Website Design Ottawa
Like with any project, before diving into a website design project it is good to create a plan. The plan will not only help you manage the website design process better, but it will also get you a smarter website in terms of SEO. Without SEO your website will not be found by online users, and if users can't find you, they won't be able to buy from you. It is easy to see why SEO should be the main priority when designing a new website. And the best time to implement SEO into your website is at the beginning. Implementing SEO into a website retroactively is usually more expensive.
In this section we will discuss the most important website design elements for SEO:
- Website purpose
- Website features
- Must-have features for all websites
- Website domain name (URL)
- Website content management systems
- Website layout considerations
- Website navigation and content
Before designing a website, think about its main purpose. What do you need a website for?
Is your website going to be simply a pretty cover to represent your business? If you run a small restaurant, for example, that's all your website may need to be. Or is your website going to generate 90% of all sales for you? If you are selling software, books, any other digital content, this will most likely be the case. Is your website going to be your major marketing vehicle and generate leads for you so that you can follow up on those leads and hopefully close on them and get orders? If you are running a construction shop, real estate agency, insurance agency, financial firm, and similar business, you should look at your website as your lead generating vehicle first and foremost. If you are a medium-size business that does not sell goods or services directly online, your website would still need to contain at least some of the typical know-how information, i.e. info about your company, products and/or services. In this case, your website will not only be your marketing vehicle, but also customer and partner nurturing framework.
In each of these cases, your website will need to have a different set of features and functionalities. And you need to decide on the main ones in advance.
Why the purpose of a website is important for SEO? The purpose of a website is important for SEO because if you don't know in advance what content elements your website would contain, it will be difficult to estimate how much effort would be required to get the top SEO results. A small website with only a couple of web pages will have lower SEO chances than a website with a lot of useful content on it. Decisions on how much content would be necessary for best SEO results made at the start of the website design project will prevent re-design and re-work (i.e. double investment).
If you are running a restaurant business, you would want to focus on creating a website with a visually appealing look and feel. In that case, you might want to check out some of the latest advances in the DHTML technology, which offers Flash-like quality of image sliders and dynamic image galleries without scarring away search engines.
If you are selling products and services online, you would need some sort of an e-commerce solution. If you are selling only a few items, maybe a simple shopping cart will do. If you are selling just one item and are not planning on selling a lot more in the future, a simple PayPal integration will do the job.
If you are not going to sell anything online but mostly generate leads via your website, then you would need features like newsletter subscription, document download capability, product demo capability or similar functionalities that would allow you to gather contact information from users who would be willing to provide them to you. Those leads would be considered "qualified", i.e. having a high chance of being turned into paying customers. You would need visually noticeable buttons and boxes for various calls to actions to be scattered throughout your website. If you don't prompt users to register, they might not think about it on their own or even if they do want to register, they might get distracted and forget, so you need to place calls to action on all your product and service description pages and also keep a close eye on your user behaviour patterns (i.e.g Google Analytics): what pages they tend to visit the most, what pages they stay longer on, what pages they leave quickly, etc. This data will help you adjust your website's content accordingly: foreground certain information, remove or add certain elements, etc.
If your website needs to offer customer support base, then you will need a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. If you have a large number of documents to post on your website, you would need a document management solution.
In website design, one size does not fit all. Each business situation requires a different set of website features. However, in any situation it is best to think longer term than shorter term. When you build a house, adding extra insulation at the start might add some extra $$ to the total cost, but it will pay off in the long term in more than one way. With website design, you don't even need to spend extra! All you need is to educate yourself about a few fundamental principles of website design and development.
Must-have Features for All Websites
Regardless of its size and purpose, any website should have certain features that are now considered standard in web design:
- Main menu
- Redundant navigation on one of the margins (left or right column)
- Home page with a welcome message
- About page
- Contact information page with a form to fill out for users to submit a message (registration form)
- Site map
- Copyright statement (usually placed at the bottom)
- Web friendly standard-size fonts (not too small)
- Calls to actions (call us, contact us, buy, order now, sign up, subscribe, etc.) are considered standard in web design
Apart from these must-have features, there are also nice-to-have features that would transform a small simple site into a website appropriate for a large reputable company or organization:
- Image sliders and dynamic product galleries
- Newsletter sign up box
- Newsletter archives section with ability to filter issues by date and title
- Blog with user comment posting and blog roll archive
- Polls and surveys
- Social media buttons (a la addthis.com)
- RSS feeds
When planning a website, jot down a list of features that you would like to have and discuss them with your website design firm.
Website Domain Name (URL)
If you don't have a URL yet, you are lucky! You can now get one that would help you with your SEO!
Perhaps, one of the best things - if not the best thing - for your SEO is to include your most important keyword in your website's URL. However, if this is not possible, do not despair. SEO is a point-base system. You lose some points in one area, you can make up for them in other areas (like building more back links)
If your business is strictly locally oriented and will never expand into other geographical areas, consider registering a local domain name: "www.yourdomain.ca" instead of "www.yourdomain.com". You might find a broader range of available domain names this way, plus it will give you a slight SEO boost for local user queries.
Content Management Systems
Whether you need a small website with just a few pages or a huge site with powerful e-commerce and CRM solutions, your number one decision should be: must use a content management system (CMS).
