If your first concern when starting the design of a new web site is “what color will my web site be?”, then this article is for you. Colors and aesthetics are an incredibly important part of the process, but they shouldn’t come into play until several other factors are considered first. In this post I’ll outline the process that you should go through when redesigning your web site.
The first items you should consider in the web design process are your goals for the site. As much as possible, these goals should be tangible and quantifiable. For instance, one obvious goal would be to increase online sales or lead generation. Other less measurable goals would be increased visibility or an improved image for your business. Just like any good marketing piece, you need to establish what you are trying to achieve first.
Target Audience and Use Cases
Once you’ve decided what you’d like your web site to accomplish, you need to figure out who you are trying to reach. Are you trying to get new customers, or provide your existing customers with some information. Your site may have several different intended audiences. One extremely effective method of focusing the content on your web site is by creating use cases. Using the target audience and goals that you’ve previously outlined, you create several imaginary users for your web site. Each user will have a need that your web site should fulfill. It often helps to give these users names so that you can identify with them better and reference them throughout the process. Here is an example I could use for my web design web site; Bob is the owner of Bob’s Hot Air Balloons (Target Audience: Small Business Owners). Bob has an existing web site but is interested in giving it a new look. Taking these factors into account I would create a design portfolio section for my web site which includes examples of my design work. On that page I would also include a link to the contact form so that if Bob likes what he sees he can take the next step and get more information (Goal: Lead Generation). Every page on your web site should fulfill a use case that combines your target audience and one of their goals.
The three steps above should guide you towards a nice outline of pages that you’re going to need and roughly what you’ll need on each page. You’ll now need to go through those pages and try to group them in a way that streamlines your site. You’ll want your users to find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible, so organizing the site with that in mind should lead to a nice slim, easy to use site. Remember to minimize the confusion and always try to guide your users towards their goals.
Of course, you’ll have to write the copy that goes on all of these pages as well, which can be an art form in and of itself. Try to approach your site from an outsiders perspective. Don’t use industry jargon or unnecessarily complicated words. Be direct and to the point. You’ll also want to keep your tone of voice in mind; is your company young and hip, or distinguished and trusted, these different tones should come out in your copy. A professional web writer could go a long way to improving your voice on the web.
By now you have a pretty good idea of what is going to be on each page of your website. Its time to start laying things out. You’ll want to start with just black and white shapes and boxes. When you are done you’ll have what is called a wireframe, a skeleton of your future site. Try to get an idea of where things will go on the page; Will your logo be on the top left, or top right? Do you want a horizontal or vertical navigation bar? What other content areas should be on every page?
Now it’s time to think about those colors and other graphical elements. Like the way you thought about your tone during the copy writing, you’ll need to think about your look at this stage. Are you a technical company with widgets and a very modern vibe, or are you dependable and solid, with a more traditional look. You should think about what kind of imagery and photography you want to use, and if you want to have custom photographs taken or use stock photography.
As the site is being developed, it is important to think about how your users are navigating your site. You want to help them reach the information they are looking for as quickly as possible with as few mistakes as possible, resulting in happiness with their experience and your business. Is there a way to add a search feature to help them find the product they are looking for? Does that form really need all the fields you are asking for? Can there be fewer steps in the checkout process? Your users will thank you and the results will show up on your bottom line.
Don’t forget to update your web site frequently. You’ll want to keep the content fresh to keep visitors coming back. Also be sure to check your stats and analytics to make sure all the goals that you thought about early on are being met, or find out what tweaks you need to make.
Your web site acts as your marketing, sales, lead generation, store and product fulfillment for your clients. By following the process outlined above you can’t help but give this critical portion of your business the thought and preparation it needs.