It takes an average web user approximately 50 milliseconds to decide whether they’ll stay on a website or scroll ahead which means that your website design, layout, content and appearance have to appeal to the eyes as well as provide straightforward answers to what the user is searching for at first glance.
With over 1.8 billion websites on the internet and so many offering similar services, it becomes a thing of necessity that web designers and companies at large learn to incorporate certain website guidelines and practices during the design and development of a website if they want to stand a chance of staying ahead of the competition, attracting and keeping customers.
As a business owner, whether you’re into providing services or selling products, I bet you already know that owning a website in this digital age is a must.
But it doesn’t stop at that.
Anyone can create or own a website, but it takes a great website to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, which is to serve as the company’s online store. And just as in physical stores, first impressions matter. If customers visit your website for the first time and find it hard to navigate through your pages or can’t find accurate information on what you offer, they’ll leave and most likely never come back. To avoid this, you need to incorporate these web design best practices and guidelines which we’ll talk about in this post.
But before heading straight into the juicy parts, let’s take a look at why these web design best practices are so important.
Importance Of Web Design Best Practices
1 . Great first impression
It’s all about first impressions with people and this applies whether you’re meeting them in person or online. When people visit your website for the first time, you want them to be interested and engaged. A well-designed website will draw their attention and encourage them to keep scrolling and eventually click on the purchase button or whatever your CTA may be. In contrast, a poorly designed website can drive visitors away quickly.
2 . Increase conversion
If you have an e-commerce site or you sell products online, one way to ensure the leads are generated and converted into cash-paying customers is to invest in a well-designed website.
3 . Keep up with the competition
Whatever product you’re thinking of selling or whatever service you want to offer, there’s already somebody out there doing something similar or even identical to yours, hence the need to stay updated. Customers are always looking for the best and they take things like website appearance and ease of use into consideration when shopping around. If your competitors’ website is easier to navigate or more visually appealing, customers may choose them over you.
4 . Improve your SEO rank
How many visitors a website receives over a period and how much time they spend on the website are some key factors that influence a website’s SEO ranking. If people are visiting but leaving quickly it shows that they’re not satisfied with the site and this can increase what is known as the “bounce rate” inversely hurting your SEO rank. Likewise, when people spend more time on your website and click on more different pages, it can increase your SEO rank. And of course, the only way to get people to spend more time on your site is to make your web design appealing, engaging and easy to use.
5 . Boost business success
We mentioned how a well-designed website can help increase customer conversion. This means that when more visitors to your website become paying customers, you experience an increase in profit and ultimately growth in your business. Even if you do not sell products directly on your website, maybe you own a physical store. You can still use your website to attract customers to your business, keep them engaged and finally direct them to your store.
6 . Save money on marketing
Don’t have the budget for extra marketing for your brand, a well-designed website can act as a promotional tool for your business. You can create valuable content on your website which can be shared across other digital platforms to raise online awareness for your brand.
7 . Maintain consistent branding
With creating brand awareness comes maintaining consistency in brand identity. This includes your company logo, colour themes and other stuff that differentiates you from your competitors. Your website is also a tool for maintaining and reinforcing this brand identity.
14 Best Web Design Practices and Guidelines
1 . Simplicity
Making your website visually appealing doesn’t mean you have to go overboard with too many designs that it becomes a distraction. It has been confirmed that most times keeping your design simple and clean is the best way to go. This is because customers are not coming to stare at the beautiful layout of your website but to look for a piece of information or complete some action on the site (unless of course, they are also web designers looking to copy some ideas).
This means that you need to discard every unnecessary design element that does not serve any purpose on the site as it will only be a distraction and make it harder for the visitors to accomplish their purpose of coming to your website. A simple and efficient website creates a great user experience, which should be your top priority. You can implement this simplicity guideline by using a few colours (we recommend 5 colours or less), using simple fonts for your texts and using a limited number of graphics only where necessary.
Take for example the image above of the Dropbox website. There’s a primary colour of blue and white with two typefaces fonts and a single image.
2 . Easy Navigation
Your website should be designed in such a way that visitors can navigate between web pages with ease. Having intuitive navigation on your site is important to help visitors find what they’re looking for. They shouldn’t have to think too much about how to move from point A to point B. The whole process should be as frictionless as possible.
You can achieve smooth and easy navigation by implementing these tips into your web design:
- Keep your primary navigation bar (menu bar) simple and at the top of the page, clearly showing what the users will see when they click on a page (e.g “about”, “contact”, “Services”).
- Include a search bar near the top of your site so that users can search for specific keywords.
- Add a navigation bar at the footer of your site.
- Add breadcrumbs on each page (except your homepage) to track the user’s journey on each page and make it easy for them to retrace their steps if need be.
- Include links within your page copy and clearly state where those links lead to.
- Don’t offer too many navigation options per page, remember simplicity is key.
- Arrange your website pages in a basic wireframe map (pyramid order). Your homepage should be at the top, with each linked page forming the next layer. It’s best to keep your map at a maximum of three levels or layers.
3 . Visuals
Remember when we said your website needs to engage your audience? Well, this is where visuals come in. These can be in the form of static images, illustrations, infographics, memes, videos, GIFs and screenshots. Web users have short attention spans and presenting them with an endless line of text will make it more difficult for them to understand what the company has to offer.
A well-designed website will incorporate visuals, especially product screenshots to tell what the product is all about and what to expect without the lengthy technical descriptions. While visuals help to keep your site from looking boring, you don’t want to overdo it. Only add images and videos where needed, just enough to keep the website lively.
