5 Design Features Every Website Needs
If you’ve spent more than a hot second on the internet, you probably know that not all websites are created equal.
As designers, creative entrepreneurs, and business owners, we are all out here doing our best to run sites that look good and work well. We want to grow our businesses and brands, serve our audiences, and enjoy our work while we’re at it. Ain’t no shame in that!
So why does it feel like so many people have great intentions but just can’t quite seem to get their websites right? Is it a lost cause to DIY or are websites something that should only be done by professional developers?
Heck no! Having a good website isn’t rocket science and it is totally within reach, so long as you follow certain guiding design principles.
Here are 5 design features every website needs in order to be successful:
1 . Cohesive branding
The designer in me can’t help but put this at the top of the list and I’m sure you’ll agree that good branding is super important! Branding means different things to different people but it all comes down to “visual identity” and creating a consistent theme or image in your audience’s eyes.
Branding is made up of different parts but usually includes a logo, color palette, typography, various images or graphics, and even the copy style.
The first step of branding your website, if you haven’t already, is to come up with a logo. A logo can be a symbol or a way of styling your name, whatever you feel is the best fit for you and your business! There are plenty of logo templates out there that are a great place to start but I always recommend working with a designer to nail down a unique logo that fits your brand perfectly. It’s not always necessary to include a logo on your website and if you’re using Squarespace, you’ll notice that not all templates require you to include a logo. That being said, you should always have a logo on file that can be used for marketing materials or other use cases.
After the logo is taken care of, it’s time to decide on a color palette. If you’re taking the DIY route and have no idea where to start, I recommend searching Pinterest or using the Adobe Color Wheel for pre-made combinations. Once you’ve got your colors lined up, you can then take a look at font pairings and decide what kind of typography you’re going to use. Squarespace has a massive library of fonts that you can choose from, or you can always purchase a premium font to really nail down your branding and set your website apart.
Finally, don’t forget about establishing a set of image templates for any social media graphics you’ll be using on your website! Blog post images that you’ll share on Pinterest are an obvious choice but you can also apply this to other social media platforms and email newsletter templates.
2. Clear navigation and menu
If you’re new to web design, you might not have heard of the “F pattern”. That’s okay! It basically means that people will read a website horizontally starting at the top of the page/content area, and then make their way down and across as they go. This means that the navigation and menu areas are very important because they are the first place people look and how they get oriented with your website and content.
Most websites favor a horizontal menu and navigation (because it’s the most traditional and commonly used format) but some websites choose vertical options, usually on the left side of the page. Either way, the best practice is to keep the menu and navigation as simple as possible, which means keep it around or under six items. Any more than that and it can be confusing for visitors to your site to navigate around and find the content they are looking for. If your website has a lot of content and you’re trying to decide the best way to present that information to your audience, don’t forget about drop-down menu items and secondary navigation menus (usually in the footer section at the bottom of the web page). Having a simple menu that is easy and intuitive to navigate means that visitors to your website can easily find the information they’re looking for or that you want them to see, and as a result, they are more likely to stay on your website and develop a relationship with your brand.
3. Obvious contact page
I’m always surprised (and even a little shocked?) by how many websites hide their contact information. If you are a business that serves clients in any way, you must have a contact page that is easily accessible and thorough! You might choose to include your email, phone number, physical address, and a contact form on this page to make sure that you have all your bases covered. Many websites also add an FAQ section to their contact page to address common topics or repeated questions. Not only does this serve your audience, it also cuts down on the number of emails received.
If you run a website that does not require you to interact regularly with your audience, you might choose to put the contact page in the footer of your website - that is totally fine and a good decision to clear up space in your main navigation menu.
4. Newsletter signup
I’m a firm believer that every website, no matter the industry, should have an email list. If you’re hesitant to start a newsletter, don’t be! Have fun with it and embrace it because the numbers don’t lie - newsletters are one of the most effective marketing tools out there! Email converts at a MUCH higher rate than social media, and you’re able to communicate directly with your audience and arrive invited into their inbox. Social media moves a mile a minute and people probably won’t catch every post you publish, but everyone checks their emails so you want to show up there.
If you’re just getting started, I suggest signing up for an account with MailChimp, which is free up to 2000 subscribers. MailChimp also has a TON of templates that you can work off of so even if you are new to email marketing, you can feel confident that your communications will look good while you’re finding your writing voice. Email is also really powerful because you can set whatever tone you’d like with your communications, so both formal and casual approaches work well here. They also have a great integration with Squarespace so there’s hardly any setup required! Once you’ve integrated your email list with your website, you can start sending out newsletters letting your audience know about business news, special offers, sales, product launches, and so much more!
Having a newsletter on your website is an important design element, but it’s also a major metric of website growth. If you want to track your website’s growth and grow your online business, be sure to take a look at my spreadsheet templates!
5. Social media integration
The last design feature that every website needs is social media integration. Having an online presence through social media is a must because it will help you to grow your website and strengthen your relationship with your audience.
You don’t have to be on every platform but it does help to have accounts on all the major social media channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Video content is also on the rise so if you’ve ever thought about starting a Youtube channel, there’s no better time to do so! And don’t worry, having a presence on these platforms doesn’t mean that you have to become a Youtuber or Instagram-famous :)
Connecting your social media accounts to your website is very straightforward and most websites position those links at the top of the webpage or down in the footer. It’s also a good idea to include social media links on the contact page.
You might also want to use a free tool to encourage social sharing, such as Sumo’s Share buttons. All you have to do here is create an account, add a tiny bit of code to your website (super easy), and watch as your content gets shared across the internet. Say hello to all that new traffic! Best of all, this is a free feature so you can ball out on a budget.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when designing your website is that you want to make it as easy as possible for people to interact with your content, and if you can make it stupidly simple for them to share that content, even better!
Having a website that looks good and works well is totally within reach if you follow certain design principles. The five tips listed above are a great place to start, no matter what type of website you’re working with! Websites are the online “home” of your business and brand, and they should reflect your work accordingly.
Adding these design features will improve your website from a visual and structural angle, but will also help you to connect with your audience and give them a better experience on your site. From here, you’ll be able to develop and strengthen that relationship and have a much better chance of converting them to customers. If you’re looking to grow your website, these tips will also help you to increase traffic and get more returning visitors - that’s what we call a win/win! You’ll notice a direct correlation between strong website design and website growth, and if as that happens, be sure to track your progress!
Now it’s your turn to tell me, does your website have any or all of these design elements already? What design elements have the biggest impact on your business and website growth? What changes are you going to tackle first? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments!
Meet my friend, Charlotte O’Hara – today's guest blogger:
Charlotte O’Hara designs and develops beautiful websites for small professional businesses. As an avid technical writer, she has written countless articles about web design, development, tech tips and tutorials, etc. Charlotte also created a popular free 7-day email course that teaches anyone how to build and launch a website totally from scratch using the Squarespace platform. Every Wednesday she sends out a weekly newsletter that turns web design and development into actionable and accessible points. Catch her on Twitter or down by the beach. Charlotte is a graduate of Dalhousie University who made the move out west to Vancouver and never looked back. She enjoys sailing, hiking, playing sports, traveling and long dinners out on the patio.