Website Design and Development Guide
Your website should be the place where all of your marketing ideas, content, goals and messages come together to create a powerful resource for your audience. Your current and potential customers should be able to use it to clearly understand your products and services and get the information they need to do business with you.
I’ve found that many people are confused about their website. Some see it as a simple brochure, and others see it as a place to display cool designs or content without much in-depth information. Others don’t think its relevant at all, and are satisfied with having a design with content that’s three, five, or even 10 years old.
When your website is well-designed, you can be confident that all of your target audiences will be able to get the information they need in a quick and easy way, and have a clear path to the next step in doing business with you. You’ll also be able to document the success of the website with clear metrics about traffic, engagement, and leads. In addition, you’ll have a clear understanding of where the website fits into the rest of your digital marketing program.
In order to create a high-performance website, you need to fully optimize the experience for your audience so that they take the actions you want. Websites often have many audiences, such as existing customers, potential employees, and even investors. In this chapter we will focus on potential customers as the most important audience for the website.
Most B2B companies want their website to convert visitors to leads, which usually happens when visitors fill out a form and give you their contact information, start a chat session, or call on the phone. For most B2C websites, the goal is to move the visitor quickly through the buying process so that they will make a purchase.
The marketing goal of the website in general, and the home page in particular, is to present offers that are appropriate to users and encourage them to learn more by clicking to a landing page and entering their contact information, or going to a catalog page to make a purchase, or making a phone call. In order to do this effectively, everything about the site must be fully aligned – from the messaging to the design, the content, and especially the offers.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take to create an effective website:
Strategy, Brand, and Messaging
The first element to consider about your website is the way it reflects your brand and messaging. Nothing is more frustrating than going to a website and hunting around for several minutes before you figure out what the company does.
It’s critical that your headlines, photos, and copy clearly describe your category as well as the products and services you offer. It’s also critical to select a design style with graphics that complement your brand and messaging to help your users quickly understand your company and the products and services you offer.
We’ve all visited websites that make it very difficult for their users. I recently visited a company with a large aloe plant on the home page and general statements about their commitment to client satisfaction. It took me several minutes to see that they were in the business of taking over and managing company mailrooms and other facilities.
Another website I visited recently showed a picture of a man with an umbrella under a shower of paper falling all around him. This website was promoting an online translation service, but it was very difficult to make the connection between the photo and the headline and service.
In the chapter on Content Marketing, I describe the process of understanding your target audience and creating personas that make it easy for you to think about your target market. This same process can be used to help you build your website. If you can put yourself in the shoes of these buyer personas, it’s much easier to see the website from their perspective and design it around their needs instead of your own.
A well-designed website has clear messaging that anyone can understand within a few seconds. In addition, the layout and graphics will support the messaging and make it easy to understand what you do and how you can help the visitor get what they want.
In order to build a high-performance website, you need to have an effective information architecture. The information architecture describes the layout of the website, including the site structure and how the pages are linked to each other. This will ultimately be turned into the navigation structure, links, and offers on each of the pages. The information architecture is critical since it will determine the size of the site and all of the content that needs to be created for the site. Many firms also build the SEO plan into the information architecture of the site.
Getting the information architecture right is critical to making the website design work. In the process of creating it, you will make decisions about how much content to put on the site and how to organize it. As you organize the content, you should follow basic rules that make it easier for people to find your content. For example, drop down menus with more than six or seven items are hard to use. If you have a lot of content on one page, you may want to break it into more than one page.
As you make decisions about the type of content, the amount of content, and its organization, you’ll be able to determine how to organize the menus of the website to make it easier to navigate the site. Many sites have four or more levels of menus on each page to make it easy to find content and navigate to the right place.
Home Page and Secondary Page Design and Architecture
In addition to the site architecture, it’s important to carefully think through the home page and secondary page architecture. By this I mean the layout of the content on the pages and the placement of offers and your calls to action.
The home page structure is especially important, since most of your users will start there. The home page gives you the opportunity to present key messages, news, product offers, and information offers such as white papers, demos, and videos. Since the location, color, size, and presentation of each item on the page will determine how visible it is and how much traffic it gets, it is very important to think about what’s most important to you.
Do you want people to learn about the product, or select an offer? Do you want people to read the CEO’s letter to shareholders, or read your press releases? If you want leads, you’ll need to make your best offers very prominent and make it easy for users to get them. If you want sales, you’ll need to make it easy to buy.
For example, if the primary goal of the home page is to drive users to see a demo and download a trial of your product, you should present your offer in the most visible place with the most eye-catching design possible. If you want people to sign up to get a discount coupon, make that offer the most prominent.
