I grew up in the age of Use It (ask your grandpa) and thus I have some very specific, minimalistic web design opinions. But most websites would rather look like their competitors / friends / admired websites, rather than simply 1) putting users first, and 2) considering what they’re even trying to accomplish.
Since I moved on to do other stuff a few months ago, I’ve already been asked my opinion on how to put a website together. So I decided to put this brain dump down on paper so I won’t have to keep repeating myself :).
I don’t claim that any of it is rocket science or that it is even non-obvious. It’s the anti-rocket science. But, as is usually the case in such endeavors, I suggest ignoring the professionals, and instead listen to the self-taught who use common sense and who pause to think whether things even make sense to do:
I hope this post helps you. Your mileage may vary.
In the order that things came to me yesterday while compiling this list, rather than a orderly cookbook:
1 CELL PHONES: Design your website for cell phones. 60% of web traffic is from mobile devices.
2 GOOGLE: Google spiders your website using the cell phone version, so the simpler that you can make your navigation and presentation, the better Google will be able to understand it.
3 SIMPLE: Again, keep your navigation and presentation simple.
4 LINKING: You should have strong internal linking. If one of your most important pages is how to start a recruiting firm, by golly have some internal links on your website that have proper anchor text that say something like “how to start a recruiting firm”. Internal linking should be tight and focus on what keywords/phrases are most important to you.
5 WORDPRESS: Design your website in WordPress, if at all possible. Then you can pull plug-ins off the shelf to help you do things you’d otherwise have to write yourself, for example.
6 ATTENTION: People use cell phones, tablets, et al. They have short attention spans. Your page might be viewed for less than a minute. Make that minute count.
7 CALL TO ACTION: How do you make that minute count? If you have a call to action, it better be clear and it better be fast.
8 FORMS: Make sure your submission forms work on your site and test them regularly. Don’t count on people emailing you, they would often rather submit information directly on your site.
9 IMAGES: Use few images and the ones you use should be optimized for size and space. And don’t waste them: most or all of them should be faces. Landscapes may be pretty but faces convert.
10 DESIGN THOUGHTS: Ignore modern design, it is all bullshit. Go try to find something on most professional, academic or corporate websites and tell me the inmates don’t already run the asylum.
11 PROOF: The proof that what you’ve built is working is that you’re receiving what you need, in terms of inquiries and traffic.
12 SPEED: Your site should load instantaneously. Not IN a second or two. INSTANTANEOUSLY. When you type your url in your phone or on your computer, no matter how weak or strong your wifi/cell signal, it should load in a blink of an eye and you should say to yourself holy shit that loaded fast. And it will do that if you do what I’m saying to do.
13 KEYWORDS: Focus on your top 5-10 keywords/phrases and focus on those. And they will be those that result in the things that you would like people to do with your site, rather than just focusing on traffic numbers. Stretching your keyword optimization too thin will just result in mediocre results for most keywords.
14 FOCUS ON USERS: The text on the website should be focused on the users rather than some search engine optimization. If you design for your users and make it simple, Google will notice.
15 UH OH: If you aren’t on Google, you don’t exist.
16 COLORS: Use basic colors so that they will load fast.
17 FONTS: Use default fonts so that they will load fast.
18 PROMOTE: Promote using LinkedIn / Twitter / Google and really microfocus on your audience. More on this later.
20 RECOMMENDATIONS: List some recommendations / testimonials, don’t put hundreds or dozens of these, look for keywords and calls to action that are included or can be included with the kind words.
21 LOCATION: List a physical location. It will help in conversion and it will help in search engine placement.
22 MOBILE PLUG-IN: Use a mobile plug-in for WordPress, then you won’t have to design your website twice.
23 RELATED POSTS: If you use the blog section of WordPress (you don’t have to, you can just use the Pages options), grab a Related Posts plug-in that will organically then promote strong internal linking.
24 GIVE IT AWAY: Give something away. Make sure it is a resource that everybody is drawn to and that will help you convert traffic and build credibility. It should be something that other websites will want to link to directly on their own.
25 CONTACT US: Your contact us form needs to be prominent. Remember that you may only have your visitor visiting for less than 60 seconds.
26 DO IT BETTER: If there is something your competitors are doing or info they’re providing, that you can do in a better way, do it and do it loudly.
27 TIE IT TOGETHER: Your pages’ text should tie in to the most important pages and have liberal internal links to those most important pages.
