Web design is an increasingly important aspect for any business with an online presence.
After all, a website is the digital shop front for your business. People must be able to find it, navigate through it and find what they are looking for, with as few clicks as possible. Only then are they likely to hang around, interact with your content and become a potential lead or customer.
Regardless of how well it meets the requirements of the previous paragraph, if your website design doesn’t look good, you are at risk of losing your website visitors.
Some industries are better than others at prioritising website design over others.
Unfortunately, many science businesses are guilty of falling into the category that doesn’t prioritise design. Using old or outdated templates, too many stock photos or a theme or design that doesn’t compliment their brand of business values.
Therefore, in this article, I want to discuss the aspects of web design; why they are important, how they benefit your business and how to avoid common issues and pitfalls.
Does website design really matter that much?
As mentioned previously in the introduction, a website design can have significant impact on how people find your website, how they interact with it and what actions they take from it.
Website design isn’t just about how a website looks, but it is also about how it performs technically. This might not necessary be the things visible to the end-user, but it impacts how they ultimately view the website and content on it.
If you have considered using keyword research to generate organic traffic from search engines, you need to ensure that keywords are positioned in the correct places within a website – URLs, headings and main content for example.
If you are taking SEO seriously, you probably also care about your life science content marketing strategy. If visitors don’t find your site appealing and easy to use, they won’t even bother wasting their time reading the content designed to convert.
If you are trying to do some outreach for backlinks, other webmasters are going to use websites they trust. And the visual aspect of a website is the initial factor they see when it comes to building trust.
Below are some important aspects that are crucial for visual and technical website design. Although these are not the comprehensive list of factors, they can be considered the main ones to focus on, and will often overlap with each other.
Website speed is important for two main factors – SEO and visitor usability.
From an SEO point of view, fast websites stand a better chance of ranking higher up in the SERPs. Google have even confirmed this themselves, and they continue to put significant emphasis on this metric. If you use Google Analytics (GA) or Google Search Console (GSC), you can view and inspect reports of website page speed and load time.
The importance of this was highlighted even more recently, when Google announced and launched Web Vitals – the new metrics that will help determine how well a website performs on a few varying metrics.
And the reason for all of Google’s emphasis on website speed? The user experience.
Nobody wants to visit a website that is slow to load the first landing page, or wait ages from move from one page to another. If this happens, visitors are more likely to click back and find another site that will provide the resources they are after.
You can check your website speed using a few different tools, but the two that I recommend checking out for yourself, are web vitals and Lighthouse – both free Google tools that will help you understand how Google views your website.
You can view your web vitals by going to Google Search Console and clicking on the tab in the left hand menu:
If you are using Google Chrome browser, you can access the tool within the browser, or head over to https://web.dev/measure/ to use the tool. This tool gives you an overview of a few metrics, including web performance, accessibility, best practices and SEO.
User Experience (UX)
I’ve already touched on this point previously with the mention of website speed, but it refers to more than just that.
Your website visitors should be able to use your site with as little effort and concentration required. They should be able to understand what the website is about, aided by the use of clear headings, visuals or images and well presented content.
Examples of poor UX can be links or buttons that don’t work, take users to the wrong place, or even result in a 404 error. Consider any sign up forms; they should be hassle free, require minimal information and actually working when users press submit!
A common example of a poor user experience can be attributed to the pop-up. Almost any internet user can relate to the frustration of pop-ups, even though there is a suitable time and place for their use!
More often that not, good UX can be linked to the ‘less is more’ analogy. Make things as clear and simple as possible, and remove any step that is unnecessary in the user journey.
When it comes to website design, the following points outlined by usability.gov below, are a fantastic guideline to consider for almost any UX:
- Useful: Your content should be original and fulfils a need
- Usable: Site must be easy to use
- Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion and appreciation
- Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite
- Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities
- Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell them
An example of good UX is from Abcam. The homepage of their website meets many of the UX qualities deemed desirable for good usability:
Website architecture refers to the structure of a website.
Good website architecture has been planned and properly implemented, so that visitors can navigate through your website easily and easily find where they want to be.
Sometimes, this can be as simple as a clear and simple website header menu, or links to important pages in the footer.
Alternatively, it can be internal links to similar resources on a website, clear side bar or navigation menu that helps users find what they are looking for with minimal effort.
Again, not only is a good website structure crucial for users, it can have significant impact on the SEO performance of a website. Similar topics and content should be structured so that they are located within one location. Doing this and using a proper and descriptive URL structure helps inform search engines about the content that can be found on your site.
Using the same example as above, Merck use clear and obvious URLs to describe the content that is within each category too. The example is the Thin layer chromatography page – screenshot below – located on the URL – https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/analytical-chromatography/thin-layer-chromatography.html
These days, there are very few websites that consist of just a simple website layout, text and some images.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with websites like that, users demand better functionality, based on the devices they use to visit the website and the features it uses.
A functional website should be equally accessible on desktop, tablet and mobile devices. With more and more users visiting websites for the first time via mobile – even scientists! – any user should have equally good website experience regardless of the device they are using.
Most common website builders automatically repurpose layout and design across a range of devices automatically. But just because they do, don’t ensure that it will always be perfect.
Examples of when website functionality goes wrong, include text being too large or small for a device, the layout is wrong, or website elements just don’t work.
Here’s an example taken from fishersci.com:
Notice how there are three different popup notifications when the page has loaded, a popup for cookies, customised experience and a sign in form. Not only is this bad for functionality, it also gives a poor UX.
Always ensure that websites look good and are functional across a range of devices. If you fail to account for this, you risk losing website visitors before they’ve even engaged with your content!
Although usability might sound very similar to a previous point – UX – I mean something different. Rather than talking about how easy it is for your visitors to move around and interact with your site, I am talking about how easy it is for your staff members to upload new and update existing content.
If you website isn’t easy to maintain and update, then it makes it hard work for your colleagues to be able to act on and improve the overall website design.
You don’t need to train your colleagues to be top developers, but ensuring that they have enough knowledge to be able to
An overview of website importance
The ultimate job of a website is to generate more business for your website, directly or indirectly.
A good website for users, usually means good SEO performance. This can mean you get more visitors and that these additional visitors engage with more content and are likely to convert.
If you are building a site from scratch, it makes it easier to consider and account for all the issues. However, in reality, most businesses will have existing websites that will need updating. Sometimes minor changes can have significant impacts for a better website design, but sometimes, it requires more effort such as a full website re-design or migration.
When making changes, consider using information such as external feedback or data from analytics tools. If you can, A/B test new features of designs to understand real-life user feedback to find out what works best for your goals.
Websites need to be continuously maintained. Just make sure your website meets current stands for usability, functionality and design.