By John Eberhard
Whenever you set out to have a new web site designed or have an existing site re-designed, it makes sense to spend a little time at the beginning figuring out what features you want on the site.
With the popularity of smart phones, pads and other mobile devices today, you should consider whether or not you want the site to resize itself to respond to the size of the mobile device being used to view it. They have now come up with a new buzzword for this, because as you well know, we don’t have enough buzzwords. A site that is set up to resize itself based on the size of the device is called “responsive.”
You should consider whether you will need or want this feature. If you are a local business and people are going to be searching for you while they are out and about, a responsive site is probably important. So make sure you work with a web designer who can provide that.
WordPress or Other CMS
More and more clients today are requesting to have their sites built in a content management system (CMS) that allows them to log in and make minor changes to the site themselves. The three most popular CMSes are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. I have chosen to work mainly in WordPress as I find its interface pretty easy to learn. So it has evolved to the point where most of the web sites I am designing today are in WordPress, and even my own site is now in WordPress.
WordPress has a number of utilities, called “plugins,” that give added functionality, and which can include things like SEO functions, Google Analytics, forms, photo galleries, forums, calendars, slide shows, social media interaction and more.
I started using a purchased, highly customizable theme called Catalyst, which allows the site to be responsive as well.
Many sites today have a slide show, usually on the home page, less often at the top of every page. I think this is a good feature, especially if you have things to show that are visual in nature.
I believe that when it comes to images, bigger is usually better, so I most often set up these slide shows so that the images span the width of the site. And most of my sites today are 1000 pixels wide. A slide show 1000 pixels wide has pretty good impact.
I have made these slide shows in Flash for years. But recently I started using a program called the Nivo Slider, which offers some interesting transition effects between the slides.
It’s smart to figure out how your site navigation is going to work at the beginning of the project. I favor and recommend a navigational structure whereby you can reach any page from any other page on the site. This strategy involves a set of navigational buttons that usually make up the general categories, with dropdown menu items below some of the main buttons.
This strategy with a set of buttons with dropdown menu items below them has become the common strategy today and has more or less replaced the idea that you click to go to one page and that page has more menu items on it that you can’t reach unless you are on that page.
A note on WordPress. For some reason WordPress and many purchased themes make it difficult to have a menu along the side. You can do it but it is much harder. If you’re going with WordPress it is better to plan to have your navigation buttons along the top.
It’s important to have forms on a site, minimally on your contact page or newsletter signup page. But in the last year I have more been favoring putting a form into the sidebar, so it is on every page of the site. This prompts the visitor to contact you on every single page, and contact is what it’s all about.
Of course you should have a “contact us” page, but I am in favor of also putting the phone number and contact info on every page, once again encouraging the visitor to contact you.
It is important to have things on your web site that prompt the visitor to respond and to give you his name and contact info. Of course you should have a contact page and an email newsletter signup page. But it is also a good idea to have other items on the site that get the visitor to give you his name and email, mainly for the person who is not ready to buy from you right now.
One good solution is to offer free reports (also called “white papers” which sounds more fancy) on topics related to your products or industry. This then prompts people who are interested in the topic to give you their email address, which allows you to then market to them periodically. When you create a free report or white paper, always offer it in such a way that the person has to fill out a form and give you his email in order to get the report. Never just give a download link on the site.
By getting the person who is interested in your topic (and therefore presumably a potential customer) but not ready to buy now, to fill out the form and give you his email, you are building an email list. Then you can keep your name in front of him so that when he is ready to buy, yours is the company he thinks of.
Good luck with your new or revised web site.