What’s more important? The content or the look? The amount of hits or the navigation? When assessing the success of a site, should we focus on the amount of emails and hits? The amount of comments on our blog posts? Unique visitors or return visitors? Why are some sites, seemingly perfectly assembled, with brilliant content not rendering any hits when other sites without bells and whistles are seeing all the success?

In all honesty, like any other digital marketing platform, there can be some random hit-or-miss factors. Just like there is sometimes no explaining why certain videos go viral on YouTube or Facebook…

What we do at Sage Tree is look at a lot of websites, we know what we like, and we certainly know what we dislike! Although we didn’t exactly call those items dislikes, we were rather polite and hinted at what a website shouldn’t do. It took us a long time to turn things around and come full circle with the more obvious: rather than define what a website shouldn’t be, let’s be direct and address what it should be!

DESIGN

Let’s face it. Yesterday’s websites would not survive in today’s world. Take for example a screenshot archived with the WayBack Machine pulled from 1999. Would YOU accept your bank’s online services to look like this? Or would you give it a quick glance and quickly judge them for lacking professionalism? We expect a certain quality from a national banking system.

The core elements of design are:

  1. Color scheme: find contrasting colors within a similar palette that blend with your logo.
  2. Font package: don’t overdo it! Pick fonts that are easy to read, and do avoid the trendy fonts since they come and go.
  3. White space: a layout needs to breathe. Think shopping experience: do you prefer the cluttered tendency of a Ross or a structured layout of clothing usually found at Macy’s?
  4. Eye direction: pull the eye on a landing spot in the page, and then guide the glance to where you want it to go. Ideally the eye will either form a slow circle around the page, or land on a CTA inviting the viewer to click on.
  5. Images: people need eye candy. It’s in our nature. Even a scientific document needs something visual to support it.
  6. Consistency: keep the same look and feel consistent from one page to the next!

CLEAR DIRECTION AND INTENT

Here’s what we don’t want: to land on a page and wonder what it’s about. Make it clear to your visitors what you want them to do. This is accomplished via a clear call-to-action (CTA). What is a great CTA?

  1. Read our blog: the beauty of this one is the first thing you do with your visitors is offer them something free. And no, you don’t have to call it a blog, more on that in the next section.
  2. Discover our services: this is the basics of what you can offer your visitors to make their lives a little better. In your services, answer all the “why pick us” questions making you stand out among the competition.
  3. Read our reviews: your company boasts some of the best reviews, and your clients are happy with your services. Brag about it – and share it openly! Consumers trust peer recommendations 92% of the time.
  4. Join our club: nothing excites people more than the sense of exclusivity. Offer incentives for those who sign up to your newsletter, or join your special club. Give sneak-peeks and pre-sales. Make it all about your end-user, and make them a part of the family with great membership benefits.
  5. Contact us: not only should your primary contact information be easily and readily available, but make it a CTA. The majority of times people look up a site is to get the contact information, don’t turn that into a treasure hunt with multiple clicks. Give people the chance to directly access a real human.

BLOG

Blah-blah-blogs are so much more than just daily ramblings. Many do not like the title “blog,” and that’s ok. The good news is you can call it whatever you like! Whether it’s news, tips, resources or even cookie jar: do create a blog, and contribute to it at least once per week. It’s harder than it looks because it requires a minimum of research and planning. But… it’s easier than you may believe because you are already poised to becoming the best blogger since you are an industry leader in your field. Congratulations!

Top 3 reasons to have a blog:

  1. To give your visitors a gift: before asking them to buy your products and services, or to join your membership — give them something free. And what’s better than through your tips and ressources? The beauty of offering all this wealth of information at no cost is that it establishes you as a leading expert in your industry. You have the knowledge, share it.
  2. For better SEO: Google loves fresh content, and forgets about websites that do not keep new updates and new content. By posting at least once a week you keep your site fresh and alive in Google’s eyes. Your blog is your lifeline for searches.
  3. To position yourself as an industry leader: as mentioned in offering your knowledge as a gift, people will return to your blog for more insights and inspiration. They will share your content with their friends on Facebook. Post with regularity, build your blog to a point where your readers come to expect new information every week.

Now that you know why, find out how to write the bestest blog post here!

RESPONSIVE AND MOBILE FRIENDLY

We won’t debate on the amount of mobile users vs. visits from a computer. We can however be very clear on the need to offer a responsive design and how essential it is that your site be easily viewed from any device.

This is crucial. Test your site on your smartphone, borrow one from a friend so you can view it from either a Droid or an iPhone. Also make sure to test your site on a tablet. Look at it horizontally and vertically. Can you access all the menu items? Can you fill in the online forms from a phone? Can you click on your phone number and have it launch your phone app with auto-dial? Can you click on the address, and also have that launch an app giving viewers directions to your place of business?

We have a great blog post on what you need to know about Google’s modified algorithms for going mobile.

NAVIGATION

We find a simple menu is key. And by simple we mean fits on one line with a clear navigation without endless dropdown tabs. Make sure your site is well organized and structured: the last thing we want is a user getting lost in a confusing trail of breadcrumbs. Try to keep your top menu items to a minimum of 5-8 links. Oftentimes basic pages within the menu structure can turn into blog posts helping keep the navigation clutter to a minimum. Offering a full site search tab makes it easier to find content not directly linked in your menu.

CORE ELEMENTS IN THE FOOTER

The footer is the bottom section of the website. The main items from the menu can be repeated in the footer, included any pages that fall under the “fine print” category such as privacy policies and copyright information. Do repeat the essentials such as the contact information in the footer. If your business relies on a physical location, insert a small map helping visitors find you. And of course, you guessed it: the contact information and the map should be direct clickable links on a mobile device!

TIPS:

  1. Test your website on different devices, browsers and OS.
  2. Test each link to make sure they are still active.
  3. Submit your site for an anonymous user testing. It’s free and gives great insights.
  4. Being found on Google does not mean it’s royalty free: for great high-resolution images, we recommend Unsplash.
  5. Stick to Google fonts: they’re free and will work on every device & browser.
  6. Do not. Under any circumstance. Use Flash. Ever.
  7. Same thing goes for Comic Sans Serif font. Never. Ever.