| Branding, Business, Design Trends, Web Design

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It’s the new year and it’s time to look at how you can improve your organization’s web site in 2011. These 10 tips for improving your web design will not just make for a better looking web site, it will make for a more effective business tool.

Here’s my Top 10 Web Design Trends for 2011 That Will Help Your Small Business. I’ve presented these David Letterman-style with the reverse count down.

10. Have a system for creating and maintaining content. At the core of this is a CMS (content management system) enabled web site. But more than just having the tool in place, you need to be trained on how to use it, and have a plan for creating and updating the content. We’re hearing from more of our clients who now realize that in addition to their CMS they need editorial help with creating or editing content. Read these posts for some advice about choosing a CMS or having a design-driven web site development process.

9. Integrate your social media channels. Integrate them both visually and strategically. In terms of web site design, make it easy for people to find you by adding direct links to Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. But more importantly, figure out a strategy for how your web site fits in with other social media channels. Will you show your Twitter feed on your home page? Does your Facebook page graphically match your web site? Do you promote your blogs posts on social media channels? Does your Facebook wall redirect friends back to your web site?

8. Embrace design details that are reminiscent of the beauty of print. For years, designers have struggled with the lack of control that is at the heart of web design. And while there will never be a way to control every detail from one browser and viewer to the next, that doesn’t mean we need to strip away the qualities of great design. Because of this lack of control, for a long time there was a simplicity in web site design that was not about beautiful minimalism, but rather about just playing it safe. Now, there is a return to some of the things that print, because of it’s long history, has done splendidly. Many details such as texture, imagery, hand-drawn effects, and contrasting typographic styles can also be part of great web site design. This return does not mean the end result is print-like, but it’s the idea of taking the time to put in the many design details that really make a web site gorgeous.

7. Use HTML-based text when possible, rather than graphics. If you still have a lot of graphic-based text images on your site, think about replacing them with HTML and CSS based text. This will make the text readable by search engines, make content more easy to update, and it should load faster. If you are hoping to keep a unique look, there are several web-based font tools that are starting to gain traction that will allow for more variation in font choice, while still being “readable” to search engines and text readers. If you don’t understand the difference between text as graphics and as HTML read this.

6. Systematize SEO best practices into your web site design. Tools like the Platinum SEO Pack for WordPress make it easy for you to remember to add keywords and descriptions as you build new web pages. Make sure your CMS has an easy way for you to add this meta data. See our previous post and video tutorial about setting H1 tags, title tags and adding descriptions in WordPress.

5. Say goodbye to the cheap clipart and poor photography. I’m amazed this is still an issue, but there is still loads of tacky illustrations and photography scattered throughout the web. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, so you can calculate that your cheap looking pictures are saying many, many bad things about your organization. Find pictures that add value to your site’s design, or use other graphic elements. For some tips for working with royalty-free and low-cost photography read this post.

4. Register and host your web site and your blog at your own domain. If you have a web site address that includes .wordpress.com or .blogspot.com, etc. Move it! It screams of being amateur. And you really have no good way of fully protecting all of your content from the whims of the web host. Hosting at your own domain name also helps with your brand awareness and assists prospects in remembering your domain name.

3. Keep it real. If you are a small business owner, don’t try to make yourself into a faceless organization. Talk about yourself and your employees by name and ideally show your face, too. If someone meets you at a networking event and then goes to your web site, there should be an authentic connection between the two. And always include a physical address where you can be reached. Having no contact information on your web site is a big red flag that makes people question the legitimacy of you and your company.

2. Does your web site quickly sum up your brand? The logo, the colors, the imagery, the navigational elements and the words should all quickly assure your viewers they have come to the right place. If your web site design doesn’t match your other collateral, or the tone of the writing is too stuffy, or if the design just doesn’t the feel right, get some help assessing how to fix it. Often an outsider, whether that’s your clients, your employees, your prospects, or a graphic designer, can help you pinpoint what the problems are and prioritize a plan for fixing them. If you need a better understanding about how to build a comprehensive brand identity, read this popular post.

And what is the number one, most critical aspect of web site design in 2011? Read tomorrow’s post to find out.

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