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For those of you who are looking ahead for your annual website update in 2017 (you are planning an annual website tune-up, right?) we’ve got a list of some essential features that you should be considering.
Many of the trends that have shaped web design best practices in 2016 have accelerated. More and more users are accessing websites through mobile devices. Visual media is increasingly taking the place of written content. Users’ attention span (or, alternatively, their patience for irrelevant content) continues to shrink. While off-the-rack website builders still can’t entirely compete with the functionality of purpose-built websites, they’re definitely making it easier to get a flashy-looking website on the cheap, which has raised audience expectations for quality websites.
One of the most important recent trends has been the emergence of virtual assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa) along with increased demands for 508-compliant websites. Both of these developments point toward new imperatives for how the data beneath a website is structured. We’re moving rapidly into a future where humans won’t be the only users navigating the Internet.
With all this in mind, here’s a quick (by no means exhaustive) list of features to think about when you next get under the hood of your website.
Many website owners are still working with an Old Web mindset. Once upon a time, you could be forgiven for having an outdated website, because putting one together was so costly and expensive. Those days are done.
With the ever-expanding range of turnkey design/build/host platforms for websites – and the subsequent explosion of sleek, modern navigation – the bar for entry level web design has been finally and undeniably set.
In order to stay current (even if your website isn’t using the latest parallax-scrolling layout) your website needs to be easy to modify as you learn more about your audience. If your team can’t make basic changes in order to incrementally tailor your website to your target audience, in-house, quickly and effectively, you’re probably getting left behind by your competition. Consider streamlining your layout. If necessary, sacrifice some bells and whistles (not at the expense of core functionality) to make your website easier to tweak. Users are more impressed by relevant content and straightforward navigation than by (probably outdated) visual parlor tricks and flowery content. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Speaking of visual parlor tricks — web design is entering a weird, seemingly paradoxical phase, in which visual elements are both increasingly important and potentially obsolete.
If that sounds confusing, don’t worry: many web designers who learned from the old school are finding it challenging to thread this particular needle.
We’ll get to the importance of visuals for fully-abled human users further down. For now, consider the threefold demand being placed on contemporary websites: they must be accessible by older devices, mobile devices, and (increasingly) non-visual devices. All at the same time.
The best and possibly only way to triangulate between the demands of these three user groups is to build your website’s main infrastructure around a double-solid core of HTML.
Web design has traditionally focused on graphical interface — the parts dictated by the CSS style sheet — to structure information. By now, the Internet has evolved to the point where looks aren’t the most important thing. Layout still needs to be visually appealing, but a website’s structure must also be meticulously organized and signposted at the HTML level.
Again, like the previous section, the solution to this is to simplify the site’s design. Think about what your website’s most important functions are from a user perspective. Make sure those functions are neatly laid out on the back end of your website. Once the foundation is clearly defined, the visual elements of the site can be added on. But the site’s functionality should work independently of its graphical interface.
508 compliance for websites has even more specific requirements than this; if your website needs to be ADA compliant, IMM offers 508 compliance evaluation services.
While making accommodations for users with desktop computers is important, (this is a rapidly shrinking group of users) websites need to be optimized for mobile users in order to stay current. In the past few years, this has gone from a benefit to a necessity. Over 60% of users worldwide currently access the Internet through mobile devices; that percentage will only increase.
Fortunately, effective mobile optimization or responsive design dovetails nicely with the other best practices described above. Navigation should be straightforward and intuitive. Written content should be brief. Visuals should prioritize quality over quantity. Scrolling should be used in place of complicated drop-downs and link lists as much as possible.
This might seem to contradict the earlier point about core HTML design, but visual elements — images, infographics, and videos — are becoming more persuasive than written content.
Audiences are losing patience for time-consuming content: no matter how clever or well-written your page content is, people are almost certainly skimming it, simply because of the huge demands being put on their attention from every other media channel pointed at them.
Strong visuals break up long stretches of text. They keep viewers engaged in a dynamic way. They communicate in a more immediate way than does writing.
The trick is that visuals need to be high quality in order to be effective. Low resolution visuals that look like pixelated garbage on high-def devices are a death sentence. The same goes for discount stock images and videos with poor sound quality. It’s worth the extra cost to invest in professional quality visuals that are unique to your brand.
(The caveat, as described above, is that all visual elements need to be accessible for adaptive reading devices and non-visual users. That means quality alt text and descriptions for images, reliable subtitling for videos, and well-constructed HTML. IMM can help you navigate these requirements with our 508 compliance evaluation services.)
Odds are, your website isn’t performing for your audience in exactly the way you think it is, and you’re ignoring vital feedback if you don’t have an analytics service for your website. Services like Google Analytics are now free, and with minimal training, your team can stop guessing at what your audience wants and start making strategic decisions based on real usage data. Metrics like Bounce Rates and Average Session Duration are invaluable for understanding how well your website is working. If you’re going to the trouble of maintaining and updating a website at all, this is one of the least costly and most effective ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of your investment.
Article By Ryan Miga
508 Compliance and Google Analytics Specialist
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