28 SEARCH CONSOLE: Sign up for Google Search Console and study it.
29 SITEMAP: Create an XML sitemap and submit it.
30 SHORT TITLES: Keep your pages’ page titles short.
31 SHORT DESCRIPTIONS: Keep your pages’ page descriptions short.
32 BUILD LINKS EXTERNALLY: One of the easiest ways to do this is to build content that people want to link to.
33 SECURE: Use https://
34 SITE UPTIME: Use SiteUptime (or something similar) to monitor your website 24/7.
35 WEB HOSTING: Sign up with a good web host. And if you’ve had good experiences, stick with them.
36 URL’s: If you use WordPress, keeping your page titles and post titles lean enables the default URL’s that are created to be focused for SEO purposes.
37 BROKEN LINKS: Be aware of building stuff that you have constantly be on top of to chase broken links. Chasing broken links is a pain in the ass and eventually falls to the bottom of priority lists.
38 SYNDICATE: Automate sending your content externally to LinkedIn Twitter Facebook etc. using something like Dlvr.it.
39 REINFORCE: Your tweets and LinkedIn and Facebook, etc., should reinforce the pages that you are trying to promote.
40 MORE SYNDICATION: Click the external syndication buttons on Google ads and LinkedIn ads to get SEO link boosts from that syndication. Yes, Virginia, paid ads boosts organic.
41 BORROW: Review your competitors’ websites and take the best parts of them (like if you like how they structured something), but avoid any bad stuff that they’re doing.
42 DUPLICATE CONTENT: Avoid duplicate content within your website when you compare two pages from your site.
43 ARCHIVE.ORG: I can’t stress enough what a wonderful resource Archive.org is, for seeing how your industry used to look like, and even for relearning things that need to be relearned.
44 DO YOU EVEN NEED A WEBSITE?: Seriously consider whether it’s really just a Twitter account, or a YouTube account, or a LinkedIn company page that you actually need. Maybe you don’t need a website, don’t need that headache. Think about it.
45 SIMPLIFY: The reason why your website will look different from established websites is that nobody simplifies stuff on the web when they’re building. They complicate. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair.
46 UPDATE: Continually update your website. Your search engine ranking partially depends on frequent updates. But make it easy to update your site so that you don’t hate doing it.
47 GARBAGE: Avoid keywords that are going to bring garbage visitors and garbage inquiries. You are aiming for quality inquiries.
48 FLAT HIERARCHY: Don’t bury pages 8 layers deep, nobody will find it and Google will think it is unimportant. Figure out ways to flatten your structure out so that page rank is appropriately distributed.
49 GOOGLE BUSINESS: Get a Google Business listing.
50 BING: Set up Bing webmaster tools.
51 ACTION: Focus on the most actionable keywords, not the most volume.
52 SEO: Install an SEO plugin.
53 FORUMS: Find forums focused on your industry and also LinkedIn groups, and post in them.
54 NEAR THE TOP: Have your most important content of a page be near the top of the page, like the first 150 words. Think like a cell phone user.
55 BOLDFACE: Use Bold or Italics to occasionally highlight keywords and phrases, but don’t overdo it. Don’t underline anything, it just confuses people into thinking it’s a link to click.
56 AUTHORITY: Post links to authority links in your industry. If you’ve got a rock and roll website focusing on Chicago, post links to the top 5 concert venues, for example. Posting authority links increases your authority.
57 ALT: Use, but don’t overuse, the Image Alt command to post appropriate anchor text.
58 CLAIM SOCIAL MEDIA: Claim your brands on the top social media properties and have a minimum of relevant linking content there, these are easy ways to improve your links.
59 VIDEO: Consider using video if it helps your business. Don’t host yourself, host elsewhere and link to it.
60 RESEARCH: Do keyword research.
61 ANALYTICS: Consider using Google Analytics. I am a fan, though, of studying one’s own referrer logs, rather than studying summaries. Referrer logs are like literature that you have to figure out where the stories are going.
62 ACTION: Sometimes it is only by studying referrer logs that you have a better sense of what phrases are actionable. You can see people leave and then come back a few days later, and seeing how they got there and what they did, it’s an art not a science. Too many professionals try to make it a science.
63 CONTEXT: Make sure that you are always keeping the user in mind when you are repeating keywords and phrases on pages.
64 DOMAIN NAME: Choose either a really strong domain keyword name (PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES.COM) or choose something that doesn’t have anything to do with it but that people will remember (PURPLE HAIRCUT.COM). Don’t pick something mid, where you’ll be lumped in with everybody else. Either have it be really strongly keywordish or not at all.