A successful website doesn't happen by accident—it takes strategy and direction. Each website we make is different according to the needs, wants, and desires of each client. Many of our clients ask us about the foundational changes they can make to improve their website. Here are seven elements that have helped to improve their usability, online presence, and traffic—changes that you can apply today:
1. IDENTIFY YOURSELF
In today's Web-centric world, it is imperative that you differentiate yourself from the millions of other web sites. By identifying what makes you different, you will attract individuals who will recognize your unique web identity, increasing the likelihood of repeat visits. Developing a memorable name, slogan or catchphrase can help in this as well.
On your Contact page, include your address and phone number and an easy-to-use contact form. This adds credibility to your site and lets the users know you are legitimate; this is especially important if you want your users to perform financial transactions, like an ecommerce website.
2. IDENTIFY YOUR MESSAGE
When a visitor comes to your site, there should be a clear and purposeful message stating what the site is and why it exists. By clarifying the main message of the site, you are creating a more informative and useful experience for the user. To help formulate your message, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is our purpose?
2. What makes us different?
3. Why should a user return to our site?
3. IDENTIFY YOUR MARKET
You will have greater success if you select a niche market. Understand that while many companies think that their target market is broad, each site actually has a specific user profile that best meets the identity of their visitors. By focusing content, interests and features for your specified market, you will gain repeat visitors and loyalty.
You only have a few seconds to entice a first-time visitor, so first impressions count. An attractive color palette, organized structure, multimedia quality, and readable type can't make a website, but they can break it. Intriguing headlines and rich content are a great way to draw the user in immediately.
Readability is essential for a positive user experience. Type should be large enough to view at least 16 inches from the screen. Too many different colors, typefaces or animations on the page screams "amateur" and will annoy your users. Keep it clean, focused and purposeful.
5. IDENTIFY YOUR CALLS TO ACTION
Properly identifying your calls to action is crucial to developing a successful site. Viral factors such as word-of-mouth and sharing capabilities are a fantastic way of driving traffic to your site. By incorporating user-controlled features (i.e. social networking), you can greatly increase the user's vested interest. You want to increase the stickiness of the site, that is, how often the user returns.
If you want daily visits, update your content daily; fresh content is the key to establishing repeat visits and loyal users. Phrases like "Recommend to a Friend", "Read More", "Take a Poll" and "Inquire Here" are good examples of calls to action.
Any user should be able to navigate easily through your site. It must be user-friendly by creating a dummy-proof navigation. The user should feel as though the navigation process is intuitive and natural. Keep the number of clicks down to a minimum. For example, a drop-down navigation helps to decrease the number of clicks a user must go through to get to their desired content.
Breadcrumbs, which show the path of the user, are helpful and easy to apply to most web sites. You can monitor your users feedback of the navigation by polling or welcoming comments of the design.
7. STAY CURRENT
You can (selectively) use new technologies to enhance user experience. For example, Flash banners and widgets can increase interactivity, and AJAX can make a website feel like a desktop application. Be selective with the features or applications you choose for your site, as they should focus on improving the user experience. There are countless social networking features you could apply; be able to identify whether a chat application, commenting ability, share link, or all are best for your site.
Creating a successful site isn't just about following the rules. It's also about knowing when to break them. Although going down a checklist can give you some great ideas, it's up to you to work with designers and developers to build a unique site.