This thinking should also apply to the secondary pages on the website. If you do your SEO job well, you’ll be generating more and more traffic directly to interior pages of the site since the users will be bypassing the home page when they come from a search link. It’s very important to think about how users will experience your site if they go directly to these secondary pages. Will they understand your business and where they are on the site? Will they be able to navigate easily to other parts of the site? Will they find an offer that engages them and makes it easy for them to buy something or give you their contact information? Those are the challenges you’ll need to overcome as you create your secondary page designs.
Integrating Offers into the Website
As you create your architecture, it’s important to think deliberately about which offers to place on each page of your website. By placing relevant offers on each page, you’ll increase the click-through rate and conversion rate, and improve the overall effectiveness of your website. As tempting as it can be to offer many things on each page, you can actually confuse your website users with too many offers. It’s best to select the most appropriate offer for each page on the site and then test other relevant offers over time to see if you can improve your conversion rates.
In addition to content about your company, your products, and your services, you should also include other content to make your website valuable to people and position you as a thought leader. This content might include:
- White papers
Your website is the natural place to showcase the thought leadership content you create, so plan for a resources section of your website that is alive with new content that you create and post frequently. The easiest place to start is with a blog where you write articles at least weekly. The resources section of your website will allow you to engage your users, build your brand, and get more SEO visibility since search engines love fresh content.
Selecting a Content Management System
Once you launch your new website, you’ll need to make frequent changes as your business changes and evolves. A content management system (CMS) is software that enables you to easily manage and maintain a website once it has been created. It works by presenting your content through a series of templates for the website design.
In a CMS, all of the content for each page is in a database and only displayed to the user through the template when they visit the site. This means that you can easily make changes to the content and certain other site elements quickly and easily without redesigning the page. You can also entrust site editing to people with little HTML experience, since it is difficult to break the templates.
Popular content management systems like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy and less expensive to create a beautiful and effective website that can be easily managed. When you work with a product like WordPress, you can either create a custom design or work with an existing template. If you choose a template approach, your design will be limited, but you will get many features at a very low cost. Choose your template carefully, because once you build your website in a template, you will be committed to it for a long time.
Before you select a CMS, however, makes sure it meets all of your requirements. If you are building a complex e-commerce website or have thousands of pages of content, then WordPress may not be best for you. There are many commercial CMS products that have robust features and may be a better long-term alternative.
Building a Mobile-Friendly Website
Since many people today browse the web from smartphones and tablets, you should design your website to be as easy to use on these devices as on a PC or Mac. In the past, companies would build two different websites, one for mobile and one for desktop users. Today, a modern CMS allows you to build using “responsive design” so that the website automatically reformats based on the size of the user’s browser. To do this, you will need to build templates for each size of browsers you expect to visit your site. Many companies build for three sizes including smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
By doing this you can deliver an excellent user experience for mobile users, while not taking the time and expense to build and maintain two completely separate websites. Managing content is easier with this approach too, since if you make a change in your content, it will instantly appear in both the mobile and PC version. Search engines reward you for showing mobile content correctly, so building a responsive website should also increase your SEO visibility.
Your website will be the core of your digital marketing program, so it’s critical to take the time to do it right. By starting with your brand, developing a strong information architecture, and creating an excellent design, you will lay the foundation for a strong website program.
Landing pages are where “conversions” happen. A conversion may be someone completing a form to give you their contact information before downloading content, or it may be an e-commerce purchase from a catalog. Well-designed landing pages can improve conversion rates tenfold compared to poorly designed pages, so it’s critical to create them with care and use best practices to get the best results possible.
Even before you start to think about the design and copy of a landing page, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be “landing” there. Are they responding to an email you sent to them, or are they responding to a search marketing ad? Are they visiting after exploring your website, or is this their first experience with you? In order to create the best landing pages possible, use the work you did on personas to make sure you get the message right.
If they are coming from your website to a landing page, you should make the experience consistent with the rest of the website. It should include all of the website’s navigation to make it easy for them to move around the site, since you don’t want them to feel as though they are leaving your website when they respond to an offer. It should also include the entire brand and core design elements of the website to deliver a consistent user experience.
If the landing page is a link from the website, you’ll need to include information on the offer on the landing page, but you’ll need less information to build trust and sell the company itself, since they are coming to this page from another page on the site. On the other hand, if the landing page gets a significant amount of organic website search traffic directly from the Internet, then you’ll need more content in order to build trust just as you would if they were coming from an online ad.
