Quick — click over to your website or blog right now.

Now, scrunch up your eyes and try to assess the design — independent of any of the written, video, or audio content that might be there.

Are you able, even for a moment, to take an objective look at what your site is communicating non-verbally?

  • Does the design look like it was created by a design professional, or an enthusiastic (but maybe not too talented) amateur?
  • Is it instantly apparent where the reader’s eye should go first?
  • Is the text easy to read, or does the reader need to squint?
  • Does the site give the confidence that you can solve your customer’s problems?
  • If you were a stranger here, would you trust this business to be competent, capable, and trustworthy?

It may be difficult for you to be objective — we tend to get sentimental about our sites and quit seeing their design imperfections.

But your website’s design says a lot. A professional design immediately gives the reader confidence that equal care has been put into the content. An ugly or amateurish design, on the other hand, triggers the reader to look for flaws and sloppiness in the business as well.

It’s not fair, but it’s how it works. Your site is judged instantly based on how it looks.

Fortunately, an extreme makeover for your website is a lot easier than it is for a person. Let’s look at some common business-damaging design mistakes and how you can quickly make them better.

Is your text readable?

Text that’s hard to read will suppress your conversion, social shares, traffic, and success. Here are some important improvements you can make to your site readability:

  • If you’re using white text on a dark background, don’t do anything else with your site before fixing that. It makes for a miserable reading experience, and it will cut down dramatically on the links and shares you receive.
  • Your text should feel like black text on a white background, even if the colors are actually very dark gray with very light gray.
  • If you’re using one of those fancy textured backgrounds that’s taking forever to load — replace it. Site speed is an essential element of reader-friendly design.
  • Bump your font size up. How big will depend on the typeface you choose, but 14 pt is a good starting point.
  • Speaking of typeface (what most of us call font), choose readability before anything else. No matter how much you love the look of that fancy, hard-to-read font, replace it.
  • Don’t use 20 different typefaces all over your site. Choose one for your headers/subheaders and one for your body text.
  • Links should be underlined. Designers love to play with more attractive ways of indicating links — sadly, none of them is as clear to the reader as underlined text is.
  • When you’re writing content, break it up into fairly short paragraphs.
  • Avoid very wide or very narrow columns for your text: both are hard to read. Columns that are 450-550 pixels wide tend to work well (here’s an article explaining why).

Content that’s formatted to be reader-friendly is content that will get shared more freely.

For more thoughts on reader-friendly formatting, check out Pamela Wilson’s post on Copyblogger: 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content

Does your reader know where to look?

Seth Godin wrote a nice book called The Big Red Fez all about one of the most important elements of website design.

Godin’s “big red fez” is the one element on your page that stands out. That lets the reader know, without question, what you want her to do next. And there should be a big red fez on every page of your website.

For most content-supported businesses, building an email list is the most important objective of most public-facing content. That means there must be a highly visible,unambiguous call to action to join your email list on most if not all pages on your site.

You may decide that different pages have different goals. For example, some will function as landing pages that sell a product or motivate some action.

But the principle is the same. Every individual page on the site must communicate precisely what the reader should do next.

Incidentally, this means you need to clean the clutter off of your site. Have you implemented irrelevant ads that bring in only a few dollars a month? Get rid of them. They’re distracting your readers about what they should do next, instead of focusing them on your business goals.

If you don’t have a product yet and you’re still in “trying to pay your hosting bill” mode, write a decent ebook and sell it via your email list. You’ll make more money selling something of your own than you ever will with advertising.

Is your design professional?

This is the one that gets very hard to be objective about.

If you designed your site yourself and you aren’t a design professional — it probably looks bad.

I know that’s hard to hear! But someone’s got to be straight with you. If it makes you feel better, my own first sites were pretty hideous too — though I didn’t see it at the time.

Yes, there are some designer “tricks” you can learn to make things better. But the plain fact is, design professionals spend years developing their ability to create polished, professional-looking design that serves a business purpose.

Instead of trying to reproduce those skills in an afternoon, start with something created by a solid design pro. Then, if you really want to, tweak that, either yourself or by contracting with a design professional of your own.

The Genesis child themes are designed to let you choose from dozens of professionally designed, flexible, beautiful designs for your site. (And as a bonus, you get all of the SEO and security benefits of the industry-leading Genesis framework “behind the scenes,” making your site work better as well as lookbetter.)

You can have a great-looking site running for under $100, and if you decide to bring someone in to make a few customizations, they’ll be working from a solid framework. You’ll save money, time, frustration, and your site will always reflect well on your business.

The look and feel of your site will communicate your professionalism and expertise. And that’s a priceless improvement to your content’s effectiveness.

Sonia Simone

>> Source: http://my.copyblogger.com/essential-design/