As an Inbound Writer for Lean Labs, Melissa writes about high-converting websites and customer-centric marketing. She's an avid traveler, with trips to Iceland, Ukraine, and Portugal under her belt. She currently resides in Wilmington, North Carolina with her dog, Morrie.
There's so much content promising tips and tricks that clog up my News Feed; it's difficult to tell what advice is worthwhile. A lot of articles have the same guidance, making the information seem stale, and perhaps, invalid. In web design, this is especially true.
A simple Google Search tells me there's no shortage of suggestions for optimizing my website for the best possible performance. Unfortunately, since so much of the advice is similar, and not particularly revelatory, it's not easy to tell the difference between recommendations and best practices. Which tips are worth following up on, and which ones should you ignore?
Analyzing The Top Website Design Best Practices
Given that not every suggestion about web design is valid, you can start to pick out the best practices by selecting more reputable sources. For us, we rely on our expertise and experience in Growth Driven Design and use resources such as DigitalMarketer and HubSpot to find reliable insights. Additionally, we take advice from courses, case studies, and actual industry experts.
After writing a lot about web design best practices, using my own experience as well as those reputable sources, here are some critical must-do tips that I find a lot of people overlook. If you skip over some of these foundational items, it can be detrimental to your website performance.
#1. Set Goals First
It may seem obvious to set website performance and marketing goals, but a lot of people skip it. In the interest of efficiency, a lot of companies complete their website before approaching the idea of determining objectives. However, by overlooking this critical step, you may build your site in a way that isn't conducive to meeting your marketing or sales goals.
You'll end up with a site that can't perform up to your expectations, and can put you way behind regarding time, resources, and budget. HubSpot's SMART Goal Template can aid in determining these initiatives ahead of time, helping you identify metrics that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
#2. Avoid The Brochure Website
A brochure website is another type of site companies launch to save time and resources. In the long-term, this model cannot scale with your organization, and will likely result in needing to undergo another website design process. Instead of limiting your options with a brochure website, you can prototype a site that can grow and evolve with you using the Growth Driven Design Methodology.
The GDD approach focuses on launching a foundational site with essential website pages, such as the homepage, conversion pages, pillar content, and essential buyer journey pages. Other pages, such as your team, opportunities or company pages can wait, helping you get your site up sooner. A site built with GDD principles will also enable you to optimize and tweak pages over time based on performance.
#3. Skip The Website Templates
If you want to get a better-looking website, sooner, it might make sense to purchase a website template. Your site will get done quicker, but eventually, you will run into design and styling constraints. We have a few go-to HubSpot templates we recommend, but if you have an opportunity to design the site from scratch, you should take that route.
Rather than using a template, you can utilize tools such as website page outlines, modules, and rapid prototyping to accelerate the design of your site without sacrificing your design. We use our SprocketRocket tool to structure our website pages, select modules and automatically draft HubSpot website pages that you can drop the copy in and style to your preferences.
#4. Update Your Buyer Personas
While some question, "are buyer personas dead?", I'm here to tell you that they're alive and kicking. According to Rob Petersen, your three to four personas will account for about 90% of your sales, making them critical to the long-term growth of your company. However, if you're still operating with buyer personas from six months to a year ago, you may be working with outdated information.
You should routinely update your buyer personas, and store them in a central location like Dropbox and Google Drive for your entire marketing and sales teams to access during website design, redesigns, and more. If you make any significant shifts in your service or launch a new product, your personas should also get a refresh. DigitalMarketer has an excellent resource for defining buyer personas, whether you're starting them for the first time or updating older ones.
#5. Prioritize The Buyer Journey
To design a website that your customer finds engaging, right, you need to develop a site that facilitates the buyer journey. There needs to be copy and content that guides them through their current stage. If you design your website with this in mind, you can drastically improve your conversion rate and close more qualified leads.
After working with us and developing a site based on their buyer journey, International TEFL Academy (ITA) were able to bring their bounce rate down by 6%, and increase their organic traffic by over 50%, resulting in an improvement in qualified leads by nearly 28%. It's all possible with a website that makes the path to 'customer' smoother, with website content and UX that support your leads at critical decision and engagement points.
