So your business has a website — or you’re in need of one for your brand new venture. Web design can be an overwhelming process, so we’ve spoken to a few web designers who told us what you need to have on your site … and what you can probably do without (like crazy Flash animation).
The first thing you must do is secure a good, catchy URL. Make sure it makes sense for your business, doesn’t have quirky spelling and is available on social platforms, too. Panabee can help you get creative if your business name is taken, and Name Vine is a great resource for seeing what’s available.
Once you’ve set up your domain, it’s time to build out the site and make some big decisions. Here are 10 must-haves for your website that will ensure your customers have a positive experience on the site, improve your company’s digital footprint and increase engagement with your brand.
1. A Logical Roadmap
Sure, a website should be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s more important for it to be useful. Before you even pick a server or type an HTML tag, you should map out how you’d like the website to work. This is important both for user experience and for SEO, since Google considers the content and structure of a site when it ranks for search. So, map out and mock up a design for the site — what designers call “wireframing” — and run it by a few friends to make sure it makes sense and is intuitive. “If they can understand the logic, so will the people visiting your website … and Google bots when ranking it!” says Pete Mills of web design consultancy Calls9.
2. Crucial Business Information
“The biggest failure that people have is that they try to build the website they want, not necessarily the website they need,” says designer Josh Frankel. Take a restaurant, for example — Frankel says “everyone wants music and this giant ‘about’ page,” but they neglect the basic things like the menu, contact information and directions.
Keep text to a minimum when it comes to your mission statement, because you should be writing things so people can skim — we all have short attention spans. One helpful tip for conveying your mission is to compare your business to something else, like how MeUndies.comis marketed as “Warby Parker for undies” to align itself with the eyewear manufacturer’s keen curation and by-mail convenience. Don’t underestimate brevity — one or two sentences can be really powerful, says Frankel.
Depending on your business, you should have a few things on your website that fall into the realm of “information.” We know restaurants need a menu and a list of locations (ideally with directions or a map), but every industry has its necessary items. If you’re an etailer, you need product images (and they need to be good pictures). If you work in the service industry and have a business that relies heavily on customer service and referrals, put some testimonials on your site. For example, a wedding planner could have one of her recent brides write about her experience with the business. A web designer should include screenshots or link out to previous work. A hair salon could have client testimonials about a stylist’s skills and promptness. Tailor your site so that it offers the information users are likely to be looking for.
3. Contact Information
We can’t stress enough that most crucial business detail is contact information— which is why it has its own section. Mills exclaims, “How many times do you visit a website and think ‘how hard is to contact this company?’ Have a number, email, address and a contact form easily accessible and visible,” he says. It makes a difference because there’s nothing more frustrating than being unable to get in touch with a needed business or service.
When you put an email address or a phone number on the site, don’t upload this information as part of an image — the number or address should be able to be clicked on or copied right from the site in order to place the call or send an email conveniently and quickly. Most smartphones these days have the ability to do “click to call” on the web, so make the process as easy as possible for users.
Don’t want your phone ringing off the hook? Just use an email address, but be sure you answer emails in a timely manner. And please, get an email address for your domain. Using Gmail — or worse, an AOL email address — isn’t professional, and that’s what you’re striving to be. If you like Gmail’s interface, you can use Google Apps to set up custom email addresses through Gmail — it’s free for up to 10 email addresses.
4. Clear Navigation
A map is useless without a legend and a website is useless without clear navigation. Make sure you use easy-to-understand and logical names for the various pages of your site — contact, about, FAQ, etc. Being clever or cryptic will just be a turnoff for users.
When developing your navigation strategy, you should consider a call to action. What is it that you want people to do on your site? Place an order? Email for a quote? Become a member? Come to your brick-and-mortar store? Call to speak with a customer service rep? Make your goals clear and obvious.
“Put yourself in the shoes of who’s coming to your site,” says Frankel. “What are they trying to get done? Think about the goal of your potential customer.” Pepper the site with action items to help customer easily do what you want them to do. Birchbox has done a good job of this, encouraging users to “learn more” and directing them to claim a gifted Birchbox, since it’s a popular gift item and giftees are likely to be first-time visitors.
If you’re selling anything online, you need to put some effort into securing your site with an SSL certificate. The SSL will encrypt communications between you and your clients (i.e. a credit card number, Social Security number), which will allay their fears of providing such information, since there’s so much identity theft on the web. VeriSign, TrustE, Entrust and GeoTrust are good options to explore.
6. Social Media Integration
Twitter. Facebook. Tumblr. YouTube. Pinterest. Google+. LinkedIn. Instagram. Foursquare. There are a lot of social platforms out there, and you should promote your presence on them on your website, because social media is critical part of marketing your business. Though not a traditional business, digital savvy Team Coco does a great job promoting its many social channels on the website.
Integrating these platforms into your website will help boost your SEO, improve your business’ footprint on the social web and build your following across numerous social platforms. Is it worth it to maintain a presence on so many social platforms? Yes — as long as you actually maintainyour content, you’ll keep your brand top-of-mind and keep users engaged. “Social media is not going to leave us anytime soon and its worth the investment in time — it does make a difference,” says Mills.
7. A Mobile-Ready Version
Smartphones and tablets are driving an increasing amount of web traffic, and the numbers are only going to grow as mobile devices become cheaper and more mainstream. Andy Chu, director of Bing for Mobile, says 70% of task completion happens within one hour on mobile sites, meaning that people are often browsing on the web with intent — they’re looking to do something, buy something or go somewhere. If someone searches for a restaurant on his smartphone, he’s likely to eat at that restaurant within the hour, says Chu. So your website better be readable on handheld devices.
“Until two years ago, designing for the web meant designing for a computer, now it means designing for anything with an internet connection,” says Frankel, referring to laptops, tablets and smartphones, all of which have different screen sizes. So, how can you do it? Responsive design.
Responsive website design enables you to use fluid widths, so that your website layout will adapt to the screen on which it’s being browsed. You can enter HTML code so that your sidebar takes up, say 20% of the screen width, and the remaining 80% is reserved for the body of your website. Layouts are adjustable and images are scalable to make for a better web experience on myriad devices. Here are examples of sites with responsive design, so you can see for yourself.
Do you simply want to focus on developing a mobile website? You can use Mobify and other tools to create a mobile version of your website.
People have a lot of questions. As you hear concerns from customers and receive feedback via email, gather up the most frequently asked questions into a list and offer clear, concise answers. Questions often revolve around materials and ingredients used (for allergy reasons), shipping information, company history, sizing (for apparel brands) and cancellation or return policies.
9. Good Hosting
Don’t mess around with hosting. “You need your site on a mainstream provider, and it costs a handful of dollars every month to have 24/7 technical assistance,” says Mills.
Not having good hosting can cost you in many ways. A slow site is frustrating, one that fails to load is obnoxious and both could turn off customers. But beyond annoying your users and increasing your bounce rate, poor hosting can also affect your rank in search engines, since many search engine algorithms detect webpage loading speed, says Malakai Whitston of design blog WebDesignFan.
10. Here’s a Curveball — Some Features You Don’tNeed
Don’t underestimate the power of simplicity. Feel free to forgo these things on your website:
Anything that autoplays, whether it’s music or a video. “It’s not something you want to do to somebody,” says Frankel.
Extraneous information and media — it’ll only slow down the page’s loading time.