Website designers, like general contractors, are plentiful. There are thousands of us out there. And like a general contractor, quite a bit of skill separates the skilled craftsman from the pretenders.
I’ve written before about hiring a professional rather than your friend/relative or the lowest possible bidder you can find. That’s a road that always ends in disaster. In this post, I want to take it up a notch and showcase the difference between your average professional website designer and one that’s got a pulse on the latest trends and technology. Here’s how to tell the difference:
For the last couple of years, responsive design has been the rage – and rightly so. It allows a designer to create a single website that works well on almost any device. There’s no need to create a separate mobile website for users on tablets and smartphones. It cuts costs without cutting quality. If your designer is not using responsive designs by now, he’s out of touch, leaving you with either a more costly dual design architecture or one that does not display well on mobile devices.
How can you tell if you have a responsive design? Just load up your website, grab the side border of your browser window with the mouse, and slowly make the window narrower. A responsive design will adjust as you do this so everything still shows well on the screen, formatted as best as possible for the size of the window. If your website just goes off the screen, it is not responsive…and you should have a chat with your designer.
Retina and 4K Image Support
Retina (i.e. high-dpi) image support has been fairly widespread since the iPhone 4 was introduced many years ago. In a nutshell, images on retina-optimized websites look razor sharp on today’s mobile devices – you’ll notice the difference right away. Yet many small business websites today still do not display these high-dpi “retina” images. The result is visitors see blurry, grainy images when they pull up your website on a tablet or smartphone. It leaves a poor impression – like having a badly faded sign on your storefront. If your website is not utilizing retina-ready images, talk to your web designer.
Taking it a step further, desktop displays are now catching up to mobile displays in perceived sharpness with the advent of 4K monitors. These monitors, while not quite as sharp as the best smartphones, are noticeably clearer than the flat panels you are used to. However, even fewer small business websites show 4K-ready images. What is the difference from retina-ready images? As far as image quality goes, nothing. But websites coded only for retina-specific devices like the iPhone are designed to look for a visitor’s browser type. If it sees “Chrome for Android” or “Safari for iOS”, it will display the correct retina image. But since desktops with 4K monitors cannot be differentiated from normal monitors just by looking at the browser being used, websites coded to look for the browser type miss this…and display the standard low-resolution image. When this happens, visitors with 4K displays see blurry images and your business looks behind the times.
Not Falling for the Parallax Trap
Over the last couple of years, a fancy effect known as parallax has become popular. But what started as a neat way for websites to show their cool side has become an overused technique commonly included as a means for a website designer to show off how “cool” they are. Unfortunately, many implementations of it cause the offending website to load slowly, display incorrectly on certain devices, and frustrate the user. If you have ever visited a website that animated parts of the screen when you scrolled your mouse instead of just scrolling the page down, you’ve experienced the worst of the parallax effect – known as scrolljacking. While the designer’s intentions are good in most cases, the user experience almost always suffers when this technique is used and is a trend that is slowly dying. If your designer is using this technique, ask if truly adds to the user experience.
Dropping WWW in Your URL
Since the web came into existence, the www prefix (eg. www.google.com) was used for most websites as it was proper to name an Internet resource after the service it provided. These days, it serves no purpose and progressive websites such as Twitter have dropped it from both their marketing and their default URL itself. While typing the www will still in most cases take you to the right place, it’s extra work for your visitors and makes your URL longer than it has to be. If your website designer is still setting up websites with the www prefix, ask them why.
HTTPS by Default
This is one of the most recent trends and benefits your website in many ways with little, if any, downside. In fact, I wrote an entire post about upgrading your website to HTTPS. For a very small annual cost (SSL certificates cost less than $50/yr), you can completely secure your website against prying eyes – be it the NSA or hackers, and boost your rankings in Google. That’s right, Google has committed to rewarding websites that use HTTPS site-wide with better rankings. While their official announcement touted a “slight” boost, we’ve noticed boosts as high as 25% for some of our clients, and a boost of some kind for every one of them. While few SEOs can guarantee a surefire way to increase your ranking on Google, this is as close as you’ll get. If you website designer hasn’t done this for you, or at least provided it as an option – ask why.