What’s the Most Important Web Site Component?
I’ll bet you’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of web sites… or at least web pages… How many times have you visited a web site and said “This is great!… It’s just what I was looking for! And… it’s so easy to find what I’m looking for!”
I’m betting it wasn’t all that often.
Have you ever asked yourself “Why?”
Why are many web sites just not that great?
- Are the site owners lazy?
- Are they apathetic?
- Are they ego-centric?
- Are they out of touch?
- Do they just “not have a clue?”
I don’t think so! Creating a great web site demands a specific combination of elements. And, if one of these elements is missing, the “great” factor is also missing… Let’s look more closely at each of the above 3 elements so we are all on the same page…
First of all, “What is your message?”
Do you have a message?
- Your “message” is the foundation of your web site…
- It’s the reason your web site exists & the reason you’re in business!
Here are some things to consider when crafting your message:
- Who is your audience?
- Who do you exist to serve? (“everyone” is not an option!)
- What problem or challenge are you in business to help solve?
- How do you solve this challenge?
- What are your unique skills/perspectives/experience that no one else can offer?
- What is the #1 most important single take-away you want to impart to your reader?
Think of your “message” as the foundation on which the other components of your web site are built. Viewed in this light, you can see just how critical it is to get your message established first…and well. You must be completely passionate about your message. If you are not, how can you expect to convey its importance to your readers (and your future clients)?
"Design is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end." – Sir George Cox, former Chairman - Design Council (UK)
I think you’ll agree Sir Cox’s definition is quite abstract & theoretical…and not very useful in helping to understand the practical application of design.
Consider these expert attempts to define “design.”
Alice Rawsthorn is a Designer from the UK… So what is good design?” The stock answer is that good design is generally a combination of different qualities – what it does, what it looks like, and so on. But as our expectations of design change, so do those qualities and the relationship between them. – Alice Rawsthorn, The New York timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/arts/09iht-design9.1.13525567.html?_r=0 and from Wikipedia… Philosophies and studies of design: There are countless philosophies for guiding design as the design values and its accompanying aspects within modern design vary, both between different schools of thought and among practicing designers. Design philosophies are usually for determining design goals. A design goal may range from solving the least significant individual problem of the smallest element, to the most holistic influential utopian goals. Design goals are usually for guiding design. However, conflicts over immediate and minor goals may lead to questioning the purpose of design, perhaps to set better long term or ultimate goals.
Hmmm…Seems like “design” is some elusive abstract concept.
A List Apart is the go-to resource and has been the “standard bearer” for web design practices for years… Here’s a sampling of their take on design… Taking the Guesswork Out of Design. Clients, like other humans, often fear what they don’t understand. Daniel Ritzenthaler explains how sound goal-setting, documentation, and communication strategies can bridge the gap between a designer’s intuition and a client’s need for proof. – by DANIEL RITZENTHALER · Issue 283 · May 05, 2009http://alistapart.com/article/taking-the-guesswork-out-of-design In Defense of Readers. As web designers, we concern ourselves with how users move from page to page, but forget the needs of those whose purpose is to be still. Learn the design techniques that create a mental space for reading. Use typographic signals to help users shift from looking to reading, from skimming along to concentrating. Limit distractions; pay attention to the details that make text readable; and consider chronology by providing transitions for each of the three phases of the online reading experience. – A List Apart, by MANDY BROWN · Issue 278 · February 17, 2009http://alistapart.com/article/indefenseofreaders Art Direction and Design Sure, your design’s composition is perfectly balanced, the typographical hierarchy works, and the contrast is bang on. But, when you step back and take a look, how does it make you feel? Does your design evoke the right emotion? Dan Mall explains the difference between art direction and design on the web and challenges us to do it again, this time with feeling. – A List Apart, by DAN MALL · Issue 317 · November 02, 2010http://alistapart.com/article/art-direction-and-design
It’s clear that “design” is not an exact science!
Now, I haven’t included these references to confuse or intimidate you. And I’m not suggesting you get a degree in design! Obviously we’re talking about design as it applies to your web site. What I want you to understand is that design is subjective, but with a few caveats… (you can’t just “do your own thing” willy-nilly, without regard to good design principles!)
- Design must first of all support your message
- Design must include a simple & intuitive site navigation (creating a great user experience)
- Design must align with industry & cultural standards (lesson: don’t be “too” different)
- Design encompasses everything from your site colors to the graphics to the fonts & layouts to interactive elements.
- “Fun” design elements may be a great addition to your web site…or they may detract from it! Be conservative initially! When you have a following of loyal fans, you can always add an interactive or fun element and ask for their feedback!
- “Good Design” is subjective, although cultural “norms” do contribute to what is considered “good design,” including the use of color, layout & fonts. This is why professionally-designed themes take much of the guesswork out of site design. Most themes permit you to do some degree of customizing…but the same caveat applies: be conservative with changes or get some design critiquing. (Themes are WordPress-specific, but “templates” are also available for going the “html/css” route…although I have no idea why anyone would…)
- Remember that each industry sets the “norms” for what is expected…You can be creative, but within reason.
I’m sure you’ve heard the web writing mantra for the last several years…
“Content is king!”
but that begs the question:
What is Content?
Content is everything on your web site, including…
- all of your articles
- every “static” page (See this article for which pages you must have to keep Google happy!)
- every image & graphic
- your logo
- your tag line
- any free downloads you offer (such as special reports, tip sheets, e-books)
- information on any “landing” or sales pages
- forms (such as subscribe or contact)
Yes…your site content is all-encompassing. As such there a number of things you must keep in mind about creating your all-important “content.”
- Planning: just like when preparing your message and design, you need a Content Plan
- You must establish Content Goals, just like you set Design goals, and these all must support your message!
- When writing your articles and text-based content, write for your readers! I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but you are not writing to please automated “bots” or search engines! Your written content must be useful, high-quality and original. It’s true that there is not much new “topic-wise” but you are unique: only you have your particular perspective, so express it!
It’s all about Communication!
To really reach your audience, you must connect completely with them!
This means that the three website components we’ve been discussing above —
- Your Message
- Your Design
- Your Content
— all have to work together in an integrated whole!
If a single element is missing, or does not organically “fit” then your hard work going to be far less effective than it could be. It’s worth investing the time in your initial planning process to make sure all three components complement each other and work together seamlessly!
So…where do you start?
If your head is spinning at this point, relax!
I’ll be dissecting and analyzing each one of these critical web site components in future articles (which I’ll link to from here).
The point of this article is to illustrate the importance of integrating all three of the web site components discussed here…and to stress the importance of Planning.
Your web site will be far ahead of most sites out there if you take the time to understand your message, and clearly communicate it to others. Then you will have a strong foundation on which to build your website design, followed by a solid plan for your web site content!
What are your biggest challenges in building your web site? Is it your message, the site design or coming up with consistent, high-quality content? Or is the biggest challenge the integration of all three? Share your biggest challenges in the Feedback below!