Business web site design tips – March networking

For the Chamber’s March networking event, our webmaster Robert Gibson (Dovedale Design) took us through a number of design tips for an effective business web presence. His talk was illustrated with a number of classic LP covers, which if nothing else, showed Robert’s age!

classical album covers

As luck would have it, the timing turned out to be especially opportune. For Google had announced only the previous week that from April 21st 2015, it will be “be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal…” and that this “will have a significant impact in our search results.” This is something that had been expected at some stage, but Google’s clarification means that the time is ticking to ensure that web sites are mobile-friendly.

Earlier initiatives by Google also influenced other aspects of Robert’s talk. Google has implemented major changes in its algorithm in recent years, under the monikers ‘Panda’, ‘Penguin’ and ‘Hummingbird’. These have been designed to promote quality content, to cut out the unnatural link building that was considered the key to search engine success in the early days of the Internet, and to improve the matching of search enquiries with search results. All of this puts an increasing premium on quality, unique content which is useful to viewers of the web site. A well thought through content strategy is therefore essential.

Google’s guidelines spell it out clearly:

  • “Create a useful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.”
  • “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”
  • “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”
  • “Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking…”

So… obsess about your users and your content rather than about your rankings.

Usability and User Experience are another essential aspect of good design. As consumers of the Internet, we have all enjoyed using sites offering a great web experience, and been frustrated by the downright dysfunctional! Well-planned navigation is a key element here, and Robert stressed that navigation should not be treated just as a utility. Where possible, test the ‘usability’ and ease of finding information with live users.

“Planning” is in fact a key watchword. Many web projects start with insufficient consideration of the goals of the web site, the target audience, users’ needs, resourcing and various other aspects of planning. So take a step back…

Robert pointed out that this discipline is just as relevant to corporate social media campaigns. Social media can without doubt be an effective platform to deliver your company’s message, publicise products and events etc. But the ease of jumping in and starting posting on Facebook, tweeting and so on can be a danger. Social media is such a huge subject that it could only be touched upon in this talk, and perhaps it should be revisited soon – ANY VOLUNTEERS TO SPEAK?

And finally, echoing an observation by Charlie Pooley of Funky Cucumber Limited in the Chamber’s December event, do keep revisiting your web site and its content; analyse your traffic; see where you can keep improving. It is surprising how often a fresh look at some content makes you wonder “I wonder why I wrote it like that…”!