chalkboard with ABC written on it in yellow chalk
chalkboard with ABC written on it in yellow chalk

Business and Personal Web Design - Brushing Up on the Basics

Paul Kiernan

“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” <br />African proverb


The world wide web is driven by web design and web development, this is fact. Good design and development gets people to your page, gets information out to the world and gets money into your pockets. Bad web design can curtail that, and in some cases, if you anger the overlords at Google, negate it completely. This isn’t news to web veterans, but, it may be to web neophytes. Vet or virgin, it doesn’t hurt to go back to web design basics now and again. Once you’ve been working in the business for a while, you can forget the basics until Google drops a house on your web page and it becomes too late. A brush up is always good, so, let’s brush up.

Business Website Design Basics

Seems like every day on the book of faces I get a note from someone saying, check out my new web page. There’s a link and a plea for me to share it with everyone I know. When I have time and at least a modicum of interest, I’ll click the link and check out the new web page. I have seen all variety of cat lover webpages, actor pages, car pages, scrapbooking pages, writing pages, work out pages and, for the most part, they’re fine. I’m not completely sold on cats in hand knit sweaters but, who am I to judge?

Today I got the ‘look at my page’ prompt from my friend Lenny. Now, Lenny is a good guy, kind of quirky and I have known him for ages. When I saw the prompt, I immediately clicked the link because, wow, Lenny, who I would term a classic Luddite, seems to have come into the modern age. So, I went to Lenny’s new page; Lenny Eats. I’ll give him this much, he’s as honest as it gets. The page is pictures of things Lenny has eaten, will eat, would like to eat. Some of the pictures have captions. Some of the pictures are of Lenny in post consumption bliss. The page, Lenny Eats, is just that, Lenny eating, preparing to eat and what he has eaten. Later in the day he sent me an email asking if I saw the page and, if so, what did I think? I love Lenny and, personally, I could look at pictures of what he eats all day because, to me, it’s hilarious, but, is it a good web page? This is what got me to thinking about web design basics, so, thank you, Lenny. Here’s five basic points you should revisit on your current website and keep in mind if you’re designing and developing a new web site.

Where web design is concerned the market is accelerated, so the watch word is hyper. Hyper connectivity, hyper focused, hyper relevant. The definition of hyper is; seriously or obsessively concerned; fanatical; rabid. That makes perfect sense because, if you’re planning on making money off your web page, you need to be just that. Hyper vigilant. If you think you’re moving at the speed of the market, you’re probably not which may mean, your web page is not doing it’s job.

What does it do? Let’s start with that. What is the job, the purpose of your web page? Is it clear when a visitor comes across your page? Is it immediately recognizable what the purpose of the page and what the business, the hobby, is and why? I mean, Lenny Eats is about Lenny eating but … why? Simple and clear are good words to think about when designing a web page. What is going on? When a visitor hits your page they should know immediately why they should stay and look. Is the purpose of this page clear?  Start with a good mission statement. One or two concise, informative sentences that tell the folks the what and why of the page. Keep in mind that most people skim web pages, brief and concise makes the mission statement abundantly skimmable.

What the hell am I doing here? Does your page leave your visitors asking that question? You may have lovely pictures, swirls, music, the perfect font and a breath capturing wall paper, but does it have good content? Is it useful? That’s a good question to ask because Google will look at content as well as structure when they rank. Are your pages well written and full of relevant information? If the title of your web page is; Stay Home and Cook, is it full of recipes, kitchen hacks and grocery buying advice or is it just a forum for you to complain about slaving over a hot stove for an ungrateful family which is why you drink so much? Good, informative, useful to the topic information. Do that, have that.

I am completely lost. How easily can visitors move about your page? Simple, clear navigation is the key here. Make it easy for your visitors to use and discover your site. If it gets too complex people will leave. Easy gives them reason to stay. Think DMV, no one wants to stay there, they have to stay there. Make visitors want to stay and eager to return.

Information basics. You wouldn’t believe how often this is overlooked on web sites. Give visitors all the tools they need to get to you. Contact information, like operating hours and locations are a must if your page is promoting your store, restaurant or offices that encourage walk-ins. If it’s a restaurant, put a menu on the site or some menu highlights to water their mouths, and then a link for a full menu. How about a map or maps to your place? Yes, you want those on your page. Also, PHONE NUMBERS. Good heavens, you spend an entire evening in a club hoping to get some dame’s digits and it’s excruciating. Why make it that kind of difficult for a visitor to call you and ask if you have Jarlsberg. If, you know, you’re a cheese shop. The more contact information you give them, the more chances you have of getting them through your door.

