Optimal Web Design: a Delicate Balance Between Aesthetics, Usability, and Accessibility

Having designed and developed websites for over 25 years, I must confess the biggest gripe I have when it comes to dealing with clients: their obsession with aesthetics. Hold on – what’s wrong with that? Surely I’m forgetting the “design” part of web design by complaining that clients focus too intently on how the site actually…looks? No, I’ve not forgotten – it’s just that aesthetics need to be balanced with usability and accessibility considerations too, and that if a client becomes too focused on aesthetics, their site can concede too many usability and accessibility features in the process.

The advantage aesthetics have over usability and accessibility is that it’s visual, whereas the latter two are often “invisible”: they’re not obvious, yet they can severely affect the level of success a website can hope to achieve.

Before we go too far, let’s get definitions of two words that are already popping up a lot in this article.

Usability
This term is fairly self-explanatory: usability concerns itself with how easy a website is to use. A website with strong usability is easy to navigate while making it easy for the visitor to do stuff (e.g. buy something, find out certain key information).

Accessibility
This term has two chief aspects to it: 1) how accessible a site is to people, particularly people with disabilities. 2) how accessible a site is to all devices.

On point 1), a site might be inaccessible if you can only navigate it by mouse, or if images do not have alt text, so blind people can’t have the images described to them via a screen reader.

On point 2), a website might be considered inaccessible if it doesn’t provide small-screen devices with a single column layout (therefore the text is very small, and you have to pinch-and-zoom to read it).

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So what kind of problems can too much focus on aesthetics cause?
Some common problems that come to mind:-

custom fonts that are hard to read
imagery in the header area that pushes the actual content of the page way below the fold (“below the fold” is the part of the page you have to scroll to see).
“mystery meat navigation” – navigation that’s hidden away, and you only know something is a link when you hover over it with your finger or mouse (usually these are images)
layouts that require horizontal scrolling
These are just some examples. They are usually part of a concept that the client has in their head. For example, a client might say “I’m imagining my site where each page looks like lined paper, and all the text will be displayed as a handwritten font”. There’s nothing wrong with such an idea per se, but problems can arise when the content of the site doesn’t match the design. For example, text as scrawled hand-writing can work very well with short-form content, but people will struggle to read it if it’s long-form.

There’s certainly a time and a place for conceptual ideas to be developed as web pages, but the typical client of mine is a small business that needs their site to perform specific tasks: to make it as easy as possible for someone to buy something, sign up to a service, sign up to a newsletter. Achieving these goals means balancing aesthetics with usability and accessibility so that they can create an optimum experience for the visitor.

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Established websites focus a lot on usability and accessibility
You only have to look at the big platforms like Google, eBay, and Amazon to know how much time and money Big Tech throw at making their own websites as accessible and usable as possible. These sites aren’t using conceptual designs or trying to “wow” the visitor with eye candy. I often cite these examples to prospective new clients.

Hold on – most sites use templates now – isn’t usability and accessibility baked in?
For sure, there’s a lot of issues that are ironed out by the underlying website template. For example, HTML structure (headline tags et al), and responsive design are included in most templates these days. However, the content itself can cause issues. A client adding large images to the top of the page can push text down the page – even the title of the page can end up below the fold. Their navigation titles are vague or outright misleading. Moreover, not all design templates practice good usability and accessibility. Many layouts flagrantly ignore good web design practices. This is the issue where clients say “I really love the look and feel of this design template…”, and you know you’d have to turn it inside out to make it a useable and accessible website. I’ve put many a design template through an ahrefs.com audit only to see it get a very low score, and realize the amount of work I’d need to get a score of 95%+ isn’t worth the trouble. In summary, not all templates are the same. Some are very considerate toward usability and accessibility, others don’t even know these concepts exist.

Making it clear to clients
Of course, I don’t get in a war of words with clients. I explain what I can do for them, and what they need to look out for when it comes to maximizing their website’s potential. Actually, it’s more often the case that as soon as their website goes live, they then start to focus heavily on site performance – which is like the lightbulb moment for them: they’re reeling off their basket abandonment stats, their page bounce percentages, their conversion rates. And thus, often without knowing it, they start to optimize their site’s content to further help their visitors achieve the aims they are trying to achieve.

