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The essentials of good web design

Your digital marketing has finally paid off — customers are clicking through on your CTAs, your organic traffic has increased, and people are exploring your website. Now what?

If your website has a sound design, you’ll secure the attention of your audience and make the impressions, contacts and sales that you’re looking for. But if your website is poorly designed, you can undo all the hard work getting people there.

Successful web design isn’t just about looking good. In fact, websites with high quality content and poor design still get strong traffic and results. You need to understand how people interact with websites and deliver on their expectations.


Design for Skimming

When someone visits your site, they aren’t reading your pages like a book or going through your links in a linear order. Instead of looking at everything closely, users skim and move to the first thing that seems like what they’re looking for. Your content should be written for the web, not like a print ad or a case study.

Each page should be designed with skimming in mind. There should be a few visual anchors to move the user to where they need to go, but no more than necessary. The eye is attracted to patterns, edges, and motion, but it is also easily distracted. For example, a few large words will suffice to capture attention, but a page packed with images, headers, and buttons will try the user’s patience and send them on their way.
Your writing should be clear and to the point. Talk business, not large concepts.

Users will scan sentences instead of reading them in order, so break up text with bold and italics, and keep lines to an optimal reading length of 50-80 characters. Too many text formats will be visually confusing. A good rule of thumb is to use up to three typefaces and three sizes of text.

With skimming in mind, blank space is your friend. Let your content breathe. This will allow the user to glance over the page and easily find what they’re looking for.

Keep Things Clear and Simple

Users want to find what they are looking for fast, and they don’t want to have to think too hard about it. If they follow a link and the new page doesn’t meet their expectations, they’ll go back and skim again. In other words, users operate on intuition. Your job as a web designer is to eliminate as many questions for the user as possible.

It should be immediately apparent what each page is about. Key information, such as pricing and service or product details, should be obvious both visually and in content. If a user is looking for the pricing information on a service, don’t hide the information behind a sign up or in the fine print.

Any barriers to finding what they want can turn a user away. Don’t make a user sign up with their email or fill out a form to access information or a demo. Signing up with an email is a commitment that users don’t want to make before they’ve tried out the service.

Each page should meet clear expectations. Users want to feel in control of their experience, and will leave if they feel misled. Links should say what they do, so ditch vague language like “explore” and “find out more” for descriptions like “overview of all products”. It’s also better to not link into a new window, as that prevents the user from being able to easily click back, and they want to be able to easily control their navigation.

To sum up, in good web design utility comes first and less is more. Get to the point and take out all the guesswork so users can find what they’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to use a design similar to other websites, as familiar design conventions help the user get to the content they want. And lastly, be sure to test often. Web Design isn’t a set-it and forget it situation, but a dynamic real-time gauge of how your prospects engage with you and hopefully become customers.

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