If people arrive on your landing page directly from an online ad, you’ll need to build trust and make sure they understand who you are and how you can help them. You’ll not only need to sell the offer, but also communicate information about your company. No one will want to give you their contact information or buy from you if they are not sure want you’ll do with the information. These trust building strategies are especially important if you have a brand that is not well-known. For example, it’s easier to trust IBM or Coca Cola than it is to trust Bob’s Consultants or Ben’s Software.
Remember that you’ll need do this in a very short space, so be brief. On a landing page the only space that matters is “above the fold”, which is the visible part of the screen that a user sees when they arrive on your page. In many cases, it’s unlikely that user will scroll down and see the rest of the page, so make sure you give them everything they need at the top of the page.
Sell the Offer
When creating a landing page, it’s important to focus on only one thing. Internet users are easily distracted, and if you give them more than one thing to do, they will easily lose focus and move on. Even though you need to build trust, as I discussed above, don’t include so much information on your company, products or customers, that you encourage them to move on before they “convert.”
Landing Page Design Principles
When you start to design the landing page, make sure that the offer is clear and tangible. The graphic should make the value of the offer easy to understand. The headline and subhead should position the offer and make it easy to understand what you get. Most importantly, the form needs to be placed above the fold and be easy to fill out so that the user can get what they want. Following are some of the most common elements of landing page design:
- Layout—The entire layout should be easy to see and use within the screen users see when they arrive at the page.
- Mobile Design—The mobile design can allow more scrolling, but since space is limited, the offer should be very clear and the call to action should be obvious.
- Form Placement—The form should be on the page, above the fold, and at the top right of the screen. People generally read from left to right, so they should read about what they get before they are asked to fill out a form to get it.
- Form Length—The form should be as short as possible, but include all of the information you need to move the lead to sales. If this is an e-commerce transaction, you can break it up into separate pages to make each step easy to fill out.
- Make the offer tangible—If you are selling a product, include a picture, video, and enough information to help them make a purchase decision. If the offer is an information asset such as a white paper, then include a picture and something about the offer to help them understand how valuable it is.
- Headline and Subhead—The headline and subhead copy is important, since people need to be able to very quickly understand the offer and what they will get out of it.
- Copy—The copy should be short and easy to read to help the users quickly understand the offer and make a decision to request it.
- Navigation—If the user is coming from an ad, there should be minimal navigation so that they are not distracted and will move forward to get the offer.
- Call to Action—Instead of a “Submit” button, include a phrase like “Download Now” to encourage them to move forward.
By using these principles, you’ll be able to write and design a landing page that performs well. Keep in mind that all of these items can be tested to improve the results.
Today’s website analytics tools can provide you with a huge amount of data on what’s happening on the website. You can get very detailed data on visits, page views, clicks, and conversions. You can also see where the traffic is coming from by referring website and often by keyword.
This data can tell you very important things about the effectiveness of your marketing programs and help you answer key questions such as:
- How effective are your home page and your landing pages?
- How effective is your website information architecture?
- How effective is your search engine optimization program?
- How effective is your social media marketing program?
- How effective is your email campaign?
- How effective is your content?
- How effective are your paid search or online advertising programs?
- What is not working well on the website?
Understanding your website analytics data is critical to helping you measure the ROI of your marketing programs and building a high-performance website.
When you start to use a tool like Google Analytics, it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of data instead of focusing on what matters. While it might be interesting to know what percentage of your users are still using Internet Explorer 6.0,it’s more important to know which websites are referring traffic and driving conversions, or which pages are driving the most conversions.
Once you determine the metrics that are most important, you can build a dashboard that summarizes those metrics and helps you quickly find the data you need.
Website Analytics tools are limited by the type of data they can get. There is a lot of data available, but the most important data I like to see includes:
- Traffic Sources—Where did the traffic come from and which traffic converted best?
- Visits to Pages—How many visitors went to each page?
- Goal Conversions—How many people converted to the goals you set?
- Referring Sites—Where did users come from?
- Geography—What countries, states, and cities did they come from?
You generally cannot see who came to your site unless the user provides their contact information. You also cannot see where they go after they leave your site.
Rather than focusing on what each metric means on the reports, I’d recommend that you focus on the decisions you want to make about your website each month, and then look at the data that can help you make those decisions. When you are building a high-performance website, you need to focus on:
- Home Page Performance
- Landing Page Performance
- Search Engine Optimization
- Social Media
- Paid Search or Digital Advertising
Home Page Performance
The goal of your home page is to clearly communicate your brand and product information, and then strategically lead people to learn more about your products, your company, and download an offer or buy something. Even though you may have many links on your website to news, events, customer stories, and other things, you should decide what you really want prospects to do from the home page and then track this metric to see if that’s happening as you expect.
