THE ULTIMATE LIST OF WEB DESIGN TIPS AND IDEAS

WEB DESIGN

an iPad on a table

CONTENTS

26 min read

Designing your website can be a bit of a slog at times, but we’re here to make it that much easier with our ultimate list of web design tips. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll have probably came across our popular post The Ultimate list of Branding Tips, and this is a follow up to that. Once you’ve got your branding and visual identity locked down, you’ll definitely need somewhere to put it- your website!

Do you have a favourite website? Ecommerce store?

Amazon? Itunes store? Spotify? Reddit?

These websites aren’t the most popular in the world by accident. They are very deliberately and cleverly designed to satisfy their core consumer base.

Here at Canny, our mission is to build these kinds of websites for our clients. That’s why we’re here today to help you out with the ultimate list of web design tips and ideas that will help supercharge your online efforts.

There’s tons available on the web talking about web development best practices and hosting, but nothing insanely actionable that you can refer back to when building your website!

Here’s the deal:

Before we can even delve into the tips, we’ve added a few questions (consider this a bonus) that you need to answer about your current website needs first.

Then, we can proceed to our huge list of actionable web design tips.

And no matter whether you’re starting a new company and building from scratch, or rebranding an existing website, we’ve got that covered as well.

Here are the basic questions you’ll need to answer when considering your web design:

a laptop, ipad and iphone all alongside each other

What Does Your Business Do?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is what the business that you’re involved with actually does. Sometimes, after years of treading water, this can actually become a little muddy.

You started as a restaurant but now you’re also selling food packages that can be delivered monthly. Or originally, you were an e-commerce store that sold sports merchandise, but now you’re selling event tickets and more.

Strip it all back and ask yourself, “What does this business do?” Not used to do, or want to do, but actually do.

Note: If you are building a website and want to change what you do, this is the time to get clear on that, too.

Homework:

Write down a few bullet points on what your business does. If you are feeling a little unclear at this stage, don’t worry. Hopefully, the next few questions will provide you with a lot more clarity as well.

You can always come back to this question after some more branding soul searching.

Why Do You Do It?

Why did you decide to setup that restaurant in the first place or why were you selling wrestling merchandise out of your garage? Was it just to make a quick couple quid? (Likely not if you’re in the restaurant business!)

Try and remember exactly what lit the fire in you in the first place and write it down. I doubt you did it on a whim, so like the first point, bring it right back to basics. They can often get lost as your brand scales and grows. Defining the why of your business can help guide you back to a lean, sophisticated website design that achieves exactly what you want your website to do.

Homework:

Think back to those first few days you started your business. Write down one sentence that describes what you hoped to accomplish. Remember this often.

lightbulb on a chalkboard

Where Do You Want Your Business to Go?

Once you’ve identified what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, spend some time thinking about where you want your business to be five, ten, and even twenty years from now.

For example, Gary Vaynerchuk has said for years that he wants to buy the New York Jets. I don’t know why, because the Giants are clearly the better side, but it has been one of his main goals for as long as I’ve followed his work.

The goal at Canny? To have a minimum of 20 offices spread around the globe working with a variety of different companies from a whole range of countries.

Where do you want your business to go? Are you wanting to open a franchise of care homes? If you’re selling sports merchandise, do you want to only sell wrestling merchandise forever, or are you branching out?

Whatever market you’re in, or want to break into, a digital presence is vital.

This question will set the bar for your web design moving into the future. You can relate everything you do back to this by asking, “Will this action help my business achieve its end goal?”

Homework:

Don’t be afraid to set big goals here. Where do you want the business to be in twenty years? Think as big as you can imagine. This is the dream, baby; it starts from here.

Did you know that before he made it big, Jim Carrey wrote himself a cheque for $10 million dollars and post-dated it? Did you also know that he was able to cash this cheque when the date came? It’s all about clarifying your vision early, then working toward that.

What Do You Believe?

Having a brand ethos or brand belief system in place will help you out in the long run.

“Great brands don’t sell products. They sell ethos.” Tony Fannin, President at BE Branded.

Perhaps, you’re all about green energy, watching your carbon footprint and recycling. Great, now you know that all of your stationery should be printed on recycled paper, or perhaps you don’t even have stationery printed.

If you believe everyone should have next-day delivery on their product orders, then make sure you shout about it on the front page of your website. A well-defined belief system will help mold your business and its actions.

Homework:

As you make brand decisions, ask yourself “Is this in line with our company ethos?” If you haven’t already defined your company ethos, now would be a good time.

