I start with the idea that you'd like your site to get results. So how do we get there? The following article explains my approach to successful site design. Its based on proven advice that you can find scattered around the web. These are the important and necessary basics to creating a site that will serve its owner in a positive way. I know it's long but I've purposely left out other aspects for the sake of brevity. Feel free to skip to whatever section you like, but if your seriously considering a web site, don't skip "The Rules." (ugh! more rules!)
Article Navigation »
First define your sites purpose and develop a marketing strategy. Decide who you want your web site to attract before you design. This step dictates how the site will be laid out and presented to potential clients. This step also defines how to make the site attractive to the search engines.
All to often this rule isn't defined and the ship sails: rudderless.
Provide useful content that’s relevant to the searcher for the search terms you are trying to target. Content is king: to be strong, you'll need to provide more than your competition.
Design a user-friendly site. Lay out the site in a way that users are already habituated to. Put the navigation where they expect to find it. Keep it simple and clean. Keep the sub pages consistent. People scan sites for information instead of reading line by line, so make the main subject matter easy to identify. Don’t confuse your audience, instead make their visit easy and rewarding.
Design a site that looks appropriate to the product you're marketing. Hire a good graphic designer if you want a slick image. A recent study discovered that people make up their mind about a site in just eight tenths of a second. Good graphic design creates a good first and lasting impression. My local choice: Chuck at Moonlight Graphics.
Make it load fast. With broadband access the size constraints in web design have partially come off. Although you can feature full-page graphics and even video, doing so incorrectly can have a very negative impact on your site. According to Google, most users become annoyed after just three seconds. Other studies show that after 15 seconds you've lost almost 100% of your visitors! There’s no reason why your main home page should take longer than 10 seconds to completely load on the average connection with a clean browser cache.. Remember that 'back button' is always there, and after 10 seconds, people start to use it- great for your competition.
Study after study confirms this simple fact: People want information from the Internet that’s easy to find, and they want it fast!
These design practices will give you the best chance for success on the web. They are sound and simple principles, however, they can be difficult to implement depending on your goals and where your product fits into the greater World Wide Web market.
With the application of these design practices you can expect increased traffic. While having traffic is vital to success, you still won't be able to sell snow cones to Eskimos. If you have a real product with a good market the reward can be impressive.
These design principals are time proven and work. You shouldn't skip any of them if you want results. If you own a business, you should expect your site to become your most cost effective form of advertising. Site maintenance is cheaper than most forms of advertising, and although your initial set-up may seem expensive, if done right, it will garner excellent returns. This reward will only get better as the under 30 crowd grows older- they already collect the bulk of their purchase information not by TV or newspaper, but by.. you guessed it- the Internet.
These design practices are nothing new. You can find article after article expressing the same principals. They're just the basics and you could do more. Depending on your goals and expectations they could also be ignored all together. An example of this would be an artist who just wants an online portfolio. My feeling is that even if all you want is a simple web presence, taking a few steps to gain a greater audience is worth the effort. If your trying to make sales, then by all means, analyze the market and optimize your site to rank well for your product(s).
Even the best design work will be all for not unless you give the search engines what they're looking for.
Having a web site, and making it productive, depends on getting your pages to rank well with the major search engines. There are many search engines, but for the most part, you only need to concern yourself with the big three (Goggle, Yahoo, MSN/Bing). They cover about 80% of the search market.
Search engines like Goggle (48% of all web searches) have recently become particularly picky about what makes a site worthy of a high ranking. Most new sites are now believed to be “sand-boxed” off the first few pages until they have real content and have been around longer than a year. There are also all kinds of rules to follow so you don’t get de-ranked or worse, de-listed. To make matters worse, the rules change and differ from one search engine to the next. To get and keep a top slot requires that you analyze the competition and exploit their weaknesses. It also requires interlinking or cross-linking with other sites, but even the impact and method of this practice has changed recently.
Ranking is a cryptic endeavor, part art, part science. It takes study and analysis to pin it down. It requires patience and regular analysis to reach and keep a top position. There are tools that make this easier, and rest assured, I use them, but there’s still no good tool for old-fashioned detective work and human analysis.
This is certain: People choose in the top five search results most of the time and only about ten percent bother to click to the second page. Therefore, if your page is located on the third page for your target keywords, some say you don't even exist. Without high search listings, no matter how good your product or site is, you won't generate the visits that translate into sales.
Additionally, make sure your site is built using valid markup. "What's that?" you say- it's the programming code behind the page your reading right now. The World Wide Web Conference (the people who set the standards for the web) have been encouraging designers to comply with their specifications. We designers (myself included) have been guilty of sloppy and incorrect markup that fortunately the browser software in the past has handled quite well.
With the push towards standards compliance comes the risk that substandard and depreciated design techniques may have a rough future. Invalid markup causes unpredictable results on different computers and browsers. Because browser manufacturers use the standards to develop their software, standards compliant sites are far more universal and 'future proof'. If you have a web site or are considering another designers services you might want to check their work at the W3C Validator Service.
We are also being asked to bring our sites into a form that separates the style from the content. It means separating the look of the site from the text on the page. This method preserves the original layout of the document so its elements remain intact, semantically speaking. A blind person using a screen reader can understand a page designed in this manner because it reads and is ordered just like any other document. This is now standard at all federal and most states public web sites.
Another benefit of this design technique is that it is easier to maintain. Changes can be made site-wide with a simple change to one file. That translates into lower site maintenance costs. It's also more efficient, resulting in quicker page-loads. Since it doesn't rely on java scripting (many people block this feature for security reasons) your site will function correctly for your 'cautious' users as well.
While obsolete design practices and invalid markup make getting at the real text content on the page confusing or impossible for the disabled, it also can place keywords you are trying to target further down the page. This negatively affects search rank and might make it impossible for search engines to even index your pages correctly at all.
All my designs are guaranteed for valid markup. When new browsers come out, my sites should keep displaying correctly. In addition, all new sites are made to conform to ADA standards and are easy for people with disabilities; it's a common courtesy that has definite benefits.
My goal is to build sites that look sharp, load fast, are simple to navigate, validate, are friendly to people with disabilities and most importantly, bring targeted visitors to you.
If you want to profit from the web, then a holistic design approach is, in my opinion, your only option.
How much will it cost to build a web site? Unfortunately there is no “one” formula that can cover all the variables listed above. I know not everyone has the budget to do everything, and as you would expect, a large polished site with good graphic design and search optimization will cost several times more than a simple web presence.
Because each job has its own unique challenges I find it more appropriate to charge a flat fee of $35.00/ hour. I can and do provide bids, but it takes time, and you know what they say about that.
Optimization for search terms and general marketing is a cost that's hard to justify initially because the results are often not seen for some time. On new sites I prefer to work out a compensation plan based on achieved, predefined goals so nobody feels shorted. This unique offer sets up a negotiated contractual relationship that is extended only to qualified clients with realistic goals. I don't think you'll find anything like it on the web. Otherwise, optimization services are available at the rate of $50/hour.
You can trust me when I say: “When you win, I win”. -If your site doesn't produce tangible results, then I'm not happy (or paid).
-Jeff Baird • 541-426-9017 • 63872 Pine Tree Rd • Enterprise, OR • 97828