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We’ve been so busy building new ways to access websites — relentless smartphone upgrade cycles, tablets, ever-smaller desktop computers — that many of us may have forgotten what should go on a website in the first place. How’s your web presence looking these days?
By the end of 2017, the Internet will likely have changed yet again in some fundamental ways. This means you’ll have a new set of expectations for features and functionality. Take heart, though — some website design staples never go out of style.
Here’s a selection of six things your website should incorporate before the end of this year. The list should contain some familiar entries, as well as some new trends you should be on the lookout for.
1. A Responsive, Mobile-Friendly Design
It would be hard to overstate how much mobile-first operating systems have changed the way we interact with the Internet. These days, we’re more likely to access the Web’s most popular sites from the comfort of our favorite pocket computers. In fact, 2015 was the tipping point where mobile browsing overtook desktop browsing for the first time. (“Time on site” remains higher for desktop browsing, though.)
There are a couple of implications here. The first is this: If your website still doesn’t feature a mobile-friendly layout and functionality, you’re seriously behind. The second implication is that the desktop version of your site needs to be welcoming and fully functional for users who might begin viewing your website on their phone, but follow up on a desktop computer to make a purchase. At 3Q Digital, we recommend RWD, or responsive web design, out of the options you have to make your site mobile-friendly. (You can find our very comprehensive Guide to RWD here.)
A great example of this type of desktop-mobile synergy comes from mobile device accessory maker Nomad. Both the desktop and mobile versions of their site scale perfectly to your screen and feature clean layouts that make it clear which product options can be toggled and selected with your mouse or pointer finger, and which cannot.
2. Robust Security Measures
There aren’t too many issues as close to the modern human’s heart as security. We’re social creatures, but all of us appreciate knowing our sensitive information isn’t getting broadcast to the world every time we visit a website.
By the end of 2017, your website should incorporate, at minimum, several basic security measures. One is two-factor authentication, which companies like Twitter now offer users as a matter of course. This type of login system sends a one-time code via email or SMS to a device you designate beforehand anytime you enter your password.
The point is to add another redundant layer of identity verification so that even if an unscrupulous third party gets their hands on your password, they still can’t access your account without that critical second security checkpoint.
Also, it’s time to take HTTPS seriously, if you haven’t already. You likely heard about the Heartbleed bug that made headlines recently. If that concerns you, as it should, you can read up on the process of transitioning to HTTPS and why you should do so.
3. Sticky Navigation
Taking full advantage of screen real estate — either on desktop or mobile devices — can be a difficult task. With space at a premium, it’s critical that your website presents everything your visitors might need and nothing they don’t, while still maintaining an intuitive and clean interface. It can be difficult, but not impossible — and sticky navigation can help.
Keeping any given website feature onscreen for the entirety of a visit sounds like it could be a risky play or lead to unnecessary clutter, but sticky navigation could actually help you out. The example above from Titan Alarm reveals a thin navigation bar at the top of the site that persists no matter how far down the page a user might scroll. It’s done pretty well — it doesn’t draw the eye unnecessarily or waste space, but it does keep the website’s most important functionality close at hand so the user always feels “centered.”
Why does this matter? Because people bounce away from websites more quickly than you might imagine — and not finding what they need quickly is a big reason why.
4. An Accompanying Mobile App
Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft all want us to believe applications — “apps” — are the future. And maybe they are. We’re mostly talking about websites today, but a well-designed, installable application can improve the typical “website experience” in several significant ways. Take note: this is a little different than a responsive website design “merely” designed for mobile.
Apps designed specifically for modern mobile hardware and operating systems let your users augment their interactions with your brand with the onboard technology featured in their phones. We’re talking about geo-fencing and GPS features, direct picture uploading, easy integration with their email, contacts and calendars, easy reordering, customizable notifications and, perhaps more importantly, direct access to the device they’re most likely to interact with throughout a typical day.
Dark Sky understands the benefits of a bespoke mobile application — complete with uncannily accurate weather alerts straight to your phone — in addition to a more traditional website, which is why their “crowdsourced” weather service offers both.
5. Fast Page Load Times
By the end of 2017, with any luck, we’ll finally have killed off slow page load times.
Some of the aforementioned factors touch on this issue — responsive design, for one — but in reality, there are several things you can do as a business owner or webmaster to address slow page load times on your site. But you’re probably wondering: Why should I care?
You can use some fleet mathematical footwork and a calculator for conversion loss. One example revealed that a website which enjoys about 10,000 visitors each month and loads critical web pages in six seconds could add about $30,000 to their annual profits if they cut their page load time in half.
Interested? There are several things you can do to tackle load times. One is to move to a faster server, and another is to reduce your website’s redirects as much as you can.
For examples of pages that load quickly, look to the obvious suspects: Amazon for e-commerce, Google for web search and Yandex for email. As far as news outlets go, you can’t beat U.K.-based The Guardian for loading times.
6. A Design Optimized for Conversion
In 2017, the Internet is a surprisingly volatile place. Politics and social movements seem to be making strides toward lasting changes. Some of these changes will directly influence how we use the Internet to make money.
Put aside the “traditional” business model — however you define that — for just a moment. What we have instead today is a bunch of web-based platforms like IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and Patreon, just to name three, that help put entrepreneurs directly in touch with interested parties. Other prospective business owners prefer to rough it, carving out a reputation for themselves on review sites and building through word of mouth.
The point is, no matter what you do, if you do it well enough, there’s probably somebody out there who’s willing to pay you to do it. Your website can easily and tastefully integrate PayPal and Patron buttons or, like Medium.com, offer integration directly with Apple Pay, which can now be used on most iPhones and the newest Macs
In this example, if you decide Medium’s citizen journalism and NPR-like recorded stories are for you, you can start a subscription securely through your iTunes account with touch ID on mobile or simple credit card entry on desktop.
You’ve Got Your Work Cut out for You
Hopefully the above to-do list doesn’t seem too daunting. The truth is, web design might still feel a little bit overwhelming if you haven’t put the work in already, and new platforms and consumer technologies add to that complexity on a nearly weekly basis.
That means taking stock of the larger trends — Which mobile platforms and services are rising? Which are in decline? — as well as dialing in all of the little details as you establish your Internet presence and identity.
Make 2017 the year you finally buckle down and make sure your web presence is top-notch — the boost to your sales, viewership and audience will probably surprise you.