website and how a new visitor might perceive the content.
Additional Technical Notes
Before wrapping this article up I want to add a couple of technical notes relevant to good web design.
- Search engines don’t read anything under the copyright statement so it is pointless putting anything there. In fact if you list out a bunch of keywords and link to internal pages Google could consider the site spammy.
- In the URL put the name of the blog post before the title of your website (ex. WordPress Design Knowledge Base | Halyard Consulting). In WordPress you can determine how your Permalink structure will look. I personally prefer URL/Post Name or URL/Category/Post Name.
- Never ever hard code content into a WordPress website. If you are doing this you are missing the point of using WordPress.
- Only use Flash if you absolutely must. Flash is not readable by the search engines. Yes, there are newer ways to add some information. It just breaks my heart anytime I see an entire homepage made in Flash. If you absolutely must have Flash on the page make sure you have quality copy before the fold and add footer with links.
- You can use Flickr Advanced to find Creative Commons Images, which range from attribution, whereby you can use, distribute or change up to attribution noncommercial noderivs, which requires credit of the owner and it can’t be changed in any way. If you plan to upload photos to Flickr for Creative Commons use make sure you use the Title Tags, H1, Captions, Tagging, Cross-Groupings, Comments, Sharing, Alt Text, and Optimal Linking.
- While this isn’t exactly and technical note. I find Wordle.net to be a cool fun tool that takes individual keywords and places them into good web design.
Finally, I want to use this opportunity to talk to the guy or gal that’s just starting off using WordPress. I’ve got a really important message for you. “Not everything needs to be a plugin”. There I said it. I’m sure I made a couple of people mad but hear me out. Every time you install another plugin it’s a further drain on your resources. There are some plugins that do such simple things you’d be better of just making it something you do instead of relying on a plugin to do it for you. Take for example Clean SEO Slugs. It removes words like “I” “you” “the” “this” “to” and “from” in the URL of the post. For example I have a blog post called The Tale of the 2,000% Return on Investment! WordPress starts you out with this URL /the-tale-of-the-2000-return-on-investment/. Now if I were using Clean SEO Slugs it would take out “the” “of” and “on” leaving the URL looking like this /tale-2000-return-investment/ but it used up resources to do that and it’s not even what I wanted. My point is it’s sometimes better to just go in and do the work yourself rather than bog down your server and slow down your site.
- Re-Designing Your Site? Think. (unionstreetmedia.com)
- Getting a website up and running (guardian.co.uk)
- Digital web design valencia talk about website design disasters (valenciawebdesigner.com)