How to Give Your Brand's Website a Facelift

by Alissa Cruz

March 18, 2015

Recently, I led a project team tasked with making a client's website a more effective communications tool. During our audit, we documented numerous content, navigation and design errors that significantly impaired the website's functions.

Our findings weren't all that uncommon.

These days, it seems that everyone has one or more websites, for personal and professional purposes. For many consumers, an organization website is the first-if not only-place to gather information. With that in mind, it is extremely important to nail that first impression of your brand the website gives and ensure that it enhances visitors' experience.

Based on lessons learned from improving websites and as a copy editor, here are my top five tips on how to optimize your visitors' Web experience:

1. Reduce clutter. Over the past several years, several television shows have been produced about hoarders whose homes are cluttered and unnavigable. From a design standpoint, some websites fall victim to "digital hoarding" by overwhelming visitors with too many graphics or copy, all of which are competing for attention. Your site should offer a lot of valuable information, but do not try to jam it all on one page. Break up text into digestible chunks. Simple layouts with clear sections enable users to scan more easily and find the content they seek.

2. Tighten up your navigation. Remember that you want to encourage users to interact with your website, not turn them away by presenting information in unintuitive ways. Ensure that your website's navigation makes information easy to find. Good navigation tells visitors where they are on your website, where they can go, and how to return directly to the home page. If your display is not consistent with the visitor's expected experience, she may go elsewhere to find that information.

3. Create pithy content. Busy, time-pressed, multi-tasking consumers do not have time to read through paragraphs of prose. Keep website headers, article headlines and other text clear, short, and concise. If you can say something in ten words, don't use 20.

4. Design for mobile. Considering the many ways users access websites (at home, the office, and on the go), make sure that yours is compatible with all major browsers and mobile devices.

5. Check for broken links. Visitors get frustrated when they go to a site and click on a link only to find that it does not work or leads to a completely unrelated page. Take the time to check each link to make sure that it is not broken and that it takes your visitor where she wants to go.

Even if a website is beautifully laid out and checks all the boxes in terms of user experience, typos can negate all of your meticulous planning. The buck does not stop at simple, functional usability. I was trained about the importance of well-constructed, succinct and error-free writing, and during my years as a copy editor, I earned a reputation for being a bit of a detail nerd. This may have been the case, but at least people understood my writing.

A company's website is like a corporate resume. A good corporate Web steward dedicates time to it, passes content to others for review and carefully proofs every word. Imagine a potential employer's disappointment if they come across your resume and note immediately that you accidentally forgot the extra "d" in the word "address." It could have been an honest mistake, but that mistake tarnished the employer's first impression of you and undermined your credibility.

Beyond the immediate drawbacks, a poorly edited website can result in other unintended consequences, including:

  • Communication of inaccurate or glaringly wrong information.
  • Distraction from your service or product offerings and value proposition.
  • A lack of professionalism, which may give your competitors an edge.

Here are five simple steps you can take to avoid these consequences and maximize website usability from a copy editing perspective:

1. Set time aside for proofing. When setting deadlines for content development or updates, factor in time to copy edit.

2. Do not rely on spell check to catch errors. Only a human will always be able to find errors in grammar and syntax (e.g., using "hear" versus "here").

3. Consult a well-respected style guide when in doubt. When you are unsure how to properly use a word or how to structure a sentence, a good option is to follow the rules set by the experts, e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Stylebook.

4. Have someone else review your content. Ask a colleague who has not seen the piece to read it. This fresh set of eyes will most likely catch something your overworked eyes missed.

5. Attend a copy editing training session or class. Take an introductory class to arm you with the basics. With enough practice, you will develop a greater attention to detail.

If an error occurs despite your best efforts, you should correct it immediately, rather than scheduling fixes for a later time. Nothing irritates Web users more than an error that is not fixed, even after it is identified.

Whether you are representing yourself or a company, your website says a lot about your brand. It helps if that message comes in a clear, accurate, and compelling manner.

 

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