By measuring the click-through rate (CTR) from your home page to your product pages and your offer landing pages, you’ll be able to see if the home page is doing its job effectively.
The goal of your landing page is to convert the user to download something in exchange for their contact information, or to buy something. You can measure this by looking at the goal conversion rate for each of your landing pages. If you find that one landing page is converting more traffic than another, you can often increase the lead flow of your website simply by featuring the landing page with the highest conversion rate in the most prominent position.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In the SEO Guide, I discuss many ways to measure the effectiveness of your efforts to improve organic visibility. Website analytics give you an important perspective on your efforts and will help you see if the time and effort you are putting into SEO is making a difference.
Website analytics will tell you which organic search keywords are actually driving traffic to your website, which pages they are going to from their search, and if they are converting to one of your goals when they get there.
Google hides some of the information on organic search keywords, but you can still infer which keywords are best by looking at the keyword data that is provided. By looking at this data, you’ll be able to see the most effective keywords in terms of your business goals, not just in terms of visibility.
The data from your analytics program will give you the information you need to improve your SEO results. If you are getting traffic from a keyword, but the conversion rate is low, take a look at the offer on the landing page to see if it’s relevant to the keyword that the user is searching on. If not, test another offer to try to improve results. Remember that this may not be the only keyword that is driving traffic to that page, so take care when making offer changes. You may improve the conversion rate on one offer, but lower it on another one.
Another way to use the SEO conversion data is to make changes to your SEO keyword strategy. Instead of guessing about the keywords that you think are going to make a difference for your business, website analytics will tell you which ones are actually working. You can adjust your SEO keyword efforts to build content or create links for keywords that are working so that you can get even better results.
Social Media—Social Media is often criticized for being an unmeasurable marketing activity, much like PR. While some of the value of social media cannot be measured, you can clearly see the impact that social media can have on website traffic and conversions. For example, you can track the number of clicks and goal conversions to your website from major sites like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter to see how your content-sharing and fan-building activities are turning into traffic, leads, and sales. This data can help you build a clear return on investment plan for social media and help you justify your budget.
Email—Email campaigns often include many metrics, such as the open rate or click-through rate, that are not visible to a website analytics program. Your website analytics software does not know how many emails have been sent, so it can’t calculate these two metrics. It can, however, track the number of clicks and conversions generated by each email blast. By adding a unique tracking code to each link, it can measure the results from each individual email campaign.
Paid Search—Since Google Analytics is integrated with Google Ads, it’s easy to see the important metrics from your Ads search program in Analytics. The important things to track here are the click-through rates and conversion rates to help you see if your investment in search is driving the return on investment you want.
Other Website Performance Goals
In addition to the other specific campaign metrics I’ve discussed, there are several other important metrics that you should track to see if your website is performing well.
The first one is overall traffic growth. Whether you are using organic search, paid search, email, PR or social media, you should be growing your overall traffic from month to month. More traffic means more opportunities to sell your products and services. Of course, traffic by itself is meaningless, but it’s a great starting place, and it’s difficult to accomplish your goals without traffic.
Two other general metrics to look at are average visitors’ time-on-site and the bounce rate. The time-on-site is the number of minutes and seconds each user spends when arriving at your site before leaving. If people are spending time on your site, it will tell you that your website content is helpful and engaging.
The bounce rate tells you how frequently people are leaving your site, just after they arrive. If your bounce rate is 25%, then a quarter of the people that come to your website are leaving immediately. If you have not filtered out your own employees from your website traffic, then you may create an artificially high bounce rate because people may have their browser home page set to the company website. If this is the case, every time they open their browser they will create a website “click” and a “bounce.” In most website analytics programs, it’s possible to filter out your own employees’ traffic.
Another challenge with the bounce rate is the source of the traffic. A well-designed home page may have a bounce rate of 30–40%. A well-designed landing page from an online ad may have a bounce rate of 90%, which means that 10% are going deeper or converting to a goal. Both of these metrics are healthy given their traffic source.
When building a high-performance marketing program, it’s crucial to have a high-quality analytics tool installed on the website to give you the data you need to make decisions and drive continuous improvement.
A well-designed website using modern technology can make it much easier to drive traffic, engagement leads, and sales. You’ll be happier and more confident in your digital marketing if you like the design of your website, it has all of the content your prospects need, and it’s producing the results you want.