4 . Consistent Branding
Your logo, iconography, colour schemes, backgrounds, tone of writing and fonts used on all your web pages should be the same. Maintaining a consistent look and feel across all your pages helps with branding and user experience. This is not to say that all your pages should have the same layout but rather to create specific layouts for different types of pages. For example, each product description page can have one type of layout, and your FAQ pages should have their specific layout. This will make it easier for users to understand the type of information they’ll find on each page.
5 . Responsive and Mobile-Friendly Design
About 54% of internet users browse the net from their mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones phones and about 93% of users have reportedly left a website because it did not load properly on their mobile device. Now just imagine that more than 90% of visitors that came to your site went back frustrated because they could not access it properly on their device, not only does that affect your bounce rate and SEO ranking, but you’re also losing money from these potential customers.
This reason is why you need to create a responsive and mobile-friendly device. The goal of creating a responsive website is to ensure that the website structure is highly flexible, this will enable the contents on the site to automatically resize and reshuffle itself to fit the dimensions of any device the visitor is using. To achieve this, you can either create a special mobile site or use a mobile-friendly HTML template while designing your website.
In addition to having a mobile-friendly website, it’s important to also test your website’s compatibility with other browsers. You most likely have only viewed your website from Google Chrome, but do you know what it would look like on Firefox, Bing, Safari or Opera mini? There might not be much difference but you won’t notice any if you don’t test it out.
6 . Accessibility
Web accessibility simply means making your website usable or operable by anyone, even people with disabilities or certain physical challenges that may affect their browsing experience. As a web designer, it is your job to consider this set of people in your UX plan. From the site structure to both written and visual content. You can achieve web accessibility by implementing the following:
- Use contrasting colours to help people with visual impairments. It will be difficult for them to identify text from the background colour if there’s not enough contrast.
- In addition to colours, make use of text labels, bold or underlined text, and patterns to communicate visual cues.
- Add “keyboard” navigation, so that people with motor disabilities can use the “tab” button on a keyboard to scroll through pages on your website.
7 . Conventionality
There are certain conventions we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over time such as
- Placing the logo on the top left, centre or right part of a page.
- Making the logo clickable, to always take users back to the home page
- Placing the main navigation button on the top left or right of a page.
- Having a shopping cart icon on an e-commerce site.
- Having buttons and links that change colour when you hover over them.
- Having image sliders with buttons for users to manually rotate slides
These are things users expect to see on websites and for the sake of conventionality, you should keep them that way. We understand that your want to get creative, and you want a unique website but in reality, some things are best kept the way they’ve always been. You don’t want your users to feel uncomfortable and get frustrated with the site just because you change the location of the navigation bar from top to bottom.
8 . Clear CTAs
The whole essence of your website content is for the users to take a specific action. If you want to achieve this, you need to make your call-to-action easy to notice. what action do you want users to take, do you want them to buy a product, start a free trial, subscribe to a newsletter or you simply want them to learn more about your products, not services. Like this example from Mailchimp, the CTA is clearly stated as “Pick A Plan” and “Learn More”. It’s hard to miss this cat because it’s placed in the middle of the page and has a different colour from the great of the page.
Depending on what you want, you can use various CTA for different pages, just make sure that your CTA stands out visually in front of the rest of the page in text, colour, and image. Some CTA examples are “Learn more ” Add to cart” “Get Started” etc.
9 . Clean Design
This points to our first guideline of simplicity. Practising clean design for your website is important to usability and UX and you can achieve this by minimizing the amount of text on each web page and incorporating white space. Large chunks of text can be a huge turn-off to web users so breaking up the text with white “negative” space is a great way to keep your website scannable and your content easily digestible.
Another way to achieve a clean design is to implement a visual hierarchy. This involves arranging design elements in order of importance. For example, you want to make your headline to be bold with a contrasting colour tithe background so it attracts more attention than anything else on the page.
You can get your creative side on with this tip. By adding texture to your website, you automatically bring it to life. Web textures are a great alternative to the solid background colour. It adds depth and personality to your website. Like this example above, depicting a painting of clouds and a snowy mountain. It almost feels like the website is actually a painting
Stories sell and brands that can tell great stories can capture the hearts of their customers. A well-designed website can incorporate storytelling into its pages. This does not mean having large chunks of, but well-scripted mini videos or pictures can be used to depict a story which will reinforce the services or products that the company is selling.
We can’t mention the best web practices without mentioning SEO. Search engine optimization involves using targeted keywords throughout your website, use of relevant header tags (H1), proper title tags and meta description, use of shirts and descriptive URLs which contain keywords and linking to other credible websites. These practices will enable your website to rank high on search engines like Google, thereby increasing organic traffic to your site and ultimately increasing the amount of visibility and potential customers you receive.
If you want to get live feedback on user experience on your website, then you need heatmaps. They help you track the user’s mouse movement so you can identify areas that receive the most attention on your website. With this information, you can capitalize on those design elements that users find interesting and improve on the rest.
You can also place your CTA in areas that receive the most attention, thereby increasing your chances of conversion. And lastly, you can monitor your navigation buttons to see if they are working well. With a heatmap, you can make improvements on your website with the confidence that these changes are data-driven.
14. Monitor site speed
The end goal of every web design is to ensure that users have a smooth browsing experience and speed is crucial to achieving this. We can get caught up with too many designs that it slows down the site. Not only does it frustrate users but Google also considers site speed when ranking websites for visibility. A site with a lot of design features will be slower than one with fewer design features. So if you want a fast website, cut down on the animation, multiple font sizes and other unnecessary design elements.
There’s so much business to be done online, which makes having a website a must-have for business owners. Your website design can make or break your relationship with a potential customer which is why you need to implement some of these best web design practices and guidelines like ensuring that branding is consistent, your design is mobile and user-friendly and that you constantly optimize your website with data-driven metrics.