There’s a vast difference between having a website and having an effective website. With so many online services available, let alone the growing herd of self-proclaimed web designers out there, one can have a website created quickly, easily, and for very little money. But if you want to see an actual ROI, there’s a formula of fundamentals that is required to make your site truly effective.
1. Consistent and Logical Navigation
The map in the mall, the end-cap signage at Lowes, GPS: they all give you an immediate, understandable, and above all, helpful “lay of the land” that you can always rely on when you get confused. And that confusion, admit it or not, is one of the first emotions when you come to a new website. If the navigation is well laid out and consistent in its location within the site, your confusion evaporates immediately and navigating the site becomes familiar and comfortable. The old adage “a place for everything, and everything in its place” might just sound like a worn out war cry for A Types, but it’s actually the road map to efficiency.
The reason “look” and “feel” are always paired is because one without the other is anybody’s game; company identity can have one without the other and stand alone. It’s when you add the look of a company’s brand – typography, color palette, stylized photography, composition (elements, negative space, and their relationship), custom iconography, and functionality – to the feel of that company’s personality – the “voice” of the messaging, subject matter of iconography and imagery, and its context – do you achieve true branding. To put it more succinctly, if the company’s logo was removed from all of its marketing and people could still identify that company, then they have solid branding.
3. Visitor-centric Information Architecture (IA)
Unless you’re simply killing time surfing sites offered up from random search engine inquiries, then you’ve got an agenda for each site you visit. The success you have in attaining your goal is in large part dependent on the architecture of the information relevant to you and your needs. In other words, if you simply want to contact OOHology to discuss your marketing needs, and on OOHology.com one of the few link options given is a contact link, then all you have to do is click it and start filling out the contact form. Task complete in 30 seconds or less. Or if you go to a bookseller website with a title in mind, and one of the few options given is a site-wide search bar, all you have to do is enter the title and start ordering. It’s when you spend more than a few seconds (literally) looking for what you want that you start to understand the importance of visitor-centric IA. Without it, well, there are a lot of competitor websites out there…
4. Relevant Content
Not only a boon for your SEO (search engine optimization), but also a reason for visitors to return regularly, relevant content is the heart of an effective website. Information is regurgitated so often, so blatantly, so indiscriminately, that on some information searches it doesn’t matter which link you click on the search engine results page. Chances are they will all have very similar, if not the exact same, information. And if you own one of these sites, this should scare the hell out of you, because your competitors are just as viable, just as findable, just as relevant as you. However, if your content is not only relevant but unique, more helpful, more intelligent, more thorough, and (god forbid) updated regularly, you will not only rank higher within the results herd, but you will become the source – a coveted position, to be sure.
5. Intuitive User Experience (UX)
A positive visitor experience is the number one goal of any company’s online marketing plan. More and more web surfing is an impatient affair, made affordable by the thousands of options available. If a site loads too slowly (see: 3 seconds or more), if something takes too long to locate (again, 3 seconds), if you just read the same thing on the last site you visited, if nothing has been updated in a month, if the layout is boring, if a link is broken, etc., then you can just hit the back button a few times and choose another site in the search engine list. No harm, no foul, except for the company of the failed site. So, basically, if you’ve read this far, UX is all of the above, but all together as a complex organism. Fail at any one of these aspects, and you lose. In the immortal words of Resse Bobby (Ricky’s father), “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
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