Going digital and building out a website is a major commitment. You’re putting your business out there for everyone to see- forever. If your messaging isn’t bang on aligned with your ethos, you might be setting yourself up for failure down the line.

Are you prepared for a website build?

Having a website for having a websites sake is never a good way to approach a website build. And there are thousands of complex decisions you have to consider. How are you going to host the website? What do you want the website to do? What do you want the website to say? To represent? It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re 100% in on a website project, or you can damage your brand by having a bad, half hearted web design.

Homework:

Go through our web design brief and answer all of the questions as plainly and as honestly as possible. It’ll give you a good idea about the sort of web design deliverables and options available to you, and what you need from your website.

About Your Customers

Who Are Your Customers?

Without customers, it’s impossible to run a profitable business.

Spend some time thinking about your customers. If you have customers now, ask yourself if they’re the customers you want. If they’re not, you need to identify what your ideal customer looks like and how you’re going to appeal to them.

Most importantly, think about what customers want and expect from you and your business.

When it comes to web design, the customer intent is vital. If you went to look at a mortgage product, you’d expect the website to be clean, official and serious looking. It should ooze trustworthiness. If you opened up a bank’s website and circus music began to play and it was full of confusing gimmicks and graphics, you’d quickly make your mind up and look elsewhere.

Conversely, if you were looking for a day at the circus and went on the circus website, only to find a drab, dreary and highly professional, no nonsense website, you’d leave for the same reasons.

Web design should involve as little guesswork as possible, and developing an accurate and realistic audience persona can help a lot with that.

Where Are Your Customers?

The location is still so important, even as everything seems to go global or digital. Knowing exactly where your customers are, what they do, where they go, and who they like to hang out with are all key factors in understanding or determining your brand.

Local SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is vital to any organisation, even if you have a global offering or appeal. Considering where your target audience is located geographically allows you to design for various locations, maximising audience capture in specific areas.

With all of that considered, let’s take a look at some real, actionable tips.

The Ultimate List of Web Design Tips – The List That Keeps on Growing

1. Be user friendly.

We recently asked a variety of web design professionals, what is the most important thing when it comes to designing or commissioning a website? The resounding common theme across all of the answers was a ‘customer first’ design. By putting the customer at the forefront of any design decisions, you’re making sure your website ticks all of the right boxes with all of the right people.

2. Ask your customers questions.

It’s so important to survey your customers and – may we say – that you need to embrace all kinds of feedback, good and bad. You’ll learn a lot more from the negative feedback anyway, so ask away and be ready for the results.

3. Prioritise speed.

You’re entering into a competitive marketplace. The online world is almost universally competitive, no matter what industry you’re in.

While this makes launching a new website super exciting, it also means people have lots of options available to them. If your website doesn’t load quickly, and get the information needed to customers, they’ll simply look elsewhere.

4. Don’t spend too much time worrying about hosting

Hosting is an absolute must for all websites. It’s how you serve your websites to customers. Opting for a managed hosting service takes away all of the stress of having to manage the technical aspects of server management, and is the best option for 99.99% of businesses. To discuss hosting options, get in touch with Canny and we can sort all of that out for you.

5. Use frameworks.

Frameworks and wireframes give you an idea of how your website will look, work and flow without too much commitment. Think of them as a prototype- it’s better to discover teething problems early on, rather than once your website is live.

6. Commit to a cognitive walkthrough of the site.

Once you have a moderately fleshed out wireframe of your website, even if it’s just using lorem ipsum in place of text, go through your website as if you were a prospective customer. Try to really drill down into the psyche of your customer personas to make sure it’s as accurate as possible.

7. Consider SEO from the get go.

SEO is vital for organic traffic, and can make or break your business. Organic traffic can account for a huge amount of business, and not considering SEO early on in the process can cripple your website from the get go, so it’s best to engage an expert (or a team of them!) ASAP.

8. Get analytics on your competition with Similar Web.

Research the competition with Similar Web.

Want some basic analytics on your competitors?

Who doesn’t?

Why not do a quick Similar Web search and see where you land amongst your competitors? The site is easy to use; just type in the URL you want to investigate, and voila. You’ll get some basic traffic info, insights into your audience likes, and similar sites. It only takes a minute or two to look a site up, so try it out.

This also works for apps, so you can get a few insights on that app you’ve built or on some competitors. You won’t get a ton of insights for free, but you can always sign up for their Pro service which gives you way more analytics and insights. The basic package price starts at $199 USD per month and goes up from there, and of course, there’s a pop-up support person to walk you through the buying process.