Purchase Order & Letter of Credit Financing

Many business opportunities come with an associated challenge. For most entrepreneurial businesses, the greatest challenge is financing the business opportunities created by your sales efforts. What are your options if you have a sales opportunity that is clearly too large for your normal scale of operations? Will your bank provide the necessary financing? Is your business a startup, or too new to meet the bank’s requirements? Can you tap into a commercial real estate loan or a home equity loan in sufficient time to conclude the transaction? Do you decline the order? Fortunately there is an alternative way to meet this challenge: You can use Purchase Order Financing & Letter of Credit financing to deliver the product and close the sale.What is purchase order financing?Purchase order financing is a specialized method of providing structured working capital and loans that are secured by accounts receivables, inventory, machinery, equipment and/or real estate. This type of funding is excellent for startup companies, refinancing existing loans, financing growth, mergers and acquisitions, management buy-outs and management buy-ins.Purchase order financing is based upon bona fide purchase orders from reputable, creditworthy companies, or government entities. Verification of the validity of the purchase orders is required. The financing is not based on your company’s financial strength. It is based on the creditworthiness of your customers, the strength of the commercial finance company funding the transaction, and in most cases a letter of credit.What is a letter of credit?A letter of credit is a letter from a bank guaranteeing that a buyer’s payment to a seller will be received on time and for the correct amount. If the buyer is unable to make payment for the purchase, the bank is required to cover the full amount of the purchase. In a purchase order financing transaction, the bank relies on the creditworthiness of the commercial finance company in order to issue the letter of credit. The letter of credit “backs up” the purchase order financing to the supplier, or manufacturer.Is purchase order financing appropriate for your sales program?The perfect paradigm is a distributor buying products from a supplier and shipping directly to the purchaser. Importers of finished goods, exporters of finished goods, out-source manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors can effectively use purchase order financing to grow their businesses.Is purchase order financing appropriate for growing your sales orders?Purchase order financing requires you to have management expertise- a proven track record in your particular business. You must have bona fine purchase orders from reputable firms that can be verified. And you must have a repayment plan; often this is from a commercial finance company in the form of accounts receivable or asset-based financing.You should have a gross margin of at least 25% to benefit from purchase order financing. Sellers of services or commodities with low margins, such as lumber or grain, will not qualify.The bottom line decision for purchase order financing:It can take two or more years to develop a profitable business. Banks generally base their lending limits on a business’ performance for the past two or three years. Purchase order financing, combined with letters of credit and/or accounts receivable or asset-based financing can give you sufficient funds to cover your operating costs, financing costs and still realize significant profits. If you qualify for purchase order financing, you can grow your business by taking advantage of large purchase orders and eventually qualify for bank financing.Copyright ©2007
Gregg Financial Services

Bridging the Gap Between Search Engine Spiders and Humans

Search engine spiders are – in a way – the lifeblood of the internet. Without them, we wouldn’t have search engines. Without search engines, nobody could find your website, nor could you locate 99%+ of the internet either.

And yet, these little spiders – however necessary they are – don’t by any means paint the full picture of the business behind the website it’s spidering. All a spider can do is read the content of your site via the HTML you provide it. Therefore, we’re told to develop “search engine friendly” websites – ones with a good structure of headline tags, and using keywords that explicitly state what our website is about.

Of course, links play a part too. Authoritative links pointing to your site act as “votes” that search engines count in your favor. This helps them build a reasonable picture of the quality of your content. However, it’s often the case that there’s a massive gap between how search engines see your website, and the quality of service or product you provide. Let’s look at this gap a little closer, and see how it can be filled.

The Gap
Let’s imagine a business that established itself 25 years ago, and has provided a consistently high quality of drainage services in all of that time. They have repeat customers who don’t think twice about booking their services every year. To all intents and purposes, they are highly trusted, successful business. And yet, they are ranked very low in Google for all their main keywords. What’s gone wrong here? This “gap” in perception is because the website this business owns has very few (or even zero) authoritative links, poor on-page optimization, and poor content. Search engine spiders can’t see past these metrics. No business has a “right” to ranking well just because they provide an excellent “in real life” product or service.

How to Bridge This Gap?
There is a symbiotic relationship between website owners and search engines. Both need each other. This is why Google Search Console exists. It’s a means to allow the website owner to help Google better understand their website, and help bridge this gap.

That’s only the first step though. Having your site audited by an on-page optimization expert can help you fine-tune your website page structure, your URLs, your navigation, your titles, your content.

Where search engine spiders fail to see signals of trust like how well established your business is (even if the website is 6 months old), a human reviewer CAN. Third party services like human-review directories and customer review services can REALLY help close the gap.

Human-review directories
A high-quality human-review niche directory will look for signals of trust found on your website. These are often too subtle for a search engine spider to “join the dots” – but a discerning human can. For example, if a website claims to be a member of a particular association, it’s possible to search for the company name on the association’s website. The same can be done for company registration numbers too. If a company has been established for many years, and they show this on a company history page, a human reviewer can build up a picture of the company’s progress through the years. Moreover, it’s the aggregation of all of these things that help a human reviewer build a solid picture of the business. A search engine spider will not be able to see the nuances a human can.

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Review services
Your customer base is your ultimate cheerleaders (or perhaps, whistle-blowers!). They trusted your product or service, and they can write about their experiences via review services like Trustpilot. These help people get some idea of the quality of product or service you provide.

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Online Reputation
Both human-review directories and review services can be used to give some proof as to the reputation you deserve online. When someone does a search for your brand name, and you’re listed in human-review directories and under review services, these signals of trust can be found in the search – helping prospective new customers gain some trust in your business. Search engines will also be visiting these directories and review services too, so it helps them get a better picture of your business as well.

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Conclusion
It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is in “the real world”. Online, you start from zero and work your way up. It doesn’t mean that having a great product or service doesn’t help you. It does – very much. It’s just you have to jump through the same hoops as every other website owner to get yourself established. Once you are established and easily found