This is a new column where I talk about my design approach and thoughts surrounding different aspects of my design practice.
Websites… what wonderful things!
What I love about websites is that they can be so beautiful and so expressive. People now are accessing websites from so many beautiful places – reading your blog from a seaside cliff sipping tea, browsing your shop from a warm cafe – and websites are not just coded, clinical things. They can receive imprint from visitors, absorb attention and reflect what people enjoy looking at, and mirror the beauty of the website’s owner to the world.
They are organic. The best ones flow like water to fit the screen you see them on.
They usually represent ‘the real’, as digital. When translating something which exists in three or four dimensions into something that’s basically read as a flat screen, space and volume matter.
Some websites are for personal projects, some for business, some for commerce, and each can be designed to best support its purpose. Knowing your purpose with your website is important, because the design will functionally, emotionally, psychologically and visually support your purpose.
Where in the past a website might have been viewed as just a one-way communication tool, and where now we have a lot of emphasis on social media and marketing with possibly less genuine feeling behind messages, we’re in a space where we can really define what we want our websites to do and how we want them to represent us. The technology is there to make communication and sharing of ideas two-way, and the knowledge of spreading your ideas is also well-developed. Implementing this in a genuine way which carries real feeling is then what your designer can help you to do.
Websites are not isolated. A truly great website for a business relies on the business understanding themselves, their customers and their purpose. I work mainly with sole traders or small businesses, so let’s define this even further to be that the person commissioning the website may be in a perfect place to start to learn much more about themselves and their own passions (which the business is hopefully a part of) before any code is put to server. (That’s a joke about putting pen to paper)
When designing, I try to express distance and space as well as a range of focus points in the page. As you’re reading this article all the text is at one focus point and the background is flat, but at least the photos can give your eyes some space to focus in the distance. For a whole website, this practice works a bit better because we’re not just looking at one text-dense page.
Having a sense of rhythm in spacing and layout as well as in distance can help a website be more comfortable to spend time on, and more enjoyable and interesting to browse.
Like the design philosophy of a Japanese tea house, space and neutrality gives the viewer space to see themselves in the site.
The principles of a zen-like design are:
- Keep the components of your site’s visibility in balance
- Consider your options wisely before using them
- Keep your visitors enlightened (offer them knowledge)
- Maintain clarity and reduce noise pollution
– Alexander Dawson, in Distinctive Design: A Practical Guide to a Useful, Beautiful Web (2011)
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When I think of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), I can’t help think of all the advertising aimed at “getting you to the top” of the search results.
But the delightful fact is, that you can’t force anything to the top of search results, and you can’t buy rankings. (This isn’t about adwords which can put your ad up top, this is about normal search results).
So when I help people with their Search Engine Optimisation I make sure I keep up to date with the currently known information about how Google manages its search results. (This article is just focusing on Google, and may or may not be true for all search engines).
I mention authenticity because SEO seems at first to be a very technical, clinical thing you pay someone else to do.
But this isn’t necessarily the case. The current state of Google’s search results set-up, in a simple sentence, is that it prioritises genuinely useful content written for people (not robots), which is in an accessible format.
Let me break this down.
• Writing for people as opposed to robots means that just writing your keywords a lot in the page won’t work. Instead, writing well crafted sentences which are appropriate in reading level and content to your audience, and also make mention of your keywords explicitly (we’ll come back to this) will work best.
• An accessible format means that your site is created to work well with mobiles and other devices as well as full computers, loads quickly (slow loading sites will not rank as high as fast loading sites), and may also come to mean accessible to people with screen-readers and using valid code.
Although you may need help from a professional for the second point above, the first point is something that’s within reach of almost anyone.
Writing at least a few paragraphs about your topic on each webpage in a useful, authentic way, drafting and refining the content, is worth more than a technical SEO setup on a poorly written page or one with no real content.
It is important to note that when we have an about page that talks about the company in general terms it’s hard to then connect that to specific keywords to promote. So if we mention those specific keywords in the page content in a useful way for readers, it is also useful for SEO.
This may seem obvious but what I’ve seen when I create websites for people is that often because they know their business so well, they will write something general like “our products are safe and reliable” which could refer to anything, whereas a sentence saying “The Grazing Elk’s website designs are created to be responsive, accessible and optimised for search engines”, targets the keywords I might want to reach such as “website design”, “responsive”, “accessible” and “search engine optimisation”.
Once you keep the specific words you’re talking about in your writing, as well as writing in a style suited to your audience (formal and complex sentences are fine for a site aimed at specific technical knowledge whereas overly-convoluted sentences are probably not ideal for someone connecting with a general audience – these sentences are graded on a reading scale and do make a difference with SEO).
(You can test the readability of a sentence/paragraph here: https://readability-score.com/ remember that if you are scoring “difficult to read” but this is the language your visitors are expecting, then that’s perfect!)
To summarise then, don’t feel that to get good search results you need to pay someone a lot of money. If you have a fair grasp of your topic and are happy doing some writing, you’re more than halfway there!
Authenticity is effective both for the search engines, and for audiences, and writing good pages is within your reach!
However, if you do need some help here’s some handy contacts.
For making your site accessible or faster to load: Consider The Grazing Elk’s website maintenance and improvement program. This can be a one-off, although I recommend at least 2 sessions to get things really going well. (Also very effective in website security because I monitor your website throughout each month and fix/upgrade things immediately)
For the technical SEO (once-off) setup once you’ve written your content: I offer a page by page technical SEO setup where I add in the meta-description, title, alt tags, and score each page for its most relevant keywords, aiming for Green Light of Success on each page for SEO. I also set up the .xml site map and global website settings for your Google search results and can connect your Google Analytics or Adwords accounts. Just email me if you’d like to set this up!
For Copywriting: If you have ideas but not the time or inclination to write content yourself, I recommend contacting Carody Culver.
For really in-depth SEO information I recommend visiting https://yoast.com/ to learn more. Their paid services are also ones I would trust. (This isn’t an affiliate link, just the most reliable source I know provided for further reading).
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