You’re safe with us. If you sell something on your web site, make it secure. An SSL certificate will encrypt communication between you and a client or visitor. Make that known clearly & visually when a visitor is interested in buying your product online. Identity theft, having your bank account cleared by some nefarious hacker, these are real fears of the online shopper. Assuage those fears for them immediately. Companies like VeriSign are good for this. Just ask Liberty Fillmore. For more information on this, our very own Kevin Bailey has penned a lovely blog about it, check it out, it’s a good read.

That’s boiler plate stuff, a starting point for your business web page. Enough to wet your whistle, dust off the cobwebs and get you thinking about your business web page again. How about that personal web page? Let’s do a quick check on that, I mean, we’re here, why not?

Personal Website Design Basics

These three things. As soon as someone lands on your web page, they should clearly see who you are, what you do and what you’re wanting from the visitor. This doesn’t have to be a tome, 2-3 well constructed paragraphs will get this done, and it will also help your SEO. Tell them about some places you’ve worked, list a few projects that you’re particularly proud of and let them know why. Tell them what you know to be your strength as a professional in your field. Use this as a place to show a little personality as well. Infuse it with a little of your humor, if you actually are funny, don’t force it. Share some of your philosophies on topics you feel passionate about, let them see you. Caution here, this isn’t a place for your life story, you don’t want to do that. Too personal, too much honesty can change this “here’s a little me” section of your page into a “whole world of awkward” section, very quickly. Use your best judgement here. Less is more. More on that in a second.

Hey, look at this. Creative professionals often use their personal web site as their portfolio. Great idea. Post your short films, your photographs, photos of your artwork. That’s perfect. What if you’re not a visual artist? Still put up a show. Put your work on display. Articles you’ve written or have been written about you. Links to books you may have co-written or ghosted. Put some time and thought into how you can creatively show off your work. Here’s where the less is more comes in. Don’t put everything up. Minimal is the key. Entice them with a well chosen collection. Don’t be like a bad movie trailer that gives away all the best jokes and the most touching moments in one throw. Make them want to see more and this will inspire them to contact you.

Here’s what I think. Have a blog. A decent professional blog. Use it to share your thoughts and ideas about your industry. This helps you engage with others in the industry, plus it gives you the opportunity to be a clear voice and even a leader in the field. This can be on your landing page if you’re going to write something once or twice a month. If you’re thinking of having a more consistent blog, once or twice a week, have a link to a blog section of your web page. Just makes it feel more special and important if it’s got it’s own place and isn’t sharing space with other content. Another added benefit of the blog, it shows people that you know how to write. Don’t underestimate this. Being able to write a basic, decent paragraph is always, always a plus.

Where did you go? This applies for the personal web page as well as the professional web page, don’t start a blog and then abandon it. This is shabby, annoying and it basically says you just don’t care. I mean, if you can't muster the energy to pay attention to your blog and keep it current, how can you expect anyone to muster the interest to read it and pay attention to you? If you start it and then lose interest, get rid of it. Take it down. Don’t leave it sitting there like ‘72 Fairmont on your front lawn, rusting, decaying, housing rodents. That’s just bad form and it really annoys the neighbors.

He’s a jolly good fellow. Don’t be afraid to include some testimonials on there for all to see. It’s nice when you can talk confidently about yourself, it’s even nicer when you can have some other folks say some good things about you as well. A few quotes, a paragraph or two about how you work, what it’s like to work with you, nods to your professionalism and dedication, items like that make you seem more well rounded and appealing. Again here, less is more. Pages and pages of texts about how great you are swiftly changes this section from, “what a good guy,” to “this guy thinks a lot of himself, doesn’t he.”

There you go, a brush up to get you thinking about the old website design or to get you excited about the new website design. This is just a brush, a reminder. Think on this; the web of a spider is designed to catch and hold things, insects, water droplets and the like, until the spider is ready to consume them or plant eggs in their stomachs. Apart from the limited reach of a spider's web, and the eating of visitors, although who knows what people are doing in New Jersey, the world wide web can be looked at in a similar fashion. Your webpage should be designed to catch and hold the attention of visitors. From there you plant ideas, desires and information into their heads.Your web needs strength in design to achieve this. Ask yourself, how strong is my web page? The Darwin’s bark spider spins a web that can reach 82 feet in length at its anchor points and the silk is ten times stronger than similar sized pieces of Kevlar. That's some serious strength. That could probably hold a hippo and the spider would eat like a king for life. Does your web page have the strength in design to hold something even stronger... the attention span of the average web surfer?