Just what sort of website do you need?

It’s been around for more than 20 years and just about every gimmick under the sun has been thrown at it, but the Internet is still a slippery, frightening monster if you’re only beginning to put content on it.

If you’ve had a web presence for years this will all be old news to you, but for those of you who are facing publishing your first website, or are up for a massive or long-overdue upgrade, read on.

What’s in a website?

It’s so tempting to throw every toy at a website and make it that much more epic than your competition’s, but as you wonder whether a full-blown shop and wildly animated landing page are for you, there is one word to keep in the back of your mind: users.

The people your website is for are your users – potential and current customers. Though we prefer to think of our web presence as an expression of ourselves or our company or craft (and it ought to be!), the people who are consuming its goods are the ones it needs to be made for. Just like any good product, it should cater to the end user’s requirements before it fulfills our fantasies.

To that end, your website should give the user everything they need, and any extras are for the ‘a-ha!’ factor or for their entertainment.

Know Thy User

What on earth do users want, anyway? A business knows its customers, and the same can be said about every other presence.

Accurately understanding your target demographic(s) will help you design a website that fits them best. The last thing you want to do is create an avant-garde, highly interactive experience for a user base frightened of anything that deviates from the norm, or output a predictable, formatted site for an edgy, creative audience.

So what do I put on my website?

Styling aside, it’s hard to know exactly what pages or features to put on a website.

Is your thing a visual thing? Let pictures speak, make use of image gallery technologies and categorise wisely.

Are you selling something? Know your options; full-blown online shops are within reach, but if your customers prefer to drop by or pick up the phone, a product gallery may hit the mark better.

Is animation right for you? The Human eye has evolved to catch the subtlest of movements, and while we are no longer hunted by predators on a daily basis, movement still draws our attention. Yes, that’s why banner ads always nag at you! Animation is a fantastic tool to tell stories or mark a user’s progress through a website. And yes, it’s a very effective way of drawing their attention to something important!

Something that should be on every landing page regardless of content is a call to action. Your website should have one major purpose, even if it’s just spreading information, or leading users to make a purchase, or to initiate contact with you. That one major purpose should be patently obvious within moments of the user arriving.

The best thing you can do is begin by creating a list of things you’ve seen that you like, create another of websites or functionality that you hate, and from there you can compare and decide what your users actually need.

I’m scared, hold me

As with any major investment, it’s best to get some research under your belt before you make big commitments. I advise and quote for free, so even if it’s just direction you’re after, don’t be afraid to ring my bell.