As we said in Part 1 of Building a Great Dog Pro Website, your site is your most important marketing (and sales!) tool. In Part 1, we looked at the role of engaging website copywriting. In Part 2 we turn our attention to creating great design to showcase your great copy.
Make it easy to read
Given our emphasis on the importance of copy last month, it only makes sense to open an article about effective website design with an exhortation to make sure your copy is laid out for easy reading. While this may seem like a bulletin from the DOD (Department of Duh), a designers’ bias for design can lead to compromising readability for looks.
Two simple things can make your website more readable. Be sure your text is at least 12-point, and that there’s enough contrast for easy reading. For the latter, avoid large blocks of colored copy, even if it looks good.
Design around your copy
There’s a reason we wrote about copy first and design second—the most effective website designs are those built around good copy, with the purpose to enhance it. Too often designers create beautiful website frames, plugging copy in as an afterthought. Sites built for the copy, by contrast, are more likely to create a compelling user experience where design, images, and text work together to tell your story and sell your services. Consider these sites, for example—you can see right away that the designers took their cues from the strong copy. Note how the layout guides you through the content, keeping you reading.
Keep it clean
Don’t fear blank space. It’s okay for a site to be visually dense with purpose, but it requires higher level design skills to pull this off well. Clean-looking sites with plenty of breathing room are more likely to feel professional and approachable. Resist the temptation to fill open space just to do so, particularly with bones and paw prints or background wallpaper—these things can quickly make a site feel homemade.
Make services easy to identify and get to
Give your site visitors at least two ways to make their way to your service pages. One path should be via a clear menu with separate tabs for each service you offer. For example, forego a generic “Services” menu tab for separate service options such as “Private Dog Training” and “Dog Training Classes.” If you offer classes for different audiences, consider breaking your tabs down further. For example, tabs for “Puppy Training Classes,” “Dog Training Classes,” and “Dog Sports Classes.” This gets your visitors where they need to go faster, and breaking your services out onto separate pages provides you richer key wording opportunities for search engine optimization, too.
The second navigation pathway to offer your site visitors is featuring each service in your home page copy. List each, providing a brief description (remembering to focus on marketing benefit rather than service details) and a link or button to each service’s page for more details. Using a picture, icon, or other graphic for each service can help draw the eye to this more visual menu, and add visual interest to you home page as well.
Include plenty of visual interest
Speaking of which, your site should look inviting. Sites with lots of copy and little to no visuals are much less likely to keep and engage visitors—they just feel like too much work to get through. Remember that people tend to scan sites more than read them. Visuals are part of that scanning experience. This includes not only high-quality photographs (of your own taking and/or carefully chosen stock photography), but also pull-out boxes, color strips, and the like.
Also create visual delineation between sections of copy on each page, making it that much easier for visitors to scan and find what they’re looking for.
One way to add powerful visual interest to a site is playing off your branding. Good designers will find creative ways to use the colors, fonts, and shapes from your logo to enhance the branding and visual appeal of your site. Done well, you should be able to cover up your logo and still be able to tell at a glance whose site you’re on.
Part of achieving this is the use of your brand colors, shapes, and fonts where appropriate. It’s also key to avoid the use of extra colors and visual elements not related to your overall brand look and feel. Forego colors that don’t appear in your logo unless your logo is very simple and requires a contrast color for design reasons. (As Gina says, keep your extra crayons in their box!) And don’t add canine iconography like paw prints, bones, and collars unless they stem directly from your logo. Less is more is almost always a good design tenant.
Beware the bling
Website user research shows that many impressive website design flourishes actually discourage visitors from staying on a site. This particularly applies to any moving parts that a visitor doesn’t put into motion herself, including automatic banner slideshows, self-launching videos, and animations. Your designer may want to offer such bells and whistles, but in most cases you’d be wise to decline.
Make contact easy
Put your contact information on every page in an easy-to-find location, such as the upper-right corner of your site and the footer—or even both. Include either a live email link and your phone number with every call-to-action, or a button linking to your contact page.
And even though your contact info is riddled throughout your site, offer your visitors a dedicated contact page, too, as many will look for it. Your contact page should be yet another place where a potential client can grab your number or fire off a quick email. If you include a contact form, keep it very brief and do not require its use—research is clear that doing so will lose you business.
Don’t leave money on the table with DIY
The recommendations we’ve shared in this 2-part series are basic guidelines for a strong, effective dog pro website. There are, of course, many more considerations in building a site that really goes to the mat to do your selling for you, including good, up-to-date search engine optimization practices.
But between the writing and design guidelines here alone you can see why hiring professionals—just as your clients seek your expertise to get the best results for their dogs—is well worth the investment. After all, your website is your most important marketing and sales tool. While it’s tempting to save money by building your own site, in most cases the money saved is far outweighed by the money lost in failed new client conversions. This is one time where the old adage “Spend money to make money” rings true, as every cent you spend to get your website right will come back to you many fold.