By Dale Cook, Product Marketing Manager at Serif

Designing a website is a lot easier than it once was. Now there are all kinds of online tools and different software that you can use to build a site but beware, it’s easy to get carried away with fancy fonts and bright colours. Don’t lose sight of what really matters — your visitors.

Different websites have different goals — you might use yours to sell, inform or to get customers to contact you — but they all need to be effective. Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow when you design yours…

Do include valuable content

People won’t scour your site for valuable information about your products and services; they want everything to jump out at them here and now. And that’s exactly what you have to give them.

To do this, design your site around your content, and before you start designing, ensure the content that’s going on your site is concise, will interest visitors and hold their attention.

Don’t distract visitors

Flashy animated intros and background music might seem like a good way of showing off your web designing expertise. In truth they are one more obstacle in the customer’s path, keeping them from the information they’re looking for.
Ideally, you want to keep things as simple as possible and make it clear where you want your customer to click next.

Unless it’s a website for a band, don’t have music playing as soon as the page loads — if you aren’t quite ready to do that, do an A/B test and look at the results.

Do make your website easy to read

Let your content to do the talking and don’t make it difficult to digest. Visitors won’t want to read reams and reams of text so it’s important to break it up. There are several ways to do this…

Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Try to keep sentences roughly 70 characters long and paragraphs should consist of about three or four sentences.

You don’t need loads of different fonts to catch attention either — they’ll only put off visitors. Use three fonts at the most, and consider using a sans-serif font (Arial, Tahoma, Verdana etc.) for large bodies of text as they are easy to read on screen.

Do make it easy to navigate

Keep pages structured, consistent and uncluttered, with menus in a fixed place throughout a site and images aligned with text for example. If pages are busy or difficult to navigate, visitors won’t stick around for long.

Include navigation bars and links back and to your homepage at all times — and make them obvious so the visitor is aware of them. Links that go to other sites should open in a new window, so they don’t take visitors away from your site.

Don’t keep them waiting

Images can be very helpful in websites, but don’t use too many. This will only result in visitors staring at a blank screen while they wait for your content to load and, according to a study from Akamai, they won’t wait long.
If your site requires lots of images, try to keep them below 50kb in file size and between 72 DPI and 96 DPI — this will speed up your site’s loading time. Although, you should maintain the quality of the images to avoid looking unprofessional.

You might also consider an animated photo gallery as a stylish way to view your pictures. They’re easy to use and can condense many images into the space that one would occupy.

Do think about SEO in the design phase

Search engine optimisation should not be an after-thought. By incorporating it into the design process, you can ensure you get the maximum benefit from day one. For example, on-page SEO factors, like image file names and alt tags, contribute to your ranking so it’s good idea to plan the keywords you want to rank for and use related images.

Planning and writing your SEO-optimised content in advance will also tell your web designer exactly how much space he or she needs to devote to copy. It’s easier to do it this way than to redesign your site because the length of your copy has changed. Having optimised copy from the start and continuing to write related targeted keyword rich content can help reinforce your keyword relevancy, which should help you to rank higher in search engines.

Why you should follow these do’s and don’ts

When it comes to the rights and wrongs of designing a website, the list is endless. However, as long as you keep in mind the target audience and the do’s and don’ts above, you’ll be well on your way to creating a professional-looking website.

For more information on Serif and its products including website design software WebPlus, visit www.serif.com