Website guidelines

Ten ways to improve your website in 2010

  1. Keep the design simple and uncluttered
  2. Use headings and words your target audience will understand
  3. Write for the Web – it’s not a book or brochure
  4. Write for Google
  5. Make information easy to find and understand
  6. Always let users know where they are in the site
  7. Don't hide your message
  8. Make Web 2.0 and interactive features easy to use
  9. Make your site accessible to everyone
  10. Beware the dog’s breakfast – be consistent
1. Keep the design simple and uncluttered

Learn from Picasso’s observation “It took me all my life to learn to paint like a child”. Leave plenty of white space and err on the side of functionality rather than looks. Do not place too many elements on any one page and avoid distracting users with flashing signs and rotating banners unless you know that’s what they want. Use our free clutter test to see how much white space your web pages have.

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2. Use headings and words your target audience will understand

Organise the content of the website so it is logical to your target audience – not just you. Make section names and headings meaningful to them. Use the words and terms your clients and customers use when asking about your information, products or services. Avoid jargon where possible.

3. Write for the Web – it’s not a book or brochure

People don’t read web pages, they scan them – most only read about 25% of the text on a page. So delete unnecessary words, keep sentences short. Write in plain English. Layer information – give them a brief overview and enough information to satisfy most users. Give them links to more information if they want it – eg in a PDF or another page in the site. See our Website Writing Guide.

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4. Write for Google

Since more users will find your Web pages through Google than any other method, compose each page so it is easily indexed and ranked highly by Google.

  • The page titles and headings should match as closely as possible the most popular query terms for which users are searching.
  • Repeat, 6-8 times in the Web page the most popular query terms for which users are searching – concentrate the repetition in the first 200 words.
  • Provide more than 300 words, if possible, on a page that you want Google to rank highly.
  • Write naturally an structure the page with plain English headings. Do not write in a contrived style intended to trick Google into ranking a page.
5. Make information easy to find and read

Don’t overwhelm users with menu choices. Make it easy for them to see and remember what’s behind each menu item. Keep the number of mouse clicks to any information to a minimum. Provide a site search function and a sitemap. 

Use as large a font size as you reasonably can and use one that’s easy to read. Keep each line of text a comfortable length so the eye can easily pick up each new line. Avoid using any background colours, shading or effect that could be distracting.

6. Always let users know where they are in the site

Give each page a clear heading and make the hierarchy of headings clear. Show them the path they took to get where they are and allow them to retrace their steps. Provide a Home button and a link to the sitemap on every page.

7. Don't hide your message

Position features, shopping-carts, sales or important information in the most obvious place on the page and make sure they standout. Don’t make users scroll down to see the important features. Don’t rely on icons or graphic features as the key to finding information. Cut to the chase, which requires cutting unnecessary words and flash featurs that don't add anything.

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8. Make Web 2.0 and interactive features easy to use

If providing blogs, wikis, links to Facebook and Twitter or videos, audio or animations make sure they are easy to use. Avoid making users download programs to make them work. Make sure any forms, PDFs, hyperlinks, e-commerce provisions and subscription features are easy for your target audience to use and have adequate instructions.

9. Make your site accessible to everyone

Make sure website reading software used by people with site impairment can read your website. Make sure it complies with the International accessibility standards – http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ Test the site with browsers other than Internet Explorer and make sure it complies as far as practicable with disability guidelines as set by the World Wide Web Consortium – see www.w3c.org

10. Beware the dog’s breakfast – be consistent

Keep a consistent look and feel for font styles and heading styles, page layout and colour schemes and forms. Make sure terms used, descriptions and headings are the same throughout the site. Keep navigation menus and key elements (eg the site search) in the same place on every page.

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