I’m often asked questions about web design by friends, family and co-workers. A lot of these questions seem simple to someone who works in web design but can be overlooked by people who work in other areas, or have limited interaction with the internet. So, I thought I’d kick off my blog with a few points about web design that you may find helpful.

People prefer photos over cartoon images

There is nothing wrong with cartoon images if they are used in the correct situation. If you are trying to convey an important message, or trying to grab someone’s attention, a real photo is your best option. When I say ‘real photo’, I mean a real photo with real people in a genuine situation. Not a stock photo purchased from a website containing models. Your visitors will develop a more genuine connection with your website if they feel welcome. Stock photos tend to have a clinical feel to them, and can often be overused.

Your Website should be designed so it is easy to maintain and remain relevant over time

Web design technologies and languages change over time. Something that is ground breaking today will be ‘old hat’ next month. Your website will need to change over time to ensure it remains relevant to your purposes. Any changes to your website need to be completed as quickly and easily as possible to reduce costs and downtime. It doesn’t matter how awesome your website looks, if it doesn’t work – It doesn’t work!

Your website should be re-evaluated every two years

Speaking of updating your website, how often should it be done? At least every two years. Your website will have its own needs and update schedule. An online fashion store would be updated every time the fashion seasons change. A tradesman’s website would be updated every time their prices change. But both of those websites would need to have updates performed to ensure they continue to function and remain compliant with industry standards.

Should I use a Website Template?

The short answer is NO! Most small business owners have a limited cash flow when they first open their business. This lack of available funds forces them to employ someone to build a website from a template, or purchase a website from one of those online website template companies. Templates are for websites that just need to convey a simple message such as an event or fund raiser, a teenager’s fan site or a home cook’s recipe blog. Small business owners should never use a website template.
Your website is a reflection of your business. In most cases it will be the first impression that you make on a potential client. Do you want to look like every other business in your industry, or do you want to stand out from the pack?

I could continue with topics such as bloated code, slow page load speeds, ‘not future proof’, higher costs over time etc, but I think you get the hint already.

Your website’s code should help it to appeal and be found by search engines.

Your website has been professionally design, coded and implemented. It looks fantastic, the greatest, most impressive website on the internet. But you don’t seem to be getting any visitors. The reason for this is simple. Google, just like all the other search engines, care very little about how pretty your site is. They are looking at how well designed it is in terms of relevance, reliability, usability and originality. Your website needs to stand out not just in aesthetics but also its content. Does your heading give me an indication of what your site contains? How does your site relate to the keywords I searched for? How reliable is your website, do other people use it?
The other things they look for are called ‘black hat practices’, and in short, these are tricks that are used to make your website stand out in search results. Sounds good, sorry search engines see it as cheating and will penalize your site for it, possibly even eliminating your presence in any search.

A good website design will usually range between $500 – $5000

Sounds expensive? Consider the number of hours and collective brainpower that go into developing a website and the languages and technologies involved. Someone has to design your website, someone has to research your subject matter, someone has to develop an SEO strategy for your site, someone has to test the functionality of your site, and someone has to order the pizza and make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. The more involved your website is, the more work will need to go into its development, there may even be added costs such as licensing fees for certain advanced features. Yes it is possible to get a cheaper website, perhaps you can find a uni student who will design a website at reduced rates to develop their portfolio, or maybe a family member can do it for you. Remember the golden rule in design “You get what you pay for!”

There is a difference between responsive and mobile web design

Have you ever noticed the fairies that manipulate a website into a usable size when you view it on your touch pad or Smartphone? No? Seriously? Good. Most people think that conversion is something their phone is ‘just good at’. Nope, it’s not the phone, it’s something the website designer did. If the designer created a mobile design, they have created a separate, limited version of the main website expressly for the use on smaller devices such as phones. If the majority of your site visitors are using your site on a smaller screen, your main website design is largely wasted. Fear not friends, a smart website designer will give you a responsive website design. A responsive design layout changes depending on the size of the screen it is viewed on without changing or eliminating any features. So your visitors who are using an iPhone will see the same website as Android users or desktop users. And as an added bonus, responsive websites will continue to change with changes in screen sizes in future, whereas mobile usually will not. Sorry no steak knives.

A professional web design takes time

Web designers have a rule “You can have good, you can have it cheap or you can have it next Tuesday. Pick two”. Your web designer needs to design your site, code your site, test it across multiple browsers, validate it against programming standards, and then test it all one last time. So if you keep your web designer informed, paid an agreeable sum of money and give them a little time to work, they will give you an amazing website that will be exactly what you are looking for. And most importantly ensure you are reachable, like small children web designers get grumpy if they don’t get attention when they want it, and this can lead to delays in your project.

You are now and always will be Google’s slave.

Google commands around 88.8% of the global web search market. Their closest competitor, Bing, has a massive 4.2%, no it’s not a typo, I checked, Bing only has 4.2%. So if you want to be successful online you best be doing whatever it is that Google tells you to. SEO (three letters representing three big words that don’t make much sense to most people) is used to ensure that your website is playing by Google’s rules and gets indexed and stored successfully online in a timely fashion. This is an important feature of any web design so make sure your web designer discusses this with you. You may need to pay extra for this service to be performed on your site but it is well worth the cost.