Great Web Design is More Than Just Pretty Pixels

Many users hit the back button within seconds of loading a web page, so it’s no surprise that lots of websites are primarily designed to look nice. Humans are inherently visual creatures, but that doesn’t mean that users ignore poor design just because it looks pretty. An ugly website that works great might turn away most visitors, but a pretty website that doesn’t work well won’t keep anyone around. To create a successful website, it’s critical to not just make it look good, but also ensure that it’s easy to use, fast, secure, and in compliance with every applicable law.

Usability

Users probably landed on your website for a reason. Maybe they were interested in purchasing your product; maybe they needed to call your customer support. Regardless, your website should make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for. Navigation should be intuitive, clear, and efficient so that visitors don’t get frustrated and leave. If you want to encourage visitors to do something (like sign up for your service), include a clear call to action on the relevant pages.

Your site has to work well on every device a potential customer might be using. Mobile-friendliness is a basic expectation in today’s world. Accessibility and internationalization aren’t nearly as hard as they sound, and they make a huge difference for users who aren’t from your country and those with disabilities.

Professionalism is also a big part of usability. Not proofreading content is a surefire way to lose anyone who reads carefully. Broken links are a more subtle issue, but they can tarnish your reputation and users’ trust when a link goes somewhere unexpected. Periodically clicking every single link on your website is a waste of time, so services like Dr. Link Check make it easy to avoid giving visitors an unwelcome surprise.

Searchability

Even the most easy-to-use website won’t attract any customers if it isn’t ranked highly by search engines. Following basic SEO guidelines will significantly boost the number of hits your site receives. Simple tweaks like making sure to implement <meta> tags on every page, using expressive <title> elements, and putting descriptive text in alt attributes on images makes it much easier for search engines to index and rank your pages.

Instead of manually adjusting the HTML on every page, your CMS or static site generator should offer some configuration options to automate these fixes. Additionally, a machine-readable XML sitemap is an easy automated addition that will help crawlers find every page you host on your site.

Performance

People are impatient when it comes to waiting around for web pages to load. Google found that 53% of visitors left when a page took more than three seconds to load. Making sure your website is fast (especially on mobile devices and connections) is an important and relatively easy way to significantly reduce the number of people who hit the back button before seeing any content.

Assets like images, JavaScript, and CSS files are some of the largest files your visitors will have to load from your site. In the case of images, be sure to downsize and compress them appropriately. For scripts and stylesheets, don’t forget to minify them. If page load times are still too high, try using a CDN, which will cache these large files near your users. Also, a frequently forgotten source of slow load times, if you’re using a CMS like WordPress, is unnecessary plugins. Aside from resulting in longer render times, plugins can sometimes inject additional JavaScript and CSS that your users have to download.

Security

Not using HTTPS is like publicly advertising that you don’t wear a seatbelt: it’s risky, it looks bad, and it doesn’t give you any benefits. Search engines will rank HTTP-only pages lower than sites that allow secure connections. More importantly, you’re needlessly risking the security of your users’ data and most likely violating regulations like the GDPR.

If your site has any kind of login functionality, be sure to treat user data carefully. Use strong hashing functions to prevent attackers from stealing passwords if your server is compromised. Regardless of what your site does, follow security best practices on your server: use strong passwords, update server software frequently (and plugins, if applicable), use a correctly-configured firewall, and limit remote access over SSH and similar protocols.

Legal Requirements

It might be easy to forget about legal and compliance issues when your business is just getting off the ground, but a single violation could cost you a ton of time and money. Be sure to write a privacy policy that complies with regulations like the GDPR and CCPA for customers in the EU and California, and store user data appropriately. It’s far cheaper to get a lawyer involved while writing a privacy policy than it is to defend yourself from a lawsuit. As much as they are a nuisance, cookie consent messages are a requirement in many locations and are relatively easy to implement. Last but not least, be sure to adequately credit photographers and other content producers to avoid copyright hassles in the future.

Marketing Strategy

Not every lead comes from a Google search. Social media marketing is especially important today, and it’s used by most successful sites to attract customers. Regardless of where it’s shared, good content marketing is also an important tool in your toolbox. Instead of just promoting your service, content marketing like articles and videos also offer something of value to viewers. After learning something useful, they will be interested in checking out your product. You can use A/B testing, where different visitors will be given different content, to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing or any other element of your website.

Sometimes, however, you do need to resort to direct advertising. Marketing tools like Google AdWords let you put your ads right where your most interested customers are already looking.

Maintenance and Monitoring

An unreliable or broken site is certainly a source of frustration for visitors. Too many site owners fail to implement a good backup policy, aren’t immediately notified when their site goes down, and don’t keep everything up-to-date and secure. Cloud providers like AWS and GCP offer easy ways to save snapshots of your servers, preventing you from losing everything if something goes haywire. Try a service like UptimeRobot to get a message as soon as your site goes down. You don’t want to find out that your site doesn’t work when customers start calling you.

Conclusion

As much as a good visual design is an important part of creating a successful website, everything under the skin is equally important. Keeping your site easy to find and use, fast and secure, and in compliance with regulations is less obvious than a pretty façade, but these things are just as important if you want to retain your customers and attract new ones.


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