Many business owners understand the importance of having a website. However, many often overlook the importance of website design and strategy.
Creativity does not always equal positive results. You can build the website of your dreams, however, it may not be the right website for your customers. It’s important to remember that your website is a very powerful tool in the business toolbox. Use this tool incorrectly, it can cause a lot of destruction. Use this tool correctly, it can produce some truly beautiful results. The key to having a successful website is using intelligent design strategies that fit your brand and lead your visitors through the site in a purposeful way, all while pleasing the search engine gods.
In this post I will discuss the importance of intelligent website design, and how it affects a business’s bottom line (or any other KPI). More specifically, I'll briefly explain and give a few examples of User Experience (UX) design, User Interface (UI) design, and Search Engine Optimized (SEO) design, and their importance for a successful business website.
How a bad website design can lose you customers and sales (UX/UI)
A good website is more than a place to show and educate consumers about the business and its products. A good website is structured in such a way that it leads visitors through the website with a goal in mind. In the design world, we call this design structure, “user flow”. User Flow is the path the visitor takes while navigating the webpage. Not only does the user flow need to be simple and intuitive for the visitors, but it should have a strategy built in for the business’s goals.
Here’s a real world example: Say a clothing store wants to clear inventory on last summer's products to make room for their new winter line. At the store they will likely position the summer clothing in high foot traffic areas, and label the clothing with bright red “ON SALE” tags. By moving the summer line closer to the customers and labeling them to stand out the store will likely turn through this inventory quickly. Though the discount definitely helps, the store would have a difficult time turning through the inventory if the clothes were tucked back in the corner.
In the above scenario moving the clothing is a basic example of real life User Experience Design (UX) hese same ideas and concepts should be applied to website design. A website without a user flow strategy is like running a race without knowing which direction the finish line is. For this reason, here at Align we always start by working with clients to define the goal and strategy of the website, then design to achieve this goal.
Another important piece of User Flow is User Interface Design (UI). UI design is the visual experience of the website for the user (this would be the red tags in the above example). For many purposes user flow can be fairly straight forward, however, UI is often tricky. Simple mistakes like wrong placement of a button, or wrong font sizes can disrupt user flow and lead to drastic impacts on key performance indicators.
For example, a popular icon design website Icon8 saw a ~50% drop in usage of their key feature because of a redesign of the feature’s interface. Their website traffic remained the same, but their KPI plummeted by changing 1 page of their website! Although the designers thought the new IU design was better, users found it confusing and began bouncing out of the site. Luckily they quickly made changes and corrected this problem.
After spending hours and hours on a project, a design might make sense to the creator but not the user. For this reason, we prototype test many of our web and app designs to get a better understanding of how the user will flow and navigate through the design. This permits us to make appropriate changes before the expensive development stage, and more importantly, before losing new and old customers.
UX/UI Bonus: Here’s a fun example of horrible UX/UI design that shows how important intelligent design is.
How website design affects your ability to reach customers through SEO
Before diving into this topic lets review how Google search results work. Like any successful business, Google wants to keep their customers happy and generate the greatest bottom line possible. Their goal is to keep searchers loyal to their search engine, so they can maximize ad revenue. Google does this by providing the “best” results possible to searchers. So when designing and creating content for a website, always consider what’s “best” for your visitors.
Understanding what Google defines as “best” for your visitors is a bit tricky, and sometimes unclear. However, through trial and error, and a few statements from Google employees, SEO specialists have been able to identify the following design factors as important for ranking on Google.
- Page Speeds - How fast it takes the page to load
- Responsive design - Mobile and desktop friendly websites
- Page and website structure - Making the page easy to read by Google
It’s unclear whether Google directly factors page speed into their search rank results. However, page load speeds directly affect a page’s bounce rate, which is a clear ranking factor in the Google algorithm. Bounce rate is a measurement of a page's ability to keep visitors engaged on the page. Google favors pages with a low bounce rate.
The reality is that us humans are impatient, and we like our information immediately. Studies show that if a page takes too long to load, we will close it down and find a new source of information - your competition. A study by Royal.Pingdom.com found that visitors are 30% more likely “bounce out” of the page that takes 5 seconds to load, over a page that takes 2 seconds.
That extra 3 seconds of load time led to a drop of 30% in page visitors. They also found that at 8 seconds, 60% of potential visitors give up and bounce out. As you could imagine, google doesn’t like this. Though, not only does slow page speed damage your ability to rank high on google via bounce rate, it also leads to a huge loss in potential sales.
If you are building your own website, plug your page url into tools such as GTmetrixGTmetrix and Google PageSpeed Insights and follow the recommendations. If you have a webmaster and want to test their work, this is also a good method.
At Align we shoot for page speeds between 2-3.5 seconds. However, sometimes it’s necessary to push this limit a bit. Some pages are likely to have essential elements or tools that will slow page loading speeds considerably. Tools such as Google’s customizable maps can really kill a page’s load speed (we found it to slow a page down by 8 seconds in some cases). However, maybe it’s essential for your webpage. When building a page, it’s important to consider the trade-offs and make adjustments if needed.
Website and page structure
In a way, you can think of website and page structure as the road map of the website. The roadways of a website (site map) need to have an intuitive structure, and the traffic signals (links and text) need to be easy to understand. If Google has a hard time understanding your website, it assumes users will have a hard time as well. Therefore, Google is not likely to rank your website.
SEO specialist Adam Clarke put’s it best “making it easier for users [to read and navigate your website] makes it easier for Google”. Here are a few tips to make it easier for Search Engine to understand and navigate your website.
“Design your site to have a clear conceptual page hierarchy” - Google
Make sure the structure and flow of your website is intuitive and makes sense. In a very non-direct way, Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst suggested sticking to the normal pyramidal structure of a website. Meaning, your website should start with a home page, then flow into the main topics, then subtopics and so on. When you layout this structure on a sitemap, it will loosely resemble a pyramid. Additionally, it’s suggested that each page has a few links in text (not only icons or buttons) to other pages within the site.
Main Menu No matter the page, it’s important to make the subject matter and navigation links very clear. It appears that google favors text based menus across the top or side of the page. Avoid using overly creative menus or Icon only menus as your site navigation.
H1 and H2 headings Use headings wisely. Make sure each page has only one H1 heading, and that the heading contains the keywords or terms you are targeting. Also, make sure to contain synonyms or related words to the topic throughout the H2 headings. This helps Google understand what the page is about.
When you step back and look at everything discussed in this post you’ll find a common element - the user. When building a website or app you must always think about the visitors and how they will use the page. How will the user navigate the page? How will they react to this button? How will this image communicate with them? How does the website communicate our brand to our visitors?
If in doubt when considering onpage SEO, always consider the user. Generally speaking, Google’s algorithm is designed to favor great content and navigation for humans. So if you find yourself in an SEO dilemma, ask yourself “What’s best for my targeted user?
This post only brushes the surface of the importance of website design, but as you can see, there is more to a website than making it fit a brand and showcasing products. When building your website, or giving instructions to your webmaster/designer make sure to always consider how your visitors will use and interact with the page. If possible do some user testing. If you have questions, or are interested in having professionals take care of your website design and SEO needs make sure to contact us! We’d love to hear from you.