9. Consider your channels.

Your website is a marketing channel, and should be treated as such. It should be designed to work in tandem with your other marketing streams, such as physical advertisements, tv advertising, email marketing and paid marketing. Even your social channels should be designed for consistency with you website, but your website should be the main planet that the rest of your channels orbit around.

10. Get Hubspot.

Yes, Hubspot seems to be the inbound marketing software solution that many B2B companies love. It’s not cheap, but it can pay for itself with just one proper lead. There are many resources available if you want to invest in and learn this software system; it’s one of the best.

11. Know how to use Google AdWords (even if you don’t want to do a campaign just yet).

Learn how to set up a test campaign, even if you don’t want to advertise on Google. Why? You’ll find the relative keywords and even some niche market keywords that will help you build content or target the markets online that you need.

12. Don’t try to please everyone.

Define your brand and stick to it. If your brand is a small label, hand-crafted beer, you aren’t going to please the discount beer drinkers who scoff at your high prices. That’s okay. Do what you do best; you’ll find your brand ambassadors out there.

13. Set up a referral program.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. If someone likes your product or service, give them something for telling their friends. It could be a discount, a free gift, or even a cash-back bonus. If you have a great product, people will automatically refer others to you, so use the referral program as a way to say thanks!

We talk a lot more about referral programs in our Building Brand Loyalty piece and share some of our favourite examples, too.

14. Figure out what websites your audience love (and try to appear on them!).

Referrals from friends are great, but one major endorsement from a popular or respected name in your audience’s spheres can go a lot, lot further. Once your website is up and running, traffic is God- don’t be afraid to leverage someone else’s influence to drive traffic.

15. Consider your launch strategy.

Don’t think that once your website is designed and ready to go, that’s it done! A well considered and fleshed out launch strategy is key to ensuring once your website is live, people come to it.

16. Build Backlinks.

Backlinks are a great way to indicate to Google and other search engines that your website is quality. The key to this is EARNING backlinks. You earn backlinks through quality content, that people are happy and proud to link to.

Never buy backlinks

It can be tempting to buy backlinks, but this is a quick way to the bottom of the pile when it comes to websites. Google will see these low quality backlinks, and punish your website in the rankings for it.

17. Use social media to build connections.

Don’t think of social media as a way to blast, blast, blast your brand out there. Make connections. Entertain people. Have a laugh and build relationships.

18. Become a center of influence.

Don’t rely on others to influence your audience. Become that influencer that others quote and share content from. If you are a small business starting out, why not create a group or blog? Call yourself an expert even before others do.

19. Develop credibility over time.

Brand trust and loyalty don’t happen overnight. Don’t stress if your center of influence is smaller than you had hoped. Keep going. You’ll get there.

20.Never launch your website on a Friday.

This is a lesson many people learn too late. If you launch on a Friday, and your web developers or consultants don’t work weekends, any teething problems you may have (and you will have some) end up waiting up to 3 days before you can even start to fix them.

21. Don’t ignore the fruit that hangs low or falls off the tree.

If you want to build your customer base, don’t ignore the easy sales, either. Tell everyone you know about your brand, your company. Get out in your local area and brag a little. Reach out to everyone on your email list.

22. Everything is an opportunity to market your new website.

It’s a temptation to hide away your company until it’s larger than life, but that’s not how it works. Don’t be afraid to document and share the parts of your company that are still a work in progress.

For example:

If you are a building a website for a new coffee shop, why not share the challenges you have along the way before you even serve your first cup of java? Take screenshots of your first line of code. Show off cropped images of your wireframes- tease the launch. Take pictures of you and your team tasting the new brews. Share your story early on social media, and build your brand, your business and the hype for your new website.

23.Choose a suitable CMS.

CMS- content management systems- are the bread and butter of adding content to your website. Choosing the right CMS out of the gate can save you a lot of headaches later on when you update your website or offering.

24. Define your archetype

What kind of a brand do you want to become? This article from Business 2 Community suggests that you choose an archetype to help define your brand more:

Are you the helper? The sage? The outlaw? Think about the companies that you love – Apple is the visionary, while Taco Bell is the jester. What type of character is your company? How can you play on this archetype in your branding efforts?

Once you’ve decided, make sure your website lives, breathes, and emanates this archetype.

the words steps highlighted in a dictionary

25. Consider the… bells and whistles of it all.

Does your website need a live chat plug in like Drift?

Does your website need a pop up email capture?

Complex forms for customers to get in touch?

Integrated shopping options?

Secure checkout and PayPal built in?

