Five years ago, the experts told us that our business websites needed mountains of quality content to appeal to consumers.
And, dutifully, businesses uploaded great wads of copy to their sites detailing their expertise, upcoming events, special offers, a blog and even a bio for each staff member.
These information-heavy websites were appealing to consumers, who wanted to read up about an organisation before deciding whether or not to do business there.
But the rules of effective website design has been turned on its head as consumers yet again change their behaviour, which means businesses need to change tact or risk losing sales.
These days, text-heavy websites are a thing of the past.
Consumers are far more attracted to sleek, minimalist websites with far less copy and a much greater emphasis on stunning photography – meaning major website overhauls are necessary for many in business.
What consumers want
Digital creative expert Darragh O’Connell acknowledges that website design has changed and that businesses need to play catch-up.
“People are tired of reading through great wads of copy and are often searching for particular information by the time they reach your site, and want to find it quickly and easily,” says O’Connell, the creative lead at Melbourne digital agency Citrus.
Often consumers come to a corporate website to simply find your business address, opening hours, product offering or perhaps booking details, he says.
If they like your business, they may opt in for up-to-date news and information from social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and new platform, Pinterest, he adds.
“Website design is about small snippets of information and beautiful images these days.
“The text just needs to be enough to decide whether to click on your site or deal with your business. This site also needs to be easy to navigate.”
O’Connell acknowledges that great wads of text detailing everything about your business was once crucial, but says consumers are far more decisive when online and will click on another website if they’re bored by your content, have a technical difficulty with your site or aren’t visually attracted by how the information is being presented.
What stays and what goes?
This shift in consumer behaviour has forced businesses to reassess their entire website design. But knowing what a business should remove from its site is the challenge. The experts say it all depends on the business.
O’Connell says businesses need to understand what sort of information consumers could be searching for when they reach your site. Put yourself in their shoes, he says.
“A business owner needs to remove themselves from the situation and consider what your consumers would want to know about your business. Make the information easily accessible because they won’t hang around searching for it,” O’Connell says.
For example, a restaurant should include a street address, a full menu, booking details and some beautiful photography of their menu items or restaurant.
An ecommerce retailer, on the other hand, will need far more product detail to enable shoppers to make a decision ahead of a purchase.
And prominent photography of your product offering may be more important for other types of businesses, such as a jeweller.
O’Connell uploads a heat map to websites when redeveloping existing properties to see what sections of a site people are clicking on and also undertakes other tests and analysis prior to a redesign.
“We’re very focused on trends and behaviours ahead of a website design or redesign, which helps us make sure we’re getting the content spot on every time.”
A content management system that enables a business owner to easily update their own website is also crucial, he says.
Mark Scarrott, founding principal and creative director of Sydney’s Design Identity, agrees that initial testing and analysis ahead of a redesign is crucial.
All company websites need to sell an appealing lifestyle to the consumer. A business can do this by uploading beautiful imagery, perhaps a short video and some very basic information about their business that can be absorbed in a minute or two.
“The design of your business website should tell viewers exactly what they’re looking at and engage them straight away,” Scarrott says.
And make sure your website is coded correctly so that it can be viewed on all mobile devices and that you only use web safe fonts, he adds.
“People are viewing your website on a mobile device while sitting on the couch and don’t want to run in to issues trying to look up your phone number to make a booking,” Scarrott says.
The next step is social media
Once consumers have gathered the facts they want about a business, if you’re lucky, they may decide to continue the relationship with your business via a social media platform of their choice. This means that regular, meaningful and engaging social media updates are a crucial addition to an updated website for any business.
Social media is appealing because it’s a two-way conversation platform, O’Connell says.
But while signing up to social media is easy, businesses should spend some time creating an appealing design for the background.
Scarrott says the importance of being involved in social media should not be underestimated. It can be a powerful marketing tool that enables a business to interact with consumers in their own playgrounds, he says.
“Twitter is the new email. You need followers and need to be actively finding people to follow you if you’re going to have any meaningful online presence.”
The mistakes businesses make
Paring back your website and getting involved in social media might sound simple, but there are businesses making major errors.
Too often businesses focus on what they want to say about their business rather than what the consumer might be coming to their website in search of, O’Connell says.
“There is a complete lack of emphasis on user experience. You want to create an immersive experience that embraces the full size of the screen in landscape or portrait.
“You also want to make sure that your web designer creates a website that can be viewed across multiple devices, which involves additional coding,” O’Connell says.
Mistakes are also being made as businesses get involved in social media. Don’t ‘demand’ that consumers ‘like’ your business without offering anything in return, says James Theophane, the director creative director of famed Sydney ad agency Clemenger BBDO.
“Search rankings are directly proportional to the amount of likes you have on Facebook, which is prompting businesses to get very serious about being ‘liked’ by visitors to their page. But you’ll turn consumers off unless you’re offering something in return,” Theophane says.
Offer consumers an interesting status update, a relevant eBook or a utility they can instantly use, he says. “If you’re a mortgage lender, a useful utility might be a more powerful piece of analysis of your home loan that you can access immediately, for example.”
Also, create a website that enables sections of your business website to be distributed via other mediums, Theophane says.
For example, create the ‘Like’ button beneath each and every product listed on your website so that consumers can easily click and distribute an instant link to your website to their friends. A ‘share’ button at the end of your blog is another example.
“Think of your primary website as just one expression of your brand. Then you can use your mobile and social media to expand your brand voice into other mediums,” Theophane says.
And be sure to keep flash and banner ads away from the main content, he says.
Building a flash website isn’t cheap, but don’t be tempted to cut corners, Theophane says.
“Too often a business will buy an off-the-shelf package to create a website that will end up looking like everyone else’s.
“You see ads for a website package for $495, but it’s a false economy. You need to create a tailored website that fits the needs of your business; otherwise you’ll end up looking just like every other potato on the heap.
“Consider seeking out a freelancer or a professional to help tailor your product.”
If you can’t afford a professional, at least consider professional-looking platforms like Blogger.com or WordPress and consider what that can do for your business, Theophane says.
The new rules of website design:
- Edit your copy and content so that your site only includes the basics.
- Make sure your website is coded so it can be viewed on all mobile devices.
- Ensure your site only uses web safe fonts to ensure maximum capability.
- Only use quality photos that best represent your business.
- Make sure your designer creates a content management system so you can regularly update the website yourself.
- Go for a minimal home page and remember, you’re trying to sell a lifestyle via your website.
- Incorporate social media on your website.