A flurry of shiny new websites will enter the world in 2014, and while some will receive a warm welcome from users, a significant portion will be shunned, some even held up as examples of how not to design a website. Setting aside the principle that the purpose and target audience of a website should dictate its design, let’s take a look at a few of the items that should be on your wish list if you’re planning to commission a website design in 2014.
1. Quick performance
The glorification of speed is a natural outcome of a society constantly on the move, even when there’s nowhere to go. After years of trying to serve up the most attractive and innovative sites, web design companies have more recently been asked to tone it down for the sake of speed. In 2014, even more so than 2013, good website design will encompass a balance between design and performance—with images that remain impressive but not overweight, and functionalities that improve usability but don’t impede the search engines.
Google has already positioned page-loading times as a key predictor of rankings in search engine results page. But even without that endorsement, a short leap of logic would make it clear that anything that negatively impacts the user experience or breeds frustration would harm a website’s popularity—especially with mobile use on the rise.
2. Responsive design / mobile version
There has been plenty of debate about the superiority of one method over the other, but ultimately it boils down to the website in question and the goals that have been set for it. Good website design can only rightfully claim that label if the vast majority of users can experience it the way designers intended. In other words, designing a website without keeping the many different users and devices in mind is not only stubborn, it’s downright stupid.
Each of these two popular web design strategies has its pros and cons—responsive is SEO-friendly but requires more planning and development time; dedicated mobile sites provide superior usability but require added maintenance because they are essentially two distinct sites. Web design companies may have their preferred method, but in your evaluation process be sure to find out whether they can accommodate both. If they want to push you in one direction, make sure you understand why and what exactly it means for users.
3. SEO best practices
Although the debate of mobile vs. responsive web design does touch on search engine optimization (SEO), it represents only a tiny slice of this expansive—and ever-growing—field. Asking “What is SEO?” will generate about a million different responses from a million different people, which underscores just why it is so important to deal with someone who at least understands the core principles.
By creating a solid SEO foundation, web design companies can ensure the site is properly prepared to rank well in search engine results pages, even if those companies don’t have all the tools to finish the job. SEO should not be an afterthought of web design, but rather a consideration that runs parallel to it. They might intersect, and sometimes SEO considerations will call for compromise on aesthetic (often to the chagrin of graphic designers).
Whichever web design company you choose, make sure it has the skills and knowhow to create a strong SEO foundation. Although you might not immediately see the need for a robust digital marketing plan, at the very least you’ll have a head start if and when you choose to do so—and really, who can afford not to market their product these days?
4. User-friendly CMS
It’s not enough to have strong content, now you’ve got to maintain a constant stream of it. A content management system (CMS) helps you do just that. Ideally it’s also incredibly user-friendly, which allows any number of site administrators and contributors to shoulder the load of publishing fresh content. It seems like a given that any modern website would have one, and indeed, most do. But many businesses underestimate the value of a CMS or simply misunderstand what it’s there for.
Web design companies need to recommend the ideal CMS for their client’s site—for example some systems are better suited to ecommerce websites and some are more secure than others—rather than sticking with a familiar system for the sake of convenience (their convenience, that is).
It’s also important to define early on which sections of the website should be CMS-controlled (if not the entire site). At the very least your website should have a news or resources section that can be a regular source for new content. Ecommerce websites, of course, need a foolproof system for uploading new products or updating existing ones, such as for sales or promotions.
5. Social media integration
Given the relative simplicity of integrating social media sharing and following on a website, it’s hard to imagine a reason why anyone would avoid this step. Of course, the mere existence of a bunch of shiny buttons won’t be enough to entice sharing. You (and your web design company) have got to recognize the social media channels with the most promise for your website. There are your standards, such as Facebook, Twitter and increasingly Google Plus, but not every site is well suited to the formality of LinkedIn or the visual focus of Instagram. Then there’s the question of creating content that users will want to share—but that’s also part of the much larger discussion on content strategy.
What else should make the list?
- Content strategy
- Contact or inquiry form
- HTML5 and CSS3
- A detailed contact page (to assure users they’re dealing with someone serious)
Every website has its own unique needs or “must-have” items, and that’s definitely a conversation that you should be having with web design companies as you conduct your search. But, at the very least, you can’t go wrong with a site that incorporates these most elementary features of web design in 2014.