That’s a lot of strain to put on the website, and it might make your website run slowly. If any of the above aren’t absolutely necessary you’d be better off leaving them out. User experience is vital to your website. Everything else is just frills.

26. Involve the professionals.

Take care of your company. If you don’t know how to do something, hire a professional. Even if you do know a bit about website building and coding, hire a pro that can do it better. Build the best website right from the start.

27. Do your “Get to Know You” homework first.

Before you involve anyone else in your brand, you have to know your company. Take the time to define your company first even before you meet with an agency or web designer. A smart team will be asking you a lot of questions in the beginning, so get ready!

As previously mentioned, our web design brief will go a long way to helping you understand the important aspects of your web design project.

28. Install Google Analytics.

This should be a no brainer. For everyone who visits your website, you can capture a wealth of data. Once your website starts drawing traffic in the hundreds, you can gain insight into trends that will affect your entire business, including seasonal trends, demographic information, and even when your website is busiest on a day to day basis!

29. Choose the right social media network(s).

If you aren’t getting any traction on your social media posts, why not? One reason might be because you are using the wrong social platform. Facebook can be great to target certain audiences, but your teenager might think you are lame if you still use it. Snapchat might be a great place for a new energy drink, but forget that if you are marketing a new seniors’ programme. Find what works for your brand. Connect with your audience.

Use this connection to drive traffic to your new site.

30. Keep the code lean.

Unnecessary java script and CSS can slow down your site considerably. Optimise your code, your website will be that much better for it.

31. Don’t go with ‘out of the box’ solutions or packages.

There is a reason bespoke website solutions are much better (and typically more expensive) than out of the box solutions.

They work better.

If a company isn’t prepared to create a custom built plan of action for your website, and is just offering to ‘build your website’, they’re probably one to avoid. Scope the work properly, and consider your options.

Imagine you walked into a restaurant and the menu just said ‘FOOD- £3’.

If you don’t know what you’re getting, and what deliverables to expect, you’ll often end up worse off than you started.

32. Curate your website to match your funnel.

Your funnel is the journey potential customers or clients take before purchasing from you. If awareness is the first step, open your website with a bit of an informational page. If your sales funnel is short, and you rely on impulse buying for the majority of your sales, keep your on site user journeys as short as possible.

a shopfront with a come in we're open sign

34. Consider your website as if it were a brick and mortar shop.

It can be a helpful exercise to think about website as a brick and mortar shop. As stated above, your sales funnel is how your prospective customers convert to to paying clients.Typically, bookshops put best selling hardbacks at the front of the store because they have the highest profit margins and sell well. Niche genre paperbacks will be at the back of the store, and given the least shelf space.

Your website should be the same. Your best selling items should be the easiest to find, and should lead to more sales and more conversions.

35. Design a space for blogging.

Blogging will grow your traffic. Well thought out, strategised blogs will grow traffic to your website. Well designed, well thought out, strategised blog… you’re golden. The more people that visit your blog, the more potential clients you have. Content marketing should be an absolute no brainer.

36. Consider security.

A secure website is a trusted website. A trusted website is one that builds trust for your business. Nowadays, in an era of tech savvy, well informed buyers, the absolute minimum people would require from any website is an SSL certificate (it’s the thing that gives you the little padlock next to the website in the url bar)

37. Keep User’s Choices to a Minimum.

Offering a simple ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ choice on your website is stronger than leaving it up to potential customers to figure out what they want to do on their own. Binary options- save or cancel, checkout or continue browsing, etc.- all drives customers further down your sales funnel.

38. Design for groupings.

Keep your related resources, information, and offerings grouped together in an instinctive manner. Chronology, semantic fields, common themes… it doesn’t really matter how you group information. The important thing is to utilise the spaces and composition of each page to highlight important groupings of information.

39. Leverage the established web design traditions.

Don’t go wild with your design just because you can. Shopping carts on websites look a certain way, burger menus look like two or three lines stacked, arrows move pages forwards or backwards, people like to read in columns, and typically left to right (in latinate languages, at least!)

There is a fine line between creativity and plain stupidity!

Laptop with Pinterest Moodboard

40. Find inspiration on Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t just for crafty moms; it’s a built-in inspiration board full of ideas. This can be a great place to explore trends, decide on a colour palette, or just source some inspirational images for your website.

41. Get blogging.

While blogging in and of itself isn’t a web design strategy, getting some of your company ideas out there can help you define and refine your brand. Of course, your blogs should be branded as well, but what does that mean?

