How to build a great website: top tips from a web designer

By Lexi Martel, Co-Founder & CEO of DesDeck

In today’s digital environment, a great website is one of the most important ingredients of success. Your website is the face of your business, your shop window, and your catalogue, all rolled into one. Your website will say something about who you are, about your personality and values as a business. It is your chance to win the attention of your potential customers and convert their attention into sales.

This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

As a business, your website needs to impress, inform, and motivate your target audience. So, what’s the trick? I’ve built hundreds of websites over the years but there is no single answer, no one-size-fits-all option for me to share with you. It depends on you and your business! But I can share some tips that might help you to get started.

Choosing the right platform

When building a new website, the initial discussion will always be about selecting the right platform. These platforms generally fall into two distinct types: codeless ‘easy-to-use’ website builders that you can try for yourself, and more advanced platforms that typically require additional technical expertise.

For those aiming to minimise costs and retain control over their website, entry-level ‘easy-to-use’ platforms are a great place to start. This is particularly true if you only need a relatively small brochure-type website.

But while these platforms are convenient, they have certain drawbacks. Specifically, they are restrictive in terms of what you can build and how large your site can be. More than 11 or 12 pages and your website can become difficult to manage, as these platforms lack more advanced tools such as page and content management systems.

There are many platforms to choose from, and you should assess the pros and cons of each platform based on your specific business requirements. Just keep in mind that transitioning to a different platform at a later stage will require you to start again from scratch!

Thinking about your audience

Once you’ve chosen a platform, you need to start thinking about your audience. Whenever I am building a new website for a client, I ask a series of questions that follow what we call ‘the WWW approach’.

This approach helps to create the best possible experience for your websites’ visitors because it involves thinking carefully about them. It means asking three core questions.

  • Who is your audience?
  • Where did they find you?
  • What do they want?

Who is your target audience? Your target audience will affect everything on your website, from your design to your content writing. A welldesigned website will either be tailored to enhance its appeal to a particular audience or designed in a more neutral manner to broaden its appeal. This may sound simple but done right it can have a big impact on your conversion rate.

Where did they find you? Asking this question will help you to provide your potential customers with the most relevant information at the earliest possible opportunity. So, if you are promoting a particular service or product on social media for example, include a link that takes the customer to a dedicated landing page. Internet users have a notoriously short attention span, so get what they want in front of them ASAP!

What do they want? This is about highlighting your value proposition to visitors, giving all the right details at the right point. It means including your unique selling points high up on the homepage, as well as testimonials and further relevant information to showcase your expertise.

Creating a great user experience

After thoroughly researching your target audience with the WWW approach, you should be well set up to create a great user experience on your website. Every website visitor is a potential customer, and their early browsing experience is a crucial catchment phase. You need to make it as logical and as easy as possible for them to find what they are looking for and understand what you offer.

Here are three important user experience factors to consider when designing your website:

1 Navigation

In order for visitors to navigate your website swiftly and effectively, you will need a carefully planned navigation menu, typically located in the header of a website. Here are a few pointers to help you:

  • Create a site map and use it to decide which items you need to include in the top tier of the navigation menu. Remember to ask yourself: What do they want (to see)?
  • Use short and clear titles in the navigation menu
  • Limit the number of items in the top tier of the navigation menu. I’d recommend six or seven at the most!

2 Content

While there are exceptions to this rule, you should always try to maintain concise and direct copywriting. Excessive content on a page can deter readers. Instead, use well-crafted headings, shorter yet engaging paragraphs and calls to action. This approach reduces the reading burden, but still allows visitors the option to ‘Read More’ if they wish.

3 Ensure your website is responsive and mobile friendly

With the majority of Internet users (85%, as reported by statista. com) now preferring to browse on mobile devices, you need to ensure that your website is user-friendly and intuitive on mobile as well as computers and tablets.

Optimising a website for mobile also has the added benefit of enhancing your SEO. Search engines like Google now actively penalise websites that lack mobile optimisation! In fact, mobile friendliness is now one of the most important factors in search engine ranking.

Final thoughts

Websites are a work in progress and getting everything right the first time is difficult. It is completely normal and common to have to make tweaks post-launch and, honestly, testing and customer feedback is a really helpful way to optimise a website.

Just remember that choosing the right platform at the start will make the management and refinement of your website over time much easier and more straightforward.