Web Design: the Vital, Desirable, and Trivial, Part 2

By John Eberhard 

Last week I discussed some aspects of web design that are vital, desirable and trivial. Sort of a "good, bad and ugly" list. Unfortunately I didn’t get to any trivial things before I had a pretty long article. So in case you were wondering where the trivial stuff was, in Part 2 I will tell you some trivial stuff and even some undesirable stuff you should stay away from.

Frames

Frames are a certain technique of putting a web site together where different parts of the sites are separated into frames. Stay away from this in web design, as it prevents search engines from indexing the site. Most designers aren’t doing this any more.

Content Management System

More of my clients are asking me about these. A content management system is an online interface where you log in with a username and password, and it allows you to make changes to your site and put up new content, without having to use a web authoring program like Dreamweaver.

My experience so far with content management systems has been poor. The ones I have used or been exposed to had their own proprietary way of designing or modifying a page and took a lot of time to learn. And they placed incredible limitations on what you could do with a page, in terms of where you could put things on a page, how big the pictures could be (mostly tiny) and so on.

I understand that some web site owners would want to be able to add things or change things on their site without depending on a web designer. I think a better way to accomplish this is to have someone at the web site owner’s company learn the simple basics of a web authoring program like Dreamweaver (the market leader), Adobe GoLive or Microsoft FrontPage. I personally think the learning curve would be roughly similar to a content management system and you would then not have the stupid limitations that the content management systems place on you.

Guest Book

Definitely trivial. No one signs guest books anymore and these were a bright idea of designers about 10-12 years ago.

Buy Buttons

If you sell something directly on the site, you definitely HAVE TO have buy buttons in obvious places on every single page of your site. This is a vital thing. You want your visitor to be able, at any time, anywhere on the site, when he decides he wants to buy your product, to do it right then. Make it obvious so he doesn’t have to work hard to find it.

If you don’t sell a product directly on the site but use the site for lead generation, make the "contact us" button easy to find.

Graphics and Style

Every industry has a certain style that you can observe when you look over the existing web sites in that industry. This includes things like the type of graphics used, the color schemes, the types of backgrounds, the types of navigational buttons used, whether the graphics look 3D or flat, the types of pictures used and how many pictures, and so on.

Software company sites will look quite a bit different from sites for a health care practice, which will look quite different from the site for a rock band.

I don’t think one has to copy the other sites that are out there, but I think that you should design a site that is in a similar style to the what’s out there. If you’re designing a site for a veterinary practice, it should not look like a site for a Gothic rock band, with a black background, etc.

This is not to say that you can’t ever stretch the envelope a bit when you design a web site, but the point is that before you begin you should look at other sites and be aware of what that envelope is. And be aware that for a commercial enterprise, you are creating a web site to market and sell your products or services, and that the purpose of marketing and selling those products or services is senior to creativity and originality. That sort of defines the difference between "graphic arts" and "fine arts." The application of graphic arts is toward the commercial purpose of marketing and selling.

Navigation

Obviously a site needs to have a navigational structure, usually along the top or in the left-hand column. Here’s a rundown of which navigation buttons you really need.

Home – This is vital, although some designers design the site so the logo in the top left corner links to the home page.

About Us – Desirable, usually is a blurb about the company or its history or tells about the principals.

Services or Products – Depending on whether you sell products or services, one or the other is vital in your nav.

Contact Us – This is vital, and should either be a page giving your address, phone, fax, and email, or a form that people can fill out for more information. But if it’s a form, that page should also include your contact info.

Gallery – If your product is especially visual, like if you are an architect, pond designer, pool builder, paving stone installer, or landscaper, you need a gallery section of your site that shows photos of your work. And you will usually find these page are the most heavily viewed on your site.

Web Statistics

Many people don’t realize how vital it is to have a web statistics program or service for their web site. If, for example, your site is not getting any leads or sales, the first thing you want to know is how many people are going to the site. It lets you zero in on what to fix.

Some web hosting companies will include a free web statistics program with their service, and frankly most of these are pure crap.

I have used a lot of statistics programs and services over the years. But a couple years ago Google introduced a service called Google Analytics, where you sign up and they give you a piece of code that you put on every page of your site. And it’s free. If you have a Google AdWords account you can set it up as part of that account, but you can also set it up if you don’t have an AdWords account.

With Google Analytics you can tell how many people are going to your site each week, what pages they are visiting, and where they’re entering and leaving the site. One of the most valuable things is that you can know where your visitors are coming from, what sites are referring them to you. In other words, other sites will have links to your site, and Google Analytics will tell you how many people are coming to your site from each. That includes the search engines and other sites which may have links to yours. And for search engines, it shows you what keywords people entered in the search engines to find your site, and how many people ended up coming to the site via each keyword.

These are all pretty standard things that any decent web statistics program will tell you, but the cool thing about Google Analytics is that it’s free, and most of the other good programs or services (that you pay for monthly) are not free or even cheap.

Web statistics are vital and I urge you to set up Google Analytics on your site if you don’t already have a solution in place.

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