One of the biggest cardinal sins of designing a business website is using Flash. An animation tool originally created to help jazz up multimedia presentations, Flash isn’t really suitable for websites for a number of reasons. One of them is that anyone visiting the site will need to have a plug-in installed in their browser to view it. Anyone who doesn’t have this plug-in — including those using phones or tablet devices — will just see a grey hole.
Search engines can’t read anything written in Flash, so your site is harder to find, and Flash sites are difficult to update. Flash is often used for introductory animations on websites — another big no-no. These are a further hurdle for any potential client who just wants to find contact details and see your work.
2 Make a statement
The majority of visitors to your site will see your homepage first, which means it has to work hard. Visitors should know at a glance what your site is about. You also want to give them a glimpse of your work and a feel for your design approach. Your choice of typeface and layout are crucial.
Don’t be tempted to publish your entire mission statement or try to show them all your work on one page, though. One striking image of your best project and a short sentence summing up what you do is often enough. Make sure you include the words “architect” and “design”; this will make you easier to Google.
A lot of architects eschew the services of a professional web designer believing they can do just as good a job — but architects cannot design everything. Even if you have a small budget, do consult a web expert about your homepage and typeface choice. They will have a different perspective on how users interact with your site design and their insights can be invaluable.
3 Make your contact details clear
It’s amazing how many practices forget that the primary piece of information most visitors to a business website want to access is the contact details. Don’t hide this behind a tab or extra navigation.
Your contact page should be clearly laid out with up-to-date information including at least one phone number, postal address and personal email address. Try to provide a named first point of contact rather than just [email protected] or [email protected] Email addresses should be active links that create an email template when clicked on. Also consider including basic contact information on the homepage.
4 Create a simple structure
Think carefully about how much information you want to put on your site and plan out a logical structure. Draw out a diagram that shows how all the pages connect, and make sure visitors will be able to find your contact page and homepage easily from wherever they are within the site.
5 Keep the navigation simple too
Don’t give visitors to your site a barrage of choices. A few items to click on at the top or side of the page should be enough to guide users around. If it isn’t, then you probably have too many pages.
6 limit project information
Trying to work out how much information to give and which projects to include can be tricky, especially for a practice with a lot of work under its belt. As a rule of thumb, only include the images that represent your best work or the type of work you’d like to bring in. Five images is usually enough to give a visitor a good feeling for a project; remember the more you use, the slower your site will load.
It is sometimes nice to include a drawing if it is well presented and conveys useful information about the scale of the project or any unique challenges associated with it. Keep the project description to two short paragraphs. If you have video footage you should also include this, ideally as an easily playable clip hosted by a service like YouTube or Vimeo — using an external hosting service for videos will improve the load time of your site.
7 Use minimal graphics
A good designer will steer you away from unnecessary graphical additions and let your project pictures do all the talking. This will stop your site from taking too long to load and keep the screen area clean so visitors will be drawn to the essentials — your contact details and your work. Avoid pale text on dark backgrounds as this can be very hard to read on some screen sizes. Black text on a white background is the safe option.
8 Think social
If you want your content to spread across the web, you need to think about optimising the design for social networks. Adding simple share buttons is an easy way to start. Including a blog or linking your site to a tumblr account is another way to spread your ideas and work, but there’s little point if you can’t commit to updating these regularly. If you own the copyright on the images used, you can consider adding share buttons for sites like Pinterest.
9 Test and test again
User-testing your site is essential. Get everyone in your practice to try it out before it goes live and listen carefully to the feedback. You can recruit friends and family too. If you have a friendly client, you could also ask them to test the site for a different take; and if you have lots of interactive elements (and a healthy budget), consider arranging a formal user-testing session via a consultancy.
10 Install analytics
A basic, free service like Google Analytics plugged into your site will tell you how many people are visiting it. But it can do a lot more than that. You can find out how those visitors are finding your site with information on referrers (other websites that are driving traffic to yours). There are also analytics that will tell you the key search terms visitors have entered to find you.
Digging further into analytics can help you work out what is working and what isn’t with your website layout and structure. You may find that some pages on the site are more popular than others, and you can also see how much time visitors are spending on your site. You don’t need to be a whizz-kid to install a basic analytics tool — it’s a simple process and a quick Google search will take you to hundreds of support and troubleshooting sites.