There are tons of free web site solutions out there. And, believe it or not, as a web design and development firm we have no problem with this. Certain businesses might be just starting out or maybe they are restructuring and money is tight. We get that. We’d much rather they have a presence than none at all. Stepping stones are sometimes needed.
However, we don’t think this is an excuse for bad design. Design still matters. The web, for the most part, is a visual experience (factor in mobile, and the visual matters even more). Users tend to develop their initial level of trust based on superficial elements, i.e. design. And how they use the site is very much determined by how it is arranged visually and how well the information is presented.
Don’t think design matters? Here are three reasons why I think it does…
- First impressions are more important than ever
- Usability and user experience is crucial
- Good design means greater control
Chances are pretty good that a user will end up on your web site or blog through some sort of search or referral. This will lead many to argue that they were driven to a web site because of its content and that content is all that matters.
Good content does increase your site’s Search Engine Page Results (or SERPs). And both valuable and useful content will produce referrals, retweets, Facebook “likes,” etc. But what happens once they get to your site?
Does the design make a difference? Sure it does. If you go to a site and it looks terrible or confusing, are you in a comfortable place? Are you feeling confident that this is the place where the content is going to deliver? Or does none of this matter to you?
Whether you realize it or not, you experience a subconscious reaction to the site before you have even read one bit of content. You have a first impression based on the overall look and feel of the site. Your design needs to support the content and goals of the site (which is something we will cover later).
The bottom line here is that your web site is an important marketing and communications piece and as such should promote your brand. The look of your site should visually convey the feelings you want the user to have about your company when visiting. It should be inviting and invoke user confidence. If the user has a bad first impression then your content is going to have to be stellar just to try and win them over.
Usability And User Experience
Once you have made that first impression, now comes the important matter of user experience. Again, some will argue that all they want is your content and if they were referred through a search they should be staring right at it.
This is true to some extent, but it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Again, what are your goals for your web site? Do you simply want more visitors? Or do you want those visitors to do something when on your site?
You want conversion; you want this user to act when given specific pieces of information. Let’s say you’re a landscaping company and you’ve written a great blog post about how to prune a rose bush. When someone comes to read that post, you want them to do something – leave a comment, look at your pruning service offerings, refer the post via a social media channel, or all of the above.
Layout, navigation and even color can play a huge role in whether or not these things happen and how often. If your design is cluttered with poorly placed ads, or your navigation is confusing, or your colors are distracting, then your design (or lack thereof) is acting as a deterrent when it comes to achieving your goals.
Consistency in layout and styles (elements like fonts, buttons, etc) will also help the user to navigate the site more easily. Anything you can do to minimize confusion or doubt on the part of the user will make the experience for them for more productive.
It can be helpful to refer back to basic design, composition rules and color theory (our post Hierarchy & Web Design might be helpful). How can you use your design to lead the eye or draw specific attention to something without being too obvious and obnoxious? How can you use a certain color to convey a certain theme like “fun,” “professional,” or “creative”?
Good Design Means Greater Control
Unlike a lot of social media pages, your web site is the place where you control the message and the experience. You can use design to lead the user through the site, gently suggesting the next page to visit or what call to action to select.
Think about it this way. You’re visiting a Facebook page, what do you see? Ads on the right side, updates from friends, notices up top, and so forth. You are constantly being pulled in all directions by elements that demand your attention.
On your web site, you control these elements and can use them to lead the user along the path you would like them to follow. Design plays a huge role in this, based on the reasons I have already pointed out like composition, color, etc.
All of these things working together with your content will make for a more controlled and targeted user experience, which will ultimately lead to higher conversion rates.
All of this needs planning and testing. You will want to work with a designer or someone who knows about web site design. You will also want to determine your goals and their order of importance. And you should be testing with some sort of stats tool, such as Google Analytics.
Design is more than just a beauty contest. Design is an integral part of your web marketing strategy – it drives user experience, goal conversion and content promotion.