My father always taught me not to “judge a book by it’s cover.” Good advice when dealing with people. The web is from about the same generation as I am, and judging by some of the websites generated in the 90’s, I’m guessing the father of the web (Al Gore has made a claim to fatherhood of the web, but DNA testing was inconclusive) offered the same advice. But both the web and I have grown up, and times have changed. I still try not to judge people by their appearance, but it’s no secret that most people absolutely judge a website based on their first impression. In fact, a recent study shows that 42% of people judge a website on overall design alone. And more importantly, 52% said they would not return to a website with poor aesthetics.
So what does that mean for you? Well, if your website has a poor design and/or is just plain ugly, you can expect about half of first time visitors to never return to your site. Can you accept that? Didn’t think so. And yet plenty of websites today fall into the category of being poorly designed and ugly. Is yours one of those? Let’s find out.
The first thing every website owner should do is ask people for unbiased feedback on their site design. Don’t assume that you always know what appeals to potential visitors. Get some brutally honest opinions about your website and don’t dismiss them. Along with that feedback, here are some indicators you can use to determine if you have a bad website design.
- The last time you updated or redesigned your website appearance was more than 5 years ago.
- You have clipart images on your website.
- The images on your site are pixelated or poor quality.
- Your website has a black background with colored text.
- You have blinking text or images on your website.
- You use more than 3 colors in your design.
- Your colors are not complementary.
- You have virtually no white space on your site (too much going on).
- Your pages are longer than 2-3 screens.
- Your menus change from page to page.
- You or someone you know designed your website using Frontpage.
- You have broken links on multiple pages of your website.
After reading that list and getting honest feedback, maybe you have a poorly designed website, or you’re concerned you might. Here are some things you should consider to help you turn that ugly website into an attractive one. All of these principles are based on the assumption that you know and understand your target audience. If you haven’t gone through the exercise of clearly identifying your main audience and understanding what appeals to them, start there.
The font face and size you choose is very important in your design. Different fonts send different messages, and some are more readable than others. Choose a font that is consistent with the style of your brand or business. Speaking of consistency, it’s important to keep your font consistent throughout your site. I recommend using no more than 2-3 different fonts on your entire site in most cases. Choose your main font for content and keep it the same on every page. Use a different font for headings, links, or menus if you choose. Just make sure they are from the same basic font family and are common web fonts.
Also pay attention to the size and format of your fonts. Strike a balance between readability and real estate on your pages. Use bold, italics, and underline formatting sparingly and with purpose. People don’t usually READ websites, they SCAN them. Make your content scannable through use of headings, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, and appropriately bolded text to highlight important sections.
One of the most important aspects of good design is color choice. Admittedly, color choice can be highly subjective. However, some of the basic principles of interior home design can be applied to web design to assist you. Use complementary colors in your palette. Don’t use more than 2-3 colors – a main color and 1-2 accent colors. Choose a color palette that communicates a certain style (always based on your target audience). Look to nature for examples, and do some research into how color “temperatures” convey moods.
Also make sure to use contrast to draw attention to the most important elements of your site. This entails reserving the color that most stands out for use in content that you want the visitor’s eye to be drawn to. If you’re not sure which colors work well together, it can be helpful to think about how those colors would look in a room and how they would make you feel. Here are some web tools you can use to help you select a color palette. And sometimes a simple, minimalist design can be very powerful. Black text on white background can be very attractive and memorable, if it fits your brand’s style.
As with most things, spacing on your website comes down to balance. You don’t want your pages to appear crowded or busy, but neither do you want to waste space and create overly long pages. I believe that most poorly designed sites tend to be too crowded, so let me suggest that you instead err on the side of having too much space between elements. What might feel like too much white space will probably be just right for modern design trends.
Space is important for allowing your site visitors to quickly and easily find what they are looking for. If elements of your page are too close together, it all blends into a jumbled mess that is not easily discernable. White space allows important elements to stand out and be recognizable as a visitor scans your page. It also creates an impression of being “clean” and streamlined, which is a positive impression.