Why should you use a content management system even for a small website? Well, to cite just one reason: if you would like to update the look and feel of your website more often and add some fancy display elements (like a Valentine's day promotion), a CMS will make it happen at 80% of the non-CMS cost. And with a little bit of effort, you can learn how to do it yourself and save 100%!
For a larger website, a content management system is as necessary as good accounting software for filing taxes. Gone are the days when scripts were "hard-coded" directly into HTML, which sometimes took days and even weeks, depending on the complexity of the project. CMS allows you to use individual modules and components that can be installed and configured within hours - liberating you from the necessity to deal with coding.
If scalability is important to you, a properly selected CMS will lay the right foundation for your future plans. You can start with only a few functionalities and then gradually add more components, scaling your website based on your business objectives and without any coding or redesign.
Which Content Management System to Use?
Do not get locked into a commercial CMS. Commercial CMSs have proprietary coding in the back-end that would prevent you from migrating and moving your website easily. To avoid this, use an open-source CMS. If you use an open-source CMS for your website, you will always be able to move it without serious compatibility issues.
But this is not the only reason. Contrary to what many people think, commercial CMSs do NOT offer better quality than open-source (i.e. free for download) CMSs. To understand why this is the case, you need to understand how software companies work. A provider of a commercial CMS is usually a small software company with roughly 15 engineering staff. Decisions are often made based on what ONE person thinks: Vice President of Marketing or CEO. Even if engineering folks and project managers disagree with a given directive, they are not going to argue with the higher-ranking staff member. By a sharp contrast, open-source software is developed by web and software designers from all over the world. Some of the best minds contribute the code. Funding for open-source organizations often comes from 800-pound gorilla sponsor companies (Apple, Google, Sun, Microsoft, etc). For a software developer, it is very prestigious to work for or contribute code to an open-source project. The selections of what code to use are based more on logic and common sense than corporate politics.
Moreover, when an open-source organization releases a Beta version, feedback is gathered from hundreds of users and web designers from all over the world. So, it is not difficult to see why open-source code often ends up being of much higher quality than commercial software.
Furthermore, a lot of software companies use open-source code to create their applications. They take chunks of open-source code, tweak it to add some customizations, then lock the code and resale it as proprietary software product. It is a common practice these days.
To summarize, the most important decision for your website is to use an open-source CMS like Joomla.
Which one should you use?
Joomla, WordPress, Drupal
There are many open source web content management systems (CMSs). Nowadays, the three leading ones are Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress. If you need a very basic website, you can close your eyes, flip the coin and just pick one. All three are very good CMSs, capable of supporting various types of businesses.
There are, of course, differences between them, and this is where you need to do some research. In a nutshell, our recommendations are the following:
- For a text-driven website or a website that is unlikely to be anything more than a blog - use WordPress
- For a huge online auction of eBay caliber or a website with very unusual and even extreme requirements - use Drupal or Joomla!
- For all other website types, including blogs - use Joomla!
Website Layout Considerations
A website layout is a delicate issue. Polls and surveys show that the majority of online users prefer a clean uncluttered look where the home page contains very few elements. While this is certainly nice for display, it is not good for SEO. For SEO purposes, Home page is the most important page; hence, the more information and links your Home page contains, the better it is for SEO. Hence, it is important to strike a balance between the desired clean look and SEO. After all, the look is not enough to generate revenue.
Two Columns or Three Columns for a Website Layout
Needless to say, for uncluttered look a two-column design is the best option. For SEO, however, a three-column design is better, as this layout offers more space to place links and keyword-rich information. If you use a content management system, you would have an option not to use all available columns on all pages. But it is wise to select a website template (or get a custom website design) that does offer a three-column layout. It is much easier to disable a column (simply uncheck a few check boxes) than to re-design your layout to add a column if you happen to need it. In order to have this flexibility, you need to have a content management system in place.
Main Menu and Redundant Menus
For the purposes of SEO, it is best to have the main menu in addition to the redundant menus on one of the margins. A redundant navigation on the margins has been standard in web design for some time. One thing to remember, however, the more redundant elements you have on your website the better it is for SEO. That's why you often encounter "cluttered" websites on the first pages on Google: they are heavily SEO-optimized for search engines. A good website design or a website template should be able to strike a balance between SEO needs and users' preferences. Most modern website templates for open-source CMSs like Joomla offer the best of both worlds.
Website Navigation and Content for SEO
The more website content you have on your website, the better it is for SEO. You need indexable web content, available without login or registration. if you have old newsletters or other document archives, do not remove them from your website. Simply re-arrange them and place them "deeper" in the content hierarchy so that users don't stumble upon your old materials on your main landing pages.
Furthermore, your website content architecture should resemble a tree-like structure. Your main menu bar should have 5-9 items. The second and third levels (sub-menu and sub-sub menus) should also contain 5-9 items each. You should not have more than 3 levels of depth in your main menu, unless it is absolutely unavoidable. In most cases, if you ended up with more than 3 levels in your navigation, you should re-think your structure and try to move some items up one level by creating a new category.
To conclude, the more you know about your website in advance, the more specific this knowledge is, the better your website design plan will be. And the better the plan, the better the results.
If you need help deciding, do not hesitate to contact us. We offer free website design assessment and consultations. In most cases one consultation is enough to understand what your next steps should be in preparation for a new website design project.