Now is the time to think about those untouchable brand qualities that you are so proud of when blogging. Are you hip? Do you have a quirky sensibility? Are you a know-it-all informative expert?

We couldn’t help thinking about our favourite Food Network personality, Alton Brown. His offbeat ethos is clear throughout his blog, not only in the writing but the images he sources.

Blogging drives traffic, and strengthens the domain authority of your website. It’s all part of web design!

42. Keep it simple.

Avoid complex shapes and stick to simple structures. This will make your website more navigable and more easily understandable, and make your user experience far better.

43. Design your style sheet in a simple way.

Once you have an established sense of style, all of your fonts, colours, and imaging should remain as consistent as possible.

44.Design for responsiveness.

Responsive design is vital. Your website should render the exact same (or as consistently as possible) across all of the major browsers and user hardware. This means that if a user loads up your website on a mobile, a laptop, or a cinema screen, it should be almost identical. At the very least, it should be distinctly recognisable, and that would be the absolute bare minimum!

mobile-code

45. Warn users before they make an irreversible decision.

DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT? ARE YOU SURE?(this is an irreversible action)

If anyone on your site could potentially make a disastrous error and delete something that facilitates the enjoyment of your website, it should be made moderately clear…

46. Leverage your cache and lazy loading options.

Cache and lazy loading options can help your media and content load much quicker, and it’s such a basic thing there is no real excuse for not doing it.

47. Test, Test, Test.

Test your website and ensure that there are no obvious bugs, flaws or weaknesses in the site security. Professional testers are readily available if you want to be extra, extra sure of your website.

48. Get the basics right.

Why do brands seem to forget the basics? Customer service, for example. Great design, awesome websites are good, but if you can’t return your purchase easily, you’ll quickly become the website that no one can trust.

49. Mind the fold!

Be mindful of the page fold. Yes, believe it or not, the page fold is still a very real thing.

By page fold, I mean the first visible piece of your website that loads, before you have to scroll. It’s the bit of your site that a visitor will see first.

You want to make sure that you have your main call to action above the fold.

What is that one primary action you want your users to take?

That’s your main call to action, get it right above the fold. If it’s not visible, people aren’t going to take the action.

You also want to make sure you give enough information above the fold. Information is the first part of the ITC structure, so don’t lose people by failing to engage them.

One thing we like to do when designing a website, is to hang a design element off the screen so it goes below the fold. This way, people know there’s more further down the page and are encouraged to scroll.

50. Have multiple CTAs throughout pages

Multiple calls to action throughout the page allows users to navigate through the site more easily, and to more profitable pages for you. Giving customers an easily navigable page will help your website convert.

This is one of the Canny CTAs…

and it gives an easy, navigable exit from the page.

51. Sticky top bar navigation works

Your top navigation bar should be sticky- that is, it should follow users down the page. Having the entirety of your website, or at least the pages that matter, readily available to users is vital.

52. Link Internally

Make sure your website is linked internally. This means that all pages are linked together, in a sensible and logical manner.

Link to your important pages from your home page, and every other significant page. This will inform Google of which pages you wish to prioritise when Google’s robots crawl your site.

53. Prioritise your users

Your users are the first and last consideration in web design. If your website looks terrible, but users love it, then it is a good website.

If your website looks absolutely fantastic and follows all of the core design principles to a T, but users hate it… it’s a bad website.

Thankfully, the core design principles are based on user preference, but still… your users decide what’s good and what’s bad, so use the analytics and accept feedback, and use that to inform your design.

and finally… THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP we can offer you…

Get in touch with Canny Creative, and let us design you website

If you’ve just read 53 tips on web design that we’ve written, and you’re thinking of building a website for your business, get in touch with us. We’re experts in this (clearly) and will do an excellent job no matter what your business.

You’ve already spent a solid amount of time considering web design from our perspective, so what’s the harm in emailing across your web design brief to us- who knows, it might lead to something great!

The Ultimate List of Web Design Tips

That’s it!

Our huge list of the ultimate web design tips that we believe will seriously get you thinking about web design for your company in an entirely new way.

Unfortunately, this list is in no way exhaustive, as web design isn’t a simple thing to ‘prescribe’ fixes and tips for. Every web project we do is different, and the only way to get exactly what you need from your website is to opt for a personalised, fully scoped out web design project. That way, we can cater to your exact needs and give you and your business needs the best chance of success.

Definitely keep a check on this list, because we’ll be updating it fairly regularly- or if you’re hungry for more web design content check out the rest of our blogs. If you can think of anything we’ve missed, email it across to us. Maybe we’ll add them to the list!