I’m going to re-use some ideas on navigation that I wrote about in a previous article about designing a great church website. If your visitors can’t EASILY find relevant information on your site, they won’t find it at all. It’s very important to have a consistent navigation system through which visitors can find any page on your site. The most common and effective navigation system in modern websites is the top drop-down menu. Your top menu should contain a link to every single page on your site, and that menu should remain exactly the same on every page. If it’s appropriate to have a context-sensitive menu, make it a secondary menu in another location of certain pages, such as along a sidebar. But your header area should include a top menu, and that header area should remain consistent from page to page.
If you do want to have another menu section on your site that highlights some of the most important or popular pages on your site (such as a quick links menu), that’s fine. It’s a good practice, but just make sure you don’t rely on that type of menu as the primary method of navigation. In other words, it should be redundant to links that are already in the top menu. But the main concept to keep in mind when designing a navigation system is consistency.
This is also a topic I covered in a previous article about designing a great church website. Proper use of images can be a real boost to the effectiveness of your website. One consideration is the quality of images. Not many things are less attractive on a page than poor-quality, pixelated images. If the image can’t be rendered clearly, don’t use it – it will do more harm than good. You might consider investing in high-quality stock imagery from a site such as iStockphoto.
Another consideration is placement of images. Too many and your page looks crowded. Too few and your page looks bland or sterile. Images are relatable and add warmth – particularly images of people. Use the powerful combination of image, text, and white space to convey your message in a memorable way. Just make sure not to overdo it.
For the most part, the visual design of your website is important only in that it can either keep people from – or draw people to – the most important part of your site: the content. It would be an utter waste of time to design a great looking site that has no relevant content. While it’s true that an ugly design will keep people away from your site, the converse isn’t true: a beautiful design alone will not keep people coming back to your site. Once a site visitor determines that your site is well designed, the only thing that will keep them coming back is good content.
I can’t tell you exactly what to put on your site, but there are some basic principles that apply to most, if not all, websites. Start by making sure you have relevant content on your site. This is predicated on understanding your target audience. If you don’t know what they want, you probably won’t be able to give it to them. It’s also important to keep your content fresh. People won’t keep coming back to your site if the content never changes. This will require you to periodically update your site content. Keeping your site up to date is one of the best ways to attract return visitors. That may seem like a daunting task that takes more time than you’re willing to give. However, with the advent of Content Management Systems (CMS), there’s no longer any excuse for not keeping your content updated regularly.
A good CMS (such as Joomla or WordPress) allows you to quickly and easily update your site content with little or no technical skill. This saves you from having to make a choice between letting your site get stale and having to pay a developer to make changes for you. A CMS puts you, the site owner, in control of your own content and saves you time and money in the long run. I recommend that every website owner strongly consider using a CMS for their website. TEEM Technologies has numerous clients who can attest to the value of having their sites on a CMS. It’s definitely worth the initial investment of time or money.
The bottom line is that you need both good content and good design to have an effective website. If you have some experience with web technologies, the principles discussed above can help to guide you in designing an attractive website. If not, I urge you to consider investing in an experienced professional web designer who will provide you with a CMS and a beautiful design. None of the information in this article will help you if you rely on an inexperienced person to implement a design. In most cases, the one-time investment in hiring a professional to deliver a CMS-based design will pay for itself before long.
So if you don’t have an attractive, modern website that invites people to stay and discover your content, the time to update is now. Each day that you wait you may be losing at least 50% of all potential return visitors. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that it quickly becomes an exponential return on your investment to put an attractive, relevant design in front of those people. It’s worth being brutally honest with yourself about. Do you have an ugly website that is poorly designed? If you do, I hope this article will inspire and enable you to do something about it.
I appreciate your comments and feedback in the section below. Let me know if TEEM Technologies can do anything to assist you in your website design.