Website design, by Captain Obvious

Designing and developing a company website can be a major undertaking. For that reason, most companies work with an outside agency to facilitate the process. Preparing yourself for this endeavor and having some sense of what is important to your project will help things go smoothly and ultimately deliver a better website.  
 
Having created websites for some of the largest home improvement companies in the country, I’ve learned what factors make websites successful in generating new business online, which should be the ultimate goal of any commercial website. 
 
Before I share some of that knowledge, you should know I am not one given to subtlety, nor do I believe your website should be. Instead, I believe a website’s job is to attract new visitors, nurture those who return and ultimately convert both into customers. A common theme among the successful websites I have worked on is that they are obvious in their intent. They don’t mince words, they’re not overly cute or complicated, and they offer visitors the information they seek in a clear, plainspoken format. 
 
Now that you know a little bit about my philosophy, let’s get started. 
 
Navigation. Some websites offer more navigation options than there are stars in the sky, but your website navigation should be simple, intuitive, and consistent. I usually recommend a top right navigation menu for basic company information, and a left side navigation menu that itemizes the different services and products a company offers. 
 
Tip: Don’t use words that readers might be unfamiliar with in your navigation. For example, if you sell screws, use the word “screws” in your navigation – not “inclined planes wrapped helically around axes.” 
 
Selection and location of imagery. The imagery used on your website should always address the three “Ws” of website design: who you are, what you do and who your target audience is. Additionally, there is a fourth “W” if you focus on local clients: where you operate your business. Before you begin the design process, identify imagery that you think speaks to these “Ws” and appeals to your client base. 
 
The next step is to place the imagery properly within the website. I almost always recommend placing a main set of rotating images at the top of the home page that stretches across the entire width of the website. The rotation shouldn’t include more than five images, and each image should have a text overlay that describes it.  
  
Photo galleries. Be sure to include one or more large photo galleries of your own work (not stock photography) in your website. For example, if you are a full-service home remodeler, categorize your photo galleries by project type: kitchens, bathrooms, room additions, exterior work, etc. This will help visitors navigate through your site and view images of your work that best matches what visitors are searching for, which can increase your site’s overall conversion rate. 
 
Calls to action. Don’t forget to close! Many companies make the mistake of burying their contact information on a single page, but you should include your contact information on every page of your site. Include your phone number in the top right corner and your full contact information in the footer of every page. If you have a showroom you are trying to drive foot traffic to, include a Google map in the footer as well. 

Also, be sure to include a variety of calls to action. Place a “free quote” form at the top left corner of your site. If you’re offering a sale on replacement windows this month, advertise it on a “specials” page. If you can assist customers with financing, make sure there is a distinct button to advertise this fact. 

Content Management System (CMS). Your website should be coded in a CMS, without exception. The most popular CMS is WordPress, and in my opinion, WordPress is the best solution for most businesses. 
 
Ownership. Make sure you will ultimately own everything your website design firm produces for you. Have your designer or agency provide you with the layered Photoshop files used on your site, have them develop your website using an open-source content management system like WordPress and, finally, never let them host your website. You want the hosting relationship to be yours, so that your website can never be held hostage. 

In closing, make sure to review your website in the manner of a casual visitor. Do your best to remove yourself from your business and then look at your website through a user’s eyes. Also, ask someone who is unfamiliar with your business to navigate your website. If they can quickly find the product or service they are looking for and then easily contact you through the website, you are probably on the right path. 

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