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How many e-chefs does it take to make a website?

User Experience/User Interface

When was the last time you navigated through your website? Have you asked some friends to try and download a menu, buy a product or sign up to your newsletter? How easy did they find it to complete their chosen task?

The overall simplicity for a user attempting to navigate your site should be one of the main concerns for a website owner: absolutely everything should be focused on making it easy for your customers to use. You have, on average, less than 15 seconds to capture your audience’s attention: don’t waste this precious time forcing them through a never-ending webpage daisy-chain to find the information they need. Web usability is about focusing on making websites that allow users to find what they’re looking for, quickly and easily – through design. People instinctively expect websites to work as they assume, becoming accustomed to certain layouts, phrases and interactions. For example, if a user clicked on your site’s logo, which is generally at the top-left or top-centre of the page, they would expect to be returned to the homepage: when sites begin to deviate from these kind of norms, people can get confused and leave the site.

A clear menu structure, obvious call-to-action buttons and a defined, legible layout will give your visitors a streamlined experience with minimal frustration – enabling them to easily find what they need and leaving them with a positive view of your business. Think from their point of view: if you were wanting to order something, how would you go about doing it? How simple should it be, and how could you improve this?

Aesthetic
Working in the food industry, you’ll know more than most that without the right presentation no-one will ever find out how great something tastes. A lot of food and drink websites are filled with high quality, interesting content – you have a story to tell that people want to read – but if this story is presented in a cluttered way it quickly goes from engaging to overwhelming.

The use of ‘flat designs’ is booming in the web design industry and there’s a good reason for it: it’s these more minimalist sites which are cutting through the ever-growing online noise, simply because they force focus on what is ultimately the most important component of any website: the content. Flat designs remove a lot of complicated patterns, textures and other such whizz and bang that are synonymous with early web design, without ever compromising on interactivity and polish. If your site is ‘busy’, with multiple calls to action, several columns and more than 7 items on its navigation menu then it’s probably time to consider a redesign.

Fonts should be a big deal too, and should be legible, clear and used consistently throughout. A picture can tell a thousand words, and a font is no different: if your font looks like it was designed for a children’s birthday party invitation, it probably won’t be suitable for your customers (unless, of course, you’re a children’s party caterer). If you’re still using Times New Roman or Comic Sans, you might want to rethink a little bit – from the now boundless font options, does the one you’ve chosen really say what you want to say about your business?

As with food presentation and display, use and combination of colours are something that should be considered and treated with care. Your website (along with your menus, business cards and labelling) should feature a consistent house-style. If you’re featuring multiple colours inconsistently in your branding, talk to a brand development expert about how best to bring everything into the same colour palette and present a coherent message across multiple media. As with fonts, think about what your colour choices say about your business, and remember that sometimes less is more.

Last but not least, you’ll already know the value of high quality photography in the food industry: make sure your images are the right size for your site: if the image is too small it’ll appear blurry, pixelated or stretched; too large and it’ll slow down the load time for your site. Both scenarios could potentially lose you customers. For large images, try to keep file sizes below 100Kb; for smaller images try keeping them below 25Kb.

Accessibility
‘Responsive design’ is a web design method that ensures a website looks good regardless of the device it’s being viewed on. Making sure that your website fits your audience and is mobile-friendly is more important than ever. The number of people browsing on mobile devices has now officially overtaken those searching on desktop, and Google’s latest search algorithm update actively penalises non-responsive sites. Many web designs now take a ‘mobile first’ approach to design which, as the name suggests, focuses on designing a websites for a mobile audience first, before then adapting the design to work for a desktop user. By designing a site to work for a mobile user, you have solidified all the basic, important and crucial content that they would need to go about buying/browsing your site, and afterwards, you can then expand on this for the larger screens/desktop.

Try looking at your website in Chrome, Firefox and Safari – does it look the same across all browsers? Does everything work? Is the layout the same? Cross-browser compatibility testing is something that should be incorporated into any web design process and tested frequently as updates roll out for different browsers. Whilst your site might look absolutely perfect for you on Google Chrome on your PC, it might not even appear for your customer who’s accessing it from Safari on their Mac.

Last but not least, your website design should also consider accessibility for people with disabilities and visual impairments. A good way of going about this is making sure your website includes sizeable fonts, colours that work well with each other (black text on white background) and large buttons that can’t be missed. Correct labelling of your images (the ‘alt text’) is also important as this description is what will be read out by screen reader software (it’ll also help your search engine ranking). A good web designer will always consider accessibility a priority.

SEO
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is not just about keywords. A good web designer will incorporate SEO throughout the build process, making sure all the boxes that search engines look for to index and rank your site are ticked. It’s important to be realistic about your SEO aims: take a look at who you’d be competing with in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) for your chosen keyword – is the first page of Google entirely dominated by TripAdvisor, Guardian articles and the websites of renowned celebrity chefs? Then try being more specific in your search terms. Think about your niche, and what customers come to you for: the more specific you can be in the keywords you optimise your site for, the more likely you are to attract the right customers. Google’s AdWords tool is free to use once you sign up for an Adwords account, and is a useful way of researching keyword popularity. Remember to consider local search when deciding on keywords: check your own search settings and be aware of whether your search results are being pulled from your local vicinity or further afield.

Search engines are becoming more sophisticated by the minute and the days of ‘keyword stuffing’ – where a keyword is repeatedly ‘stuffed’ into website content to boost its position in the rankings – are over. Ultimately, Google and friends are trying to provide a good service for people searching online by providing them with the content most relevant to their search query. Ask yourself honestly whether your website provides what potential customers are looking for, and if it doesn’t, then consider adding a new page or expanding on your existing content. After all, what’s the point in a website visitor if they simply leave your site without engaging with the content?

VU Online have been creating online success stories for a long time, and have particular experience in Devon’s burgeoning food and drink sector. Read more about our web design services, drop us a line or call us 01803 866430.

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