Let's face it: your company isn’t going anywhere these days without a website. And with so many competitors online, a website is no longer just a calling card, it is the first point of contact for a potential client. The way to beat your competitors is not necessarily through SEO, social referrals, or even having the best product (of course, all three help).
It's also about being able to communicate your vision to the people you want to engage with clearly, uniquely, and personally. And the most effective way to do that is by having a stand-out website. Design can make all the difference. Here's how you can implement a better design on your site.
1. Pick a consistent statement color.
Your business communicates a lot at first glance, and it all hangs on the color scheme. Since colors evoke a message and emotion, it's no surprise that banks typically favor blue (which emotes a feeling of security and trustworthiness), and companies that prioritize organic living and the environment opt for green logos (signifying growth, freshness and health).
Specific statement colors not only speak to your business' intended message, but also to the demographic you're trying to attract. And when you've decided on a color scheme, make sure to use it consistently across all manner of branding, while scaling back on your general color palette.
2. Update your logo to integrate all platforms.
It has never been more important for your company to have a recognizable logo – after all, it's not just an emblem on a card anymore. A logo appears on your website (both desktop and mobile), across your social media entities, as a favicon on a web browser, a mobile app tile on a smartphone, and more. When looking for a logo, try to make it as simple as possible, and as unique as your brand.
3. Make use of interactive infographics.
A really effective way to communicate your message across to visitors is by integrating interactive infographics. This should come as no surprise – the human brain processes an image 60,000x faster than it does a piece of text. And by organizing essential key words in a well-designed graphic, an infographic can be more mobile-friendly than having to scroll through paragraphs of text.
Infographics can be used to outline a company's history, present a problem that can be solved using the brand, or convey key pieces of data. Also, infographics have long been known to increase the traffic on a site.
4. Favor high quality custom photos over stock imagery.
The art of photography has changed over time, and so has the culture of photography. So why are we still seeing stock photographs of stiff, generic people staring at the camera with fake, cheerful smiles across blogs and websites? Why do we still see pixelated photos splashed across websites? Time and money, that’s why.
It’s worth the money to create more personalized, unique, high resolution photos. People are more likely to respond to and engage with these. Nobody wants to see pixelated or low-quality pictures, so invest in a quality web host so those photos load quickly. I personally have loved Hostwinds for years because it doesn’t limit my site’s bandwith, but there are countless web hosts out there (everything from Hostgator to Godaddy to Yahoo) that might offer something specifically beneficial for your website.
5. Try usability testing to see what your demographic likes.
With so many different design options and trends floating around the internet, it's hard to know which features will work best for the users you're trying to attract. After all, branding strategies really only matter when they work.
Before going live, see if your company can collect people in your target demo and run a usability test for your website. They might be able to point out surprising details that can be improved upon, as well as aspects to enhance.
6. Showcase indicators of trust prominently.
No company wants to give the impression that their services have never been used before, yet we've all seen websites that look hastily thrown together, untested, or sketchy. One way of strengthening your reputation is by showcasing appropriate accolades and other indicators of trust prominently on the homepage.
Has your startup been mentioned in the New York Times or reviewed on popular tech publications? Does your company have any well-known VC backers, or have they formed professional relationships with already established brands? This information, with appropriate links and graphics, should be clearly incorporated.
7. Consider how viewers read your site.
Research from an eyetracking study from the Nielsen Norman Group has shown that internet users are more likely to read content in an F pattern: first in a horizontal bar across the top of the page, and then horizontally again a little further down. Then they scan the document vertically from top to bottom. The implications are that visitors don't necessarily read the whole document – they scan, and even then mostly just the first two paragraphs on a page.
Applied to a business website, it may be more effective to communicate the most important information on the top third of a page, with generous use of keywords. Try to break up large chunks of text with appropriate graphics. I try to do the same thing in various columns I do here on Inc. Regardless of whether or not this model works for your company, it's increasingly important to consider how viewers read your site.
8. Keep it simple!
When it comes to design, it's all too easy to overdo things by simply picking and choosing all the design elements from your favorite websites and trying to integrate them into your own. Fun, kitschy typography! A really striking color scheme! A full-sized fixed-width background image! Embedded feeds for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; Pinterest pins on every image!
It's easy to get carried away by all of the elements that everyone says you need. However, even with today’s surplus of SEO features and custom design elements, it's never been more important to scale back, get rid of all non-essential details, and keep it simple.
On a practical level, people aren't just finding your company on a computer anymore. Screens are getting smaller, which means all-important information needs to be featured more prominently. They also have shorter attentions spans. People are scrolling faster, so if they don't find what they need at first glance, they'll look elsewhere. As we've learned from Apple, simple is beautiful. So if you're building a new website, or simply updating an old one, just remember: keep it simple.