7 things on your website that you probably need to change

Having spent most of my working life designing websites, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Along the way, I’ve learnt that there are a number of essential, even indispensable, elements of good web design.

Any good website will combine easy-to-use functionality (aka user experience) with strong visuals to create a site that is clear, intuitive and inspires action. It’s surprising how often websites just don’t manage this. An effective site should provide easily digestible, accurate and credible information, filtered through a design that reflects the attributes of your brand and your brand promise.

Here are some common web-design mistakes to avoid, and how to ensure your new site ticks all the right boxes.

1. An over-crowded homepage

An all too common mistake is to throw everything and the kitchen sink onto your homepage. Your homepage should be a carefully curated collection of information, images and calls to action. Within the first few seconds of landing on your site, a customer should be able to understand what your company does, how this helps them and what your USP is. For inspiration, check out HubSpot’s post on the Best Homepage Examples.

Homepages that have lots of superfluous copy and too many design elements will just confuse the user, pushing them off your site (and potentially onto a competitor’s!). Keep it brief. Remember: your customer doesn’t have time to comb your site for the information they need – your job is to hand it to them on a plate. As ESM Inbound’s web designer, it’s my responsibility to ensure that visitors to a site can scan each page and get the information they need within seconds.

2. Muddled user journeys

Clarity is all-important in web design. When you’re investing in a new or upgraded site, the end goal is to make it work as hard for you as possible. Clearly mapped user journeys should make it easy for your target customer to navigate your site, while also nudging prospects and existing customers along frictionless conversion pathways towards specific actions.

The nature and complexity of user journeys on a site can vary considerably. For an idea of what these might look like, UxEria’s blog post on the subject is worth a look: 10 Most Interesting Examples of User Journeys.

At ESM Inbound, we define these journeys in the initial stages of a website redesign. As a web designer, the first thing I do is scope out the site’s key objectives with the client (whether that’s to educate on products and follow up, book a meeting with a sales rep, or capture email leads).

An understanding of typical user profiles (based around buyer personas, we can help you with those too!) gives context to this discussion, ensuring that every site we build has a specific customer in mind. At ESM Inbound, we’re on a mission to simplify user experience and make every site we design as intuitive and frictionless as possible.

3. Lack of obvious CTAs

When it comes to creating content, there is more competition than ever for companies wanting to get heard. Most email newsletters, for example, go unread and unclicked. Most marketing emails don’t contain video or links to video. I know because I receive hundreds of them! 

And although embedded videos are not supported by most major email providers (so will land you in your customer’s spam graveyard), research shows that when marketers include a thumbnail gif of a video that links to a landing page, customers are significantly more likely to take a look. 

Video improves the optimisation of your existing content with minimal fuss

There is no point in a site looking beautiful if it doesn’t fully exploit each and every opportunity for inspiring action. When it comes to getting CTAs (Call to Action) right, less is more. ESM Inbound’s CEO, John, has written a helpful short blog with accompanying video that shows you how to add a CTA. One per page is a good rule of thumb, although there can be exceptions.

Here are a few examples of CTAs and how ESM Inbound makes sure they work as hard for you as possible:

  • “Book a meeting now”: This could link to a Google or HubSpot diary appointment slot, so the customer can book in with a rep without picking up the phone.
  • “Get the e-book”: This works well on pillar pages, where ungated content can be made available offline for customers who want to digest it away from your site. Sometimes we may add a video alongside the lead-capture form they click through to, to make it clear what will happen next.
  • “Chat to us”: May click through to a bot that can answer many of your FAQs, or a live-chat window during office hours where the customer can start a conversation there and then.

My job as a designer is to make sure that CTAs are employed consistently and use standard web conventions. Often, badly designed sites will either lack or have a confusing muddle of CTAs, or they will be hard to spot – embedded as text links, without being signposted by the design (using clear buttons and colour cues).

UX research has shown that customers are scanning the pages on your site. When they have limited time, they will notice whatever it is that stands out visually, so make sure it's your CTAs. They are the signifiers that tell your customer where to go to find what they need.

4. Over-complicated designs

In most cases, irrespective of whether it’s for a physical product or a virtual one, good design hinges on simplicity, elegance and useability.

The idea that form follows function, pioneered in large part by the Bauhaus movement in the early twentieth century, still informs and inspires designers today.

It is especially relevant in terms of UX and UI design, as the interface we design must revolve around functionality for the end user.

From the Eames chair to Coca-Cola’s branding and Apple’s Mac computers, iconic designs tend to be spare and functional. As Industrial Design guru, Dieter Rams, the father of functional design, believed: the intended purpose of a thing should be the guiding principle behind its design.

For Rams, structure, function and aesthetics were three essential elements of good design that should always work harmoniously and integratively. His list of design principles is still a touchstone for designers of all flavours today.

If you find yourself tempted to add visual details and features to your site, it may be worth pausing to consider his ten principles of good design. The final of these is: Good design is as little design as possible. As an example: limit the amount of typefaces you use and your chosen font should be clear and easy to read. Good web design shouldn’t have any distracting or irritating elements.

5. Inconsistency

A consistent use of colour, naming conventions and spacing is essential for good web design. The colour palate a designer uses isn’t just there to make it look pretty – it means you can signpost your CTAs, for example, or highlight key features. But in order to do this it must be consistent. Part of the planning process involves setting down design rules which may be: links are always bold and blue; CTA buttons are always orange; page headers are black.

Consistency is important in headings and in copy, too. When the user clicks through from a menu tab, the destination page’s headline should match. Avoid gimmicky page headers at all costs. Don’t call your blog ‘words’ or similar, call it a blog. Have an 'About Us' page and call it that, not something obscure like ‘Where we come from and where we’re going’.

Make sure the copy is clear and concise. You should aim to have a consistent tone of voice that reflects who you are.

6. Copy without links or keywords

Any copy written for a B2B website needs to do two main jobs: convey information for customers in an engaging way, and act as an SEO magnet. In other words, copy needs to be optimised. At ESM Inbound, we take this so seriously that we make sure every piece of content we write is SEO optimised. This starts with thorough keyword mapping and organic use of keywords throughout.

It also means that links, both internal and external, become essential. Think of all the different pages on your site as a web that needs connecting laterally, and also connects you via keywords and external links to Google search terms, external sites and, ideally, a strategic mixture of long-form content (like pillar pages) and a variety of blog content. When a website is properly SEO optimised, it acts like an efficient sales-generating machine.

7. A gimmicky, overly trendy design

All good websites are built to last. A website redesign is a huge investment for any business, so you want to ensure it’ll last you as long as possible. A sensible way to avoid a huge outlay in one go is to opt for growth-driven design. It is a great way to spread the cost and incrementally add elements of the new design over time. 

When it comes to the design itself, I advise clients to avoid trendy or gimmicky designs. Sometimes new design elements (like parallax, which was everywhere a few years ago, or dark design, which has been hyped as huge for 2020) can capture the imagination of the web-design community and explode. 

But I would urge caution. I tend to avoid climbing on the ‘trendy’ bandwagon just for the sake of it. I’m not saying never, but I am saying that if I do adopt a trend for a client it will at least need some legs or a solid reason – like the brand being a super-trendy 20-something start up in Shoreditch. Some of the upcoming web design trends are worth checking out, but approach them with a strong grip of your brand.

I prefer to stick to something that adheres to solid design principles and that can stand the test of time. White space is a must: copy needs to breathe!

If you stay true to your audience, voice, solution and purpose, you won’t end up with a confusing site that doesn’t reflect who you are. These seven website tips are just a start… speak to us if you’d like to find out how your website could become your best salesperson.

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