#6. Work On Key Pages First
At the start of website design, it's tempting to build every page you could ever need. However, they're not all necessary from the get-go. Some pages are more important than others to create and "get right" first, establishing a foundation for growth.
These pages can include:
- Homepage - This can cover a few key areas, such as main value prop, actionable, benefit-focused CTAs, compelling headlines and sub-headers, and customer testimonials.
- Conversion Pages - The pages that sell will tell your customer what your product/service is, why they need it, what they will get from it, and how to buy it.
- Content Pillar Pages - At least one pillar page at launch can help you compete for hard-to-rank search terms and increase organic website traffic.
- Buyer Journey Pages - Your buyer journey pages will support your customer at every stage, helping you increase traffic, leads, and sales opportunities.
After you identify the 3-5 critical pages you need to launch, you can select a few additional pages from that list to build a minimal, yet robust foundational website.
#7. Prototype Your Pages
After you have your buyer journey and know which website pages you need to create, you should start prototyping your content. Rather than jumping into design, you should focus on creating a blueprint for every website page you plan to build, helping you organize your thoughts and establish a better flow throughout your site.
Do you remember that game telephone, from childhood? One person would whisper a message to another person, who would repeat it. By the end of the game, the goal was for the last listener to repeat the message verbatim. If the message were unclear from person to person, it would become something else by the end of the game.
Now think about your website. If the message isn't easy to comprehend from the top to bottom of every page, it will be confusing to follow. You can prevent this with prototypes, or a blueprint of where to place headlines, testimonials, anecdotes, statistics, social proof points, and call-to-action for the best possible flow.
#8. Include The Next Step For Every Page
When you prototype your pages, you can also ensure each one has an action for the user to take. When every page has the next step, you can seamlessly facilitate your customer's journey throughout your site. For instance, if a customer is browsing pricing for your product, it makes sense to point them in the direction of a free trial. Alternatively, if they land on your homepage for the first time, you can give them a few options, such as a prompt to learn more about your service.
During this step, you can also draft out your sitemap and architecture. The practice will help prevent any gaps in information or process, creating a much tighter and consistent user experience overall.
#9. Focus On Message Before Design
After you have your buyer journey and prototypes, you can start writing some copy. For each page, you can fill in the headlines, modules, and so forth before passing to design. Why does this need to happen before planning anything? Because although the design of your website should look good, it cannot support your entire narrative. You wouldn't tell the story of War and Peace in 1,225 of pictures, and you wouldn't watch The Godfather without subtitles or audio.
Any story, even the story you're telling about your website, needs words and copy to carry your customer through. The result will be a stronger, more cohesive narrative throughout your website. Otherwise, you will get lost in aesthetics, and skip over the crucial strategy and planning that top brands use to create killer messaging on their sites.
Alternatively, focusing on messaging will save you time on revisions. With the copy already done, your graphic designer will get a much better picture of the objective of each page. They can select images, video, and iconography that fit, and design to support your message, instead of the other way around.
#10. Make A Reporting and Optimization Plan
Before launch, there should be a solid plan together to conduct ongoing reporting and optimization. After identifying which metrics to track, you can implement the right tools and resources to make sure you measure and record data correctly. If you build your website on HubSpot, you can track performance within the platform.
However, if you're using WordPress, you will need to select plug-ins or install software, so you don't miss critical insights. That's why a lot of people debate WordPress vs. HubSpot in the beginning stages of web design, given that there's a lot more functionality with HubSpot. After creating a plan and launching your site, you can assess the components of your website and make changes based on customer behavior.
Long-Term Growth With Website Design Best Practices
There are just some website design best practices that pay off tremendously. From the process you use to strategize and build your website to your ongoing optimizations, best practices are tactics that experts use to get results. Aside from following these tips, you can gain a lot of traction with inbound marketing and a robust marketing automation software.
We use HubSpot to deploy our strategies and swear by it. Along with the best practices of GDD and web design, we build robust, reliable sites that grow with our clients. That's why we offer a 60% off HubSpot Savings Guide to get you started. With this guide, you will save up to 60% off in your first year of HubSpot and can build a site with a maximum return.
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