Should you build a one-pager or a website with plenty of ‘closet space’ (by which we mean pages)? Should you skimp on content, or give users more than they can ever possibly digest? Should you fill your site with links, or help users to resist the temptation of click bate? At the end of the day, how do you choose a website format that’s right for your audience?
In this blog post, we’ll consider a few strategies to help you format your website, while providing a little food for thought. As always, your comments are welcome!
Evolving with the Internet
Over the past 25 years, we’ve witnessed the internet move from novelty to near integration with the human body, and with our ever-evolving relationship to the net also comes an ever-evolving approach to building and using it. These days, we skim for keywords as opposed to reading from top to bottom. We prefer bite-sized morsels over full meals of information. Our attention spans flit around like honey bees in a field of wild flowers.
We humans have, in other words, been fundamentally changed by our obsession with the internet, and the internet has reflected this.
Take the homepage: At the dawn of the WWW, a homepage was a thing to be poured over, the light at end of dial-up modem hell. They often resembled single page manifestos because offline, we were still used to sitting down and easing ourselves into a long period of reading and study.
As web design progressed, though, so did the way we interacted with websites: Information started to be cut up into smaller pieces and dispersed over a series of pages. Web designers and marketers alike began to talk about “the fold” while waxing poetic about call-to-action buttons. The internet, in other words, was becoming a faster, more urgent place. Designers and businesses alike were beginning to realize that, in order to keep up, they’d need to condense information for fast and furious consumption.
Which brings us to today’s internet, and its current design trends. Where for years we were told to break up content over pages, we’re now placing everything back on one long page. Text is still cut up into one-sentence bites, but it flows organically, non-linearly – a big step away from traditional reading patterns.
Here’s what to consider when you’re deciding on how your website should look:
What’s on offer?
When we talk about web design and marketing, we’re all too often speaking about online sales: Presenting a product online, then providing a call-to-action to purchase it. While the rise of web-shops accounts for a hefty proportion of websites, there remains a huge variety that serve other purposes, from blogs and portfolios to informational pages for restaurants, non-profits, and events. At the end of the day, each website is offering a “service”, whether it be the chance to buy something, or simply to provide personal perspective.
When it comes to planning how your website should look, it helps to consider what’s on offer. Are users coming to you for information, and if so, are they looking for a quick overview or an in-depth study? Are they navigating to your website to follow up on something they’ve read or seen about you or your brand, or simply because your name pops up in a search? Answering these questions will help you to organize your website so that its visitors come into contact with the information they’re seeking as soon as possible.
In order to know what visitors are coming to your website for, start by running some analytics (this is the point at which we’d like to remind you to sync your website with Google Analytics, just in case you haven’t already done so!).
- First, take a look at the “Acquisition” statistics. Are your visitors being directed from social media, or are they searching for certain keywords that draw them to you? What pages are they being directed to? With these analytics in mind, structure your site so that the most popular pages are the most prominently visible on your homepage. If you receive a lot of traffic from social media, consider adding social media buttons for your content, so that it can be re-tweeted and shared more easily.
- Next, consider your “Audience” statistics. Where are the majority of your visitors coming from? If you are based in the United States but a significant percentage of your visitors are in France, say, try offering a translated version of your website, as well as adding keywords in French to help that audience find you more easily. For more ideas on how and when to translate your website, check out this 5 translation tools.
- Finally, take a look at your “Mobile” analytics. If your website receives a lot of traffic from mobile devices, you might want to consider switching to a template that is specifically optimized for phones and iPads, or choose a template that is a “one-pager”, reducing the need for users to open new pages and allowing mobile users to do what they do best: scroll.
Take Advantage of Free Templates
Free website templates and WYSIWYG website builders like IM Creator relieve the stress of HTML and design decisions, but they also offer plenty of opportunity to instantly experiment with design formats and information architecture for free, so that you can find a design that works for you and your audience.
When planning your website, try out a few different templates and see how it looks and feels to work with them, always keeping in mind the needs of your audience. Remember, you are the person who knows your audience best, and designing with them in mind will help to ensure that your site is as successful drawing in users as it is informing them.
As you begin to customize a template, consider these 2 key questions:
- What: What are your audience looking for? And what can you offer them that is new or different?
- Why: Why should they stick around to find out more? Can they instantly find out where they should navigate to next on your page, and have a good reason to do so?
When it comes to deciding on how your website should look, the most important strategy is to put yourself in your users’ shoes. For portfolio sites, for example, it may make sense to curate only the best of your work to pique your audience’s initial interest, but offering an archive will allow them to take a closer look too. For event sites, meanwhile, your audience mostly likely require concrete information on the upcoming festivities, meaning that the date, location, and time of your event should be front and centre on your homepage, and present on every other navigable page.
Singularity University NL: Man versus Machine – Biology versus Technologyby Sebastiaan ter Burg at Flickr Creative Commons