When designing a website, there are a few things you should generally include, regardless of business industry or website style. These are not the elements or functionality that vary from website to website, but the building blocks that most modern websites are founded upon. For me, the main must-haves on a website are:
This is for brand awareness. Certain companies are known for their logos and it puts the viewer at ease, knowing they’re on the correct site because they recognise the logo. When designing a website, I tend to add a centralised logo or position it in the top left, as this is the first place our eyes are naturally drawn.
A menu is a must, as you want visitors to be able to navigate through your site easily. Make sure you maintain this menu to ensure that all your menu tabs go to a live page, not a 404 error. A menu generally works best horizontally, as people read left to right, so bear this in mind if you’re considering a menu going down the left-hand side. Having a sub menu or area of categories in a sidebar is fine as it is a secondary call to action area, but ideally the main menu should be the go-to place for your viewers to navigate your website.
Most modern sites tend to have these and they’re a good visual point on the website. It’s also a great area to include a call-to-action for other areas of the site, for example, an e-commerce site may include a current promotion or highlight an individual product in the slider. The key to slideshows is to not have too many, as no one will ever sit and watch all your slides going through, so make sure that the length of time between each slide is long enough for the viewer to see the information but not so long that they think it’s just a static image.
Call-to-action buttons are designed to catch your viewer’s eye and encourage them to click through, this can be something as simple as “Buy Now” or “Read More”. These need to be in prime positions on the website, usually at the top of the home page. Slideshow images should always have call-to-actions to capitalise on the interest of a visitor, however other call-to-actions throughout the website will enable viewers to perform key actions such as signing up to a newsletter or following you on Twitter.
Your home page needs to be interactive, include relevant information and a clear call-to-action. Make your home page different to other pages, so the viewer knows they’re at the beginning of your site and not midway through. Don’t ever have a holding style page as your front page, e.g. a “Click Here to Enter Site” button is basically the same having a front door on your site; it creates a barrier. Make your home page as engaging and welcoming as possible, after all, most of the time it’s your first impression.
You don’t have to go over the top with social media, but having a social media footprint is very important for SEO and it’s important that you engage with social media users through your website. Having social media interaction buttons, e.g. “Share This” on blog posts or the option to ‘pin’ images, increases the chance of gaining new traffic. If someone likes your content, give them every opportunity to share it and recommend it to others, this is free advertising!
When it comes down to designing bespoke social media icons, be careful that they work with the site and that they’re not going to be overlooked. Colour changes can sometimes be risky as viewers are used to seeing the Facebook blue and Pinterest red for example.
This is important. If a viewer has a question or needs to contact you, all the information should be within one page; if people are looking for it but can’t find it, they will just leave and go to another site. As a designer, I recommend adding a form so a viewer has an easy and convenient way to contact you. A good tip is to add a ‘Thank you’ page or a pop up saying “Thanks for your enquiry” so the viewer knows their message has been successfully sent.
If a visitor does not enter one of the mandatory fields correctly, you need to make sure you have clear validation in place to alert them to the fact that they’ve inputted some data incorrectly, make sure it stands out on the page and the visitor is not searching for where they have gone wrong. There is nothing worse than frustrating a potential lead and driving them away from your site with a confusing or difficult contact form.
Blogs are a great option to aid with SEO as you can add fresh new content on a regular basis which helps with your rankings. When designing a blog page, keep it consistent with the website structure but have a slightly different style to the other pages. Often blog posts will be written in a different style and include more images then the main content of your site. An important thing to consider with including a blog on your website is that it needs to be maintained and updated regularly, there is nothing more off-putting than a stagnant blog. It could give the impression that your site is no longer active and this may reflect poorly on the business as a whole.