I get daily updates of people’s bad ideas about websites.
Here are simple answers to the fundamental questions and mistakes.
The Uncertainty of the Web: What your design looks like on your computer guarantees nothing. Your site has no REAL, TRUE appearance because it isn’t a hard copy. Your website only really exists when it is opened up by a browser on some device. Different browsers and different devices interpret the code differently and affect the appearance. If built well there won’t be many problems, but there is no way to know to a certainty that everything about your site will perform as expected.
The site itself: You should know exactly what it is for. It’s a machine. What does it do, or make, or accomplish? Avoid mission creep. You should be able to describe its purpose in 3 short sentences.
- Design is based on serving the target audience. It comes from knowledge of who they are, and what they will find welcoming and reassuring in the appearance. It’s not about you and what you like.
- Design isn’t just appearance, it is appearance and function.
- There are not really a lot of different ways to lay out navigation. It’s going to be either vertical, left side, or horizontal, top. Why? Think of yourself at an unfamiliar ATM: Do you enjoy not knowing what to do next?
- We shouldn’t make your website radical and totally different because it would most likely suck.
Navigation: The simplest, clearest menu is best. Can things be coupled and condensed? Do it. Classic example: “Home” and “About Us” How are these different? And ask yourself, “Is the wording on my navigation crystal clear?” We tend to take familiar concepts for granted, so be careful not to baffle your customers. The best navigation is barely noticed because no pause is required to understand it.
Search Engine Optimization: There are a LOT of ways to polish and improve this but as the site owner you have the most important role. Write well. The entire site should be as well organized as a research paper. Write succinctly and with intention behind each word. ALSO: Consider your target audience, what words and phrases do they type in search engines to find you? Be realistic about this and include them (gracefully) in your writing.
Social Media: Again consider the target audience. Think strategically about this and include social media in the machine concept from the beginning of this article. You don’t need to be everywhere and irrelevant social media is a stupid waste of your time. What role do they play in the machine? Understand it, or don’t do it. Don’t over-commit to social media responsibilities, include your available time and energy in planning. The same goes very much for a Blog. If a blog is part of the machine, OK. But don’t add one because other people do. If you can’t keep it fresh and updated it will work against you.
As far as building the site itself, which many people want to do themselves, you probably can’t. I’m not trying to be a downer. But it’s a skill set most people can’t add given the available time and energy. The exceptions are people who regularly achieve easy- breezy successes in complex computing situations. If you struggle with any basic computer issues, in my experience, you can’t do this.
That’s it. Done.