According to Internet Live Stats there are currently more than a billion websites in existence today, as identified by unique host names. In 2004, the year Facebook was launched, there were a ‘mere’ 50 million, meaning the number of sites has grown more than 20 times larger over the past decade.
Only around a quarter of those billion-plus websites are currently thought to be actively maintained, but that’s still a staggering amount of addresses and content to wade through. It’s become increasingly difficult to stand out, but great web design and development can still give you the edge over your competitors. A site with that elusive wow factor can help to both capture and retain your visitors’ interest.
1. Responsive design
Small screens increasingly equal big business and these days it’s no longer enough to have a website that is designed to just look great on desktop. Visitors who use their smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are demanding quick-to-load sites that display properly and Google even announced changes in its search algorithms that effectively penalise sites that are not properly optimised for mobile formats.
An early response to the increase in mobile internet was to create a separate site optimised for mobile and to use redirects when people arrived there via mobile search. Nowadays, responsive design is becoming more popular. Essentially, this detects the device the site is being viewed on and scales and formats it to suit. This can be more cost and time-effective than designing and maintaining multiple sites and ensures that your visitors get a great experience, no matter what kind of device they use to find you.
2. Organised navigation
Visitors to your site don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time searching through multiple pages to find the information they want. Navigation is one of the most important aspects of any website and it should be clear, simple and intuitive. The Guardian shows how a huge amount of content can be organised so that any section of the site can be reached in no more than two clicks. Each page features the main menu with different, colour co-ordinated categories such as ‘Culture’ and ‘Sport’. Click on a main category and you will arrive at that section, complete with a new menu of sub-categories such as ‘Art & Design’, ‘Books’ and ‘Film’ for the ‘Culture’ category.
It’s also worth remembering that many visitors arriving via search engines will not arrive on your main landing page. It’s therefore important to include clear navigation bars or, at the very least, a ‘home’ button on every page, to avoid visitors being stranded.
3. Floating navigation bars
Some sites prefer to present products or information on a small number of long scrolling pages rather than a larger number of smaller pages. One problem with this is that visitors don’t want to have to scroll right back to the top of the page in order to go somewhere else. Floating navigation bars stay fixed on the page while the content moves behind them and the Hard Graft site is a great example of this. No matter how far down you scroll, the navigation buttons are always in view, meaning you can easily click through to another part of the site.
4. Mega drop-downs
Drop-down menus allow sites to present more information in their menu bars without requiring you to click through to another page. When you hover over the relevant button or item, an extended space will automatically drop down, providing more options and subcategories. Dropdown ‘trees’ are not uncommon, with one drop-down menu leading to another but these can be unwieldy and cumbersome. National Geographic uses the mega drop-down instead – a larger dropdown box that can fit more information, announcements, suggestions and even images.
In theory your website is accessible to anyone on the world wide web but in practice cultural and linguistic barriers will prevent you from reaching most people. This can be particularly important if you are looking to expand into new target markets. A Euro-barometer survey found that only 18% of EU internet users who visited foreign language websites said they would frequently buy online in a language other than their own. Localization involves not only translating your content but adapting it to take cultural preferences into account with regards to elements such as acceptable images and even the use of colour.
6. Photo backgrounds
Take a look at Blue Dolphin’s stunning photographic backdrops and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to know more. Full screen photos are a great way to capture the attention, especially for consumer and brochure-style websites.
A picture says more than a thousand words and a simple, uncluttered image doesn’t necessarily need to be cluttered with a lot of written content. You do need to keep an eye on file size however, in order to prevent issues with page loading times.
Amy Simone is a freelance website designer with a passion for web design and development who is always keen to share his expertise through his many informative blog posts.