3-Point Website Design Checklist For A Great First Impression

Whoever said "first impressions last" not only knew that he was right, but also had the grace and style to so eloquently put it in three concise words with a playful use of ordinal number sequence. He even proved his point with this three-word adage that leaves a lasting first impression. What if your website can leave a lasting first impression on your visitors too?

Among the most memorable interactions between client and business, or in this case between website and visitor, the following are probably the most easily recalled:

• The first visit

• The best service (or website content read)

• The worst service (or website content read)

• The most recent service (or website content read)

The impact of the first visit is subliminal and almost always remembered. That's why you need to check your website against this 3-point checklist to ensure a lasting impact on your first-time visitors:

Eye Candy

Any decent freelance web designer will tell you, while you may want to tone down the bells and whistles in favor of a more professional approach, you still want to appeal to the aesthetic tastes of your visitors. Or in the very least, you need to ensure that your design, colors, and overall layout do not hurt their eyes. A few things to look out for:

• Clashing foreground and background colors — Red text on blue background? That's a disaster that pushes your visitors away. You need to match and blend, and avoid clashing colors. Watch your transitions too, going from one website frame to another, does the transition hurt the eyes or irk the senses? When going for a redesign or a change in theme or motif, never forget to match the foreground to the background.

• Convoluted frames — Too many frames in your webpages? Too many elements packed into major frames while the sidelines are relatively clean? You need to know what you want: a single frame, a two- or three-frame design; a vertical or horizontal arrangement; etcetera. Also, even out what your frames have within them, and always leave more space for your main frame.

• Scattered ads — try to segregate your ads and advertisement links in one part of your website as spreading out too much annoys your visitors and distracts them from browsing, hopefully buying from your directly, and making you more money than by clicking on your ads. Of course, if these ads are the only way you monetize your site, you still want to keep them from being everywhere, and if you need to insert them into website content directly, blend them well (using colors and styles) and make sure they are like commercials compared to the main program that is the article, not the other way around.

Intuitive UI

Your user interface (UI) includes your navigation, links, and other interactive elements like sharing buttons and comment boards. You want to make these as simple, straightforward, and intuitive as possible. If you want to impress, avoid menus or elements that work on their own without permission, as they tend to annoy and distract.

For navigation, you want your main navigation bar (whether it's horizontal or vertical) to be in a static position where it's always there (or you can have it float and scroll down a page along with your visitor — it's still static in that it's in the same place).  You want your navigation options to point towards the most useful or popular options in your site and offer the other pages in a less prominent but still easily accessible way. You should also minimize the space or distance between main points of navigation, as this prevents people from moving the mouse too much to navigate their way around your site. Allow your navigation points or links to be selectable via keyboard (when visitors press tab on their keyboards and then cycle through available interaction points via that or the arrow keys) to maximize accessibility.

Offer multiple (but not too many) ways for visitors to get to the same place, i.e. search box, navigation, links within website content, site maps, and others applicable.

Working Links

Few things can be as much of a turn off as a broken link. Multiply the irk factor by how many broken links there are in a website and the likelihood of visitors leaving and never looking back increases dramatically. So first and foremost, always check for broken links.

There are free and paid tools for quick and large-scale monitoring and checking of site-wide links. You can resort to these if you have too many links to perform a manual audit. While there are many causes for broken links, try to minimize the reasons for these occurring by ensuring that when editing your webpages, you do not change any URLs or slugs, or if you need to do so, update any links towards your slugs and URLs. Though of course, best practice dictates that you never touch your URL or slugs after they go live. You may want to perform redirects or canonical meta tags for a few variations of a URL that can easily be mistaken or mistyped.

Another area of broken links you want to check is what sort of Page Not Found (Error 404) screen you display to your visitors. Try using humor, always apologize, and always suggest a few other places like the homepage, using the search box, or relevant links (such as other search options if the user was searching, or popular links).

This three-point checklist may seem too brief, but it covers some of the most quintessential aspects that dictate what sort of first impression your leave on your visitors. You want them to come back and keep coming back, so aim to impress with your website. The best thing they can do is bookmark or favorite your webpages. Returning visitors are returning clients, after all.

You can check how much of your traffic is return traffic through Analytics, and through the same you can also see how much traffic is returning directly or just getting turned back by search engines, which tells you how many people already know your website and how many are being referred back by related keywords.