In the past few years, website building software services have grown in ease and quality, and it's now possible to make a simple, inexpensive business website by yourself. However, even the best website creation program alone cannot guarantee an excellent business website.
As a designer, you need to know the basics of building a good website and the common mistakes to avoid. Below, professional website creators give their tips for avoiding the four biggest mistakes of modern website design.
1. Not putting mobile first
Consumers increasingly use their mobile devices to search for businesses and comparison shop. Most website design software templates are now mobile responsive, meaning the template adapts to the size of the screen it is being viewed on, whether for a smartphone, tablet or desktop. However, simply having a slightly streamlined version of your full website may not be enough to meet visitors' expectations.
As you plan your website to follow a customer's thought (or purchase) process, consider how it translates to the small screen. Rather than display a gallery of images to show color choices, which might result in tiny icons or a lot of scrolling, consider a slideshow for horizontal swiping. You should also include mobile-specific features like making phone numbers click to call and linking your address to Google Maps.
"Your site must be able to adapt to the environment in which it's viewed," said Brandon Downing, senior software development engineer at Expedia. "When you put mobile first, you're putting performance and user-experience considerations at the forefront of decision making." [See Related Story: Building a Business Website: A Small Business Guide]
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2. Extraneous or slow-loading widgets
Many website design programs, like WordPress, allow you to install widgets that do everything from creating an ecommerce store to posting to your Twitter feed. While these can make a website look more exciting, if they aren't adding to the user experience, you should not use them.
"Do you really even need that social widget?" said Michael LaVista, founder and CEO of website and app development firm Caxy Interactive. "Are you actually creating social content that people care about?"
Because these widgets are designed by a third party, there are several risks associated with them, ranging from a compromised customer experience due to slow loading times and error messages, to security threats.
Your first step, then, is to ask yourself if the widget is really going to help your reader, or if it's just a distraction that takes time to load. Next, evaluate how will it will integrate into your website. Stuart Frazier, director of operations at SpaceCraft, a website design software service, said that widgets should do three things:
- Widgets should be responsive
- Widgets should inherit the styling of the main website (fonts, colors, etc.)
- Widgets should be secure over HTTPS
3. A cluttered homepage
People viewing websites have little patience. If they cannot find what they need from your site, they are likely to click away to your competitor. Therefore, whether you use a one-page or multipage website design, your home page must be uncluttered and present information quickly in an easy-to-find way.
"Don't waste space 'welcoming' users to your site," Downing told Business News Daily. "Tell them who you are and what you can do for them. A modern and clean design with liberal white space not only lets your message cut clear through the chrome; it reinforces immediate trust and confidence that the user has in your brand."
Other design features Frazier suggested are consistent margins and padding around images and paragraphs, a set hierarchy for fonts, capitalization, and alignments, and a thoughtful and consistent color scheme. Colors and fonts should also support your brand.
Finally, make good use of images. They should be optimized for the internet so that they don't take too long to download but are still clear and focused. They should also support the message and branding.
4. Failing to balance business and user needs
You may have picked a great website template with a sleek, modern design, but do you have high-quality, valuable content to back it up? LaVista noted that one key DIY web design mistake is to not pay enough attention to the tone of the site.
"Are you speaking in a way that you would find engaging as a customer?" LaVista said. "Don't talk about yourself too much. Talk about the problems you solve for customers and why they might care."
Downing agreed, reminding businesses that customers' needs and expectations for the website are different from their own.
"Learn and understand your users early in the process," Downing said. "Engage with them through surveys, emails and even in-person interactions when possible (to) understand what they want and how they want it. A website may be seen as an opportunity to increase business, but how will that be possible if it doesn't address the needs of those who have the power to fuel that growth?"
"Since your website should be viewed as your digital storefront, it's important that it is attractive and easy to navigate, because it's likely the first impression a perspective customer will have of your business," added Frazier. "Your website not only represents your brand, but it also provides one of the best avenues for capturing new business."
Additional reporting by Karina Fabian. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.