You are not a designer. How do I know? If you were, your visceral reaction to our blog’s design would have bounced you so fast off this page, that you would not have made it past the title…jk, jk..(sort of). I actually don’t feel bad saying that because we are really close to launching a new blog design that is going to be a huge improvement.
For you non-designers that have made it this far I’m glad your visceral reaction wasn’t too negative because you need this advice. Your visitors are making a split second decision about how your website makes them feel, as soon as they arrive to your content, and it makes every bit of difference to how they engage with your post, if they share it with their friends, and whether they want to eventually come back to buy what you’re selling.
When a user first visits your website, the first thing that they’re going to notice is what the website looks like – navigation, services, great links, and quality content will all come later. Because first impressions count, it’s important that your website looks professional. The next step is to make sure your website IS professional, by helping users find exactly what they’re looking for.
If a user enters your site and is immediately turned off by the layout, look, or inability to do what they want to do, your content marketing is doomed to fail. It’s that Blink of an eye that makes all the difference.
To be clear. I’m not a designer and I’m certain our designers could provide much better advice on this matter, but if you’re an online marketer or your business has a website, there are some simple design elements and website features you need to be aware of. Here goes.
How to Make Your Website Look More Professional
1. Pay Attention to Fonts
Fonts are a quick and easy way to change the look and feel of your webpage, making it look more fun, more goofy, more serious, or more down-to-business. Picking a font that matches your company’s style and culture is essential to a look that is professional, modern and distinctive. It sets the tone for the entire page. Larger fonts should be used for headings and subheadings, titles, and important need-to-know information. Choose fonts that are easy to see (not super tiny), easy on the eyes (no ridiculously bright colors), and are easy to read (lots of curls can be hard to make out).
(Check out this great post from our senior designer: Why is Typography so Important to Content Marketing?)
2. Background is Important
Backgrounds can be simple or sophisticated, ranging from just a single color tone that’s easy on the eyes, to a photo that’s enticing and mesmerizing. It shouldn’t be too overwhelming, and it should reflect your business’s unique brand style. Here AirBnB does a great job of making a stranger’s apartment look welcoming.
3. Use Big Images
One of the easiest ways to make your website really standout, look more professional, and increase user engagement is to use big, high-quality, beautiful imagery. The technique is one that’s used by some of the biggest brands. Take Apple for example with the launch of their iPhone 6. If you want to immediately build credibility and draw the user in, a big beautiful photo is a great way to go.
4. Keep it Simple
No one likes a cluttered site – it’s hard to look at, and even harder to navigate. Your website should be kept clean and clutter free, well organized, and great at directing users exactly where they need to go. One publishing platform known for the effectiveness of its simplicity is Medium. Here’s a post on Medium by our EVP and member of Outbrain’s founding team, John Logioco: Why Trust is the Key to Innovation… Especially in Publishing.
5. Make it Easy for People to Learn More About You
One of the easiest ways to make your website look much more professional is to have a section where people can find links for discovering all that they need to know about your business. Typically, this is at the bottom of a website, and will include links for contact information, your about page, career section, and more. If you don’t include all of the information that people are used to seeing in a site’s footer, you can lose some credibility. Here’s what the Starbucks footer looks like:
6. Use Basic Logos
Logos that are complex – with too many colors and too many different fonts – can be distracting to a first-time visitor to the site. Instead of going for something too bright or too bold, aim for something that’s simple, straightforward, and visually appealing. After the memorable Twitter logo, Biz Stone did not disappoint with the logo for his new company, Jelly; memorable, recognizable, simple, and explains the brand name in logo form.
7. Consider Implementing Icons
Much like a logo, an icon can be a simple way to represent an idea or a command in picture form, and can greatly improve the professional look and feel of your site. Icons don’t have to be complex, and they don’t have to be used for everything. For example, an example of an icon that’s nearly universal and directs a user to where they need to go is the shopping cart icon, which represents, of course, an online shopping cart. Square does an excellent job of communicating concepts efficiently and beautifully through icons:
8. Choose a Color Scheme
A color scheme is an important part of a professional website, and much like text and background, can highly influence the immediate like-ability and appeal of your site. A color scheme should be consistent throughout your website, so that users don’t constantly have to readjust each time they visit a different page. A color scheme should also be chosen to fit your business goals and website theme – pink might not be appropriate for a company focusing on local produce and recycling, just like green might not be appropriate for a company that focuses on princess costumes for children. Here’s Evernote’s use of a consistent color scheme.
9. Do Design Research
There is no one answer to a great website design. Some use images alone for navigation, others use drop down lists, yet others use blocks of information that a user must scroll through to find what they’re looking for. Some websites are long, some are short, some have lots of connected pages, some don’t. It’s important that you are familiar with what’s possible. Researching what other people are doing is the best way to contribute great ideas to your design process. While you may prefer a website, like the Apple example above, that features one central image with links to surrounding information, you may also prefer a website that offers many images all on one page. You won’t know if you don’t do the research. 99 designs is great place to start to get a sense of what is out there and who can help you create it.
This may all seem a little overwhelming for us non-designers, but as long as you’re aware of the elements that make for a well designed website, it will be much easier for you to communicate to a designer why you don’t think something looks professional. While your visceral reaction is usually something you want to trust, how you communicate that reaction will help your designer tremendously, and make your visitors feel welcome when they land on your page.
What other tips do you have for the non-designer that will decrease the % of people who bounce from their content because of their first reaction to the design?