A 360-degree view of web design and online strategy

How thoroughly have you thought about your website? Have you considered every aspect of what makes a website successful? Sometimes companies concentrate so much on one aspect of web design, content or technology that they neglect other important factors.

The building blocks of a successful website can differ depending on your point of view. Best practices in one frame of reference may conflict with what is considered best practices in another. Like the tale of Six Blind Men and an Elephant, a web design can appear in different ways to different people. The concerns of one expert may support those of another, or they may conflict. It’s worth the time to step back and look at how your website looks in the eyes of different disciplines, with the realization that what works best in one practice area may compromise results in another. Try looking at your website through the eyes of a:

  • Usability expert
  • Information architect
  • Brand strategist
  • Graphic designer
  • Web developer
  • Copy writer
  • Marketing director
  • Advertising sales manager
  • Business development director
  • SEO consultant
  • Social media consultant
  • Content manager

The questions asked by each of these specialists, experts in their own disciplines, demonstrate why building a successful website can be a complex process.

A usability expert may be concerned with the following:

  • Is it obvious what is a link and what is not?
  • Is it clear where every link will lead?
  • Can the users find what they are looking for?
  • Can the user accomplish a task efficiently?
  • How fast does the page load?

An information architect will be looking at the overall structure of the site, especially for sites with a lot of content. Questions an information architect might ask include:

  • Does the website have a logical taxonomy (i.e., system of categories and sub-categories)?
  • Does the navigation reflect the taxonomy?
  • Is content sorted according to this taxonomy?
  • Are relationships between different types of content clear?

The brand manager for the company or product promoted by the website may have a different point of view. The brand manager will be looking at whether the website is consistent with the brand:

  • Does the website conform to the brand style guidelines regarding color, typeface, and imagery?
  • Is the logo prominent?
  • Is the copy consistent with our brand messaging?
  • Does the design of the website evoke the feeling that we want our brand to evoke: e.g., security or fun or quality or value?

The graphic designer will be concerned with a layout that is clear and logical, an attractive color scheme, and typestyles that are set in a hierarchy that clarifies the relative importance of the content. The graphic designer will want the design to be visually interesting, and will be cognizant of the subconscious associations that are evoked by different colors, typestyles, images and textures. The graphic designer will ask:

  • Is the content laid out clearly, in a logical flow, with the most important elements being more prominent than the less important elements?
  • Are elements grouped together logically?
  • Is it visually interesting?
  • Does the design evoke the proper emotion, e.g. calm or edgy or classic or funky?
  • Does the design evoke the proper era? Is it contemporary? Retro?  Timeless? Or is it the look that was really cool 10 years ago?

The web developer will be looking under the hood at what makes the site run. Questions the developer might ask include:

  • Is it a standards-compliant website?
  • Does it work on all major browsers?
  • Is the width optimal for the screen sizes that are most used today?
  • Is it accessible to people with disabilities? On a mobile phone?
  • Is the code error-free? Commented?
  • Is there a separate cascading style sheet?
  • Is it a database-driven website?

The copywriter is going to be concerned with the meaning and voice of the language on the website.

  • Is there a hook right at the beginning to compel the reader to read more?
  • Is the copy persuasive? Informative? Amusing?
  • Is the copy succinct? The point clear?
  • Are the grammar, spelling and punctuation correct?

The marketing director will want to know if the copy is supporting the marketing goals of the company—encouraging purchases, getting people to pick up the phone or fill out a form for more information. The marketing director will be focused on how the website performs as an engine for generating business.

  • Is there a compelling offer?
  • Is there a clear call to action?
  • Is the website generating leads or direct sales?
  • Is there a way to track and nurture the leads?
  • Are we capturing email addresses or phone numbers? Demographic information?
  • Can people sign up for a newsletter?
  • Do we know how people are finding the website? Who they are, where they go, what they look at?

The advertising sales manager—on sites that sell advertising, that is—will be interested in the websites attractiveness to advertisers. The ad sales team will want to know:

  • How many unique visitors come to our website every day?
  • What pages of the website do people visit? What are they looking for? What do they look at?
  • What spaces are available on each page for selling advertising? Are those spaces prominent? What sizes can the ads be? Do they conform to IAB specifications?
  • Will the website support Google AdSense?
  • What is the clickthrough rate on ads?
  • Are both graphic and text ads available? How about pop-up ads?
  • Are there opportunities for sponsors to submit content?

The business development director’s concerns may be similar to the marketing director or advertising sales manager. Business development may also involve partners or investors whose contributions need to be reflected on the website. So a business development director may want to know:

  • Is there a prominent place for the logos of our major partners and investors?
  • Is there a place to feature content about our partners and investors?
  • Can our site drive traffic to our partners?
  • Is there a place on the site to invite companies to invest in us or partner with us?

The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Consultant will be primarily concerned with how people find your website using Google, Bing, or other search engines. The SEO Consultant will want to know:

  • What keyword phrases should the site be optimized for?
  • What are the Google results for those keyword phrases?
  • What “long-tail keywords” can we rank for?
  • Do the keyword phrases appear in the page titles, H1 tags, image alt tags, meta description and content?
  • Is all the copy actual html text rather than graphics of text?
  • Is each page optimized for a different keyword phrase?
  • Are the page title and meta description the optimal length?
  • Is there a blog, or another strategy for ongoing content publishing?
  • Are there a lot of high-quality inbound links?

The Social Media Consultant will be less concerned with the website itself and more concerned with how your website interacts with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, social bookmarking sites such as StumbleUpon and Digg, and whether people can follow, share, and subscribe to your content. The Social Media Consultant will want to know how you interact with your readers and followers across platforms, as well as how you interact with others in your networks and on others’ blogs and forums. The Social Media Consultant may ask:

  • Are there links to follow you on Facebook and Twitter? To connect with you on LinkedIn?
  • Is there an RSS feed to subscribe to your blog?
  • How many followers and subscribers do your accounts have?
  • Does your Facebook page have unique content, or is it just a rehash of your website?
  • Is there a plan to regularly publish content to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?
  • Is there an easy way for you to push new content out to Facebook, Twitter, and social bookmarking sites?
  • Is there a way for users to share content via social networks, social bookmarking sites, and email?
  • Are there automatic tools, as well as regular moderation, to prevent spam comments?
  • Is there a plan and a published policy in place to moderate comments to prevent hijacking, irrelevance, and flame wars, as well as to respond to inquiries and legitimate criticism?
  • Do key executives and staff have complete profiles on LinkedIn?
  • Do key executives and staff participate regularly in industry forums and LinkedIn groups? Do they blog and respond to comments?

The Content Manager is responsible for what gets published, by whom, according to what schedule. The Content Manager will be be interested not only in the technical details of the platform used for publishing content, but also the workflow between writers and other content providers, editors and publishers, and the overall editorial calendar. The Content Manager will want to know:

  • What Content Management System (CMS) is the website built on?
  • Is the CMS easy to use for people who are not technically savvy?
  • Are there multiple levels of access and approval, e.g., writer, editor and publisher? What are the criteria for approval and publishing?
  • Is there an editorial calendar? How far in advance is it developed? Is there a need to change/interrupt the calendar for breaking news and unexpected events?
  • Will all content be developed in house, or will content be provided by third parties, e.g., advertisers or partners?
  • Will any content be provided via RSS or other feed?
  • Does the content need to tie in with advertising?
  • Will the content be open for user comments? Who will moderate the comments? What are the moderation criteria?

The beauty of the web is that you can launch a website with as little as one page and a phone number quickly, simply and cheaply. But to build a successful web presence that grows your business, try building these questions into your web design process.