There are many ways to build a technical product. There are also many ways to build a bridge. The engineering profession has evolved enough over the years to understand the importance of best practices and a set of standards. Web development, on the other hand, is a very new discipline and a set of standards is often overlooked when IT products are built.
It’s just as important to build a technical product “right” as is it to build a bridge up to code. Loss of revenue, damaged customer relations, and lawsuits stemming from stolen customer information are just a few example consequences of poorly designed, hacked-together IT projects. These situations are not uncommon when web best practices and standards are bypassed. A poorly designed website is hard to distinguish from a well built one in the eyes of a layman; we therefore encourage our clients to consult a team of professionals for their IT projects.
Sticking to best practices and hiring a team of true web craftsmen when building a technical product always pays off and far outweighs the extra effort associated with solid foundations.
Our team follows the set of best practices below to ensure a delivery of standards for compliant, user friendly, accessible and secure IT products.
CONTENT IS KING
The most important part of a successful website is content. The second most important part of a successful website, is again, content. Jokes aside, you hear it and read it over and over “Content is king”. Our jobs as web craftsmen start by brainstorming ways to make this content accessible on the web. Understanding the overall Digital Strategy of the organization and how the particular product will fit into this strategy is a good start. Hard work and collaboration from copywriters, user experience specialists, web designers, product owners and web developers is necessary in order to ensure success. With emergence of mobile web, it’s more important than ever to work across these disciplines to be able to deliver well-organized, lean, searchable, readable, beautifully designed web content.
Before we get to show off our wonderful new website, our users have to find it. This may seem like a daunting task considering there are 35 billion websites currently on the Internet. Finding pages is made easier by search engines and by adhering to SEO or Search Engine Optimization best practices. Well-organized, quality content is still one of the best SEO practices. Search algorithms strive to help good content find its seekers. Google’s search algorithm updates in 2011 and 2012 were both aimed to eliminate Black Hat SEO tactics and let the best content win the search race.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Once the user finds us, the site’s challenge is to guide the user to the information quickly and easily. Understanding our content and usability expertise will help us create simple navigations, search features and “no-brainer” features. Putting explanations and how-to’s on the site may be a good indicator of non-straightforward design. Simple usability studies also guide us. It’s amazing how much insight a simple usability study of 10-15 participants can discover. The “keep it simple” paradigm also applies to web forms. We need to always keep in mind what particular information is essential to accomplish our goal.
|Keep these pointers in mind:|
|Users hate filling out forms.|
|Users hate filling out forms on mobile phones even more.|
|Users will not fill out web forms unless incentive is given.|
|As the number of fields increases, so does the number of users who will abandon the form.|
|No fax numbers please – some users may not know what a fax machine is.|
|Do you really need 4 different phone numbers? (home, alternate, business, cell)|
Now web is accessed through a widening range of Internet enabled devices that are spreading like wildfire. Mobile Internet is taking over. Mobile sales exceeded desktop sales. Internet traffic from mobile phones is predicted to take over desktop Internet traffic in 2014. The mobile Internet should change our content, and therefore change the way we build and design websites.
A technique called responsive design is one route to contextually aware web products. It helps us format the content to automatically adapt to the screen size. Responsive design allows us to maintain a single copy of the content.
|Commonly implemented changes to mobile content using responsive design are:|
|Increased font size for more readable content|
|Adjusted container to fit a mobile screen|
|Enlarged clickable elements suitable for tapping|
|Adjusted or completely transformed navigation|
|Cropped or removed images|
But how can we scale down all that content previously displayed on a wide screen to a screen that fits in the user’s pocket? The answer is, we DO NOT scale down content to fit a mobile phone. We instead focus on the content, its most important messages, and design for mobile first. Once we have our mobile design, the content can be augmented and transformed with the addition of info, graphics, images and other elements to fit the additional real estate.
When designing for the mobile web, in addition to small screen sizes, limited bandwidth and low processing power, impatient on-the-go users pose additional challenges to web developers. A study showed that 74% of users would leave if the site took more then 5 seconds to load. Lean, efficient websites that focus on serving the Internet’s new impatient citizens are becoming imperative.
WILL YOUR USER COME BACK?
Say that our satisfied customer found our site, and found the info they were seeking. Is it time for our web team to celebrate? Not quite. We like this user and want him or her to come back, right, Let’s ask ourselves this question: Would users log back on to Facebook if it didn’t have new information every time they logged on? The website’s information has to be constantly updated to maintain user interest. So, a website with easy-to-update workflow is essential. This workflow should be discussed early on in the process to have a clear plan for ongoing website maintenance. The client should never have to compile word docs, excel sheets, pdfs or worse…power points describing desired changes to the site. Because the moment they complete that painful exercise, the website is out of date again. Content management systems let the end user be the king of the content allowing them to update the information in real time. It’s ok to let the client take over the content; they are experts in their domain. Apart from up to date information, users come to expect an experience referred to as WEB 3.0. They want a customized experience. They want to contribute. They want to see what others think. So incorporating third party feeds can be beneficial to our user engagement.
Your visitors are coming back to your site and using the site as you intended, right? How do you know? Incorporating web analytics provide essential insights into the website’s usage. Using this insight, the customer experience can be fine-tuned. Popular pages and popular modules can be identified, as well as pages that tend to lose visitors. We can act on this insight by linking popular pages directly from the home page or even turn them into a homepage. We can find out why some pages are underperforming and make a decision to merge or even completely delete them.
Your users have to trust the product to volunteer their information. A website’s appearance can provide a feeling of security. Security best practices help us design sites that counter the ever-multiplying web security hazards. Let’s face it, no website can ever be 100% secure, just like no fence is too high to climb with the right equipment. We therefore strive to build a high enough imaginary fence to discourage hackers from trying. To figure out how high we build our fence will depend on what’s behind our fence. Do we store a few phone numbers, emails; do we have credit card numbers or social security card information? Do we store health records of cancer patients? In each case the height of the fence will be proportional to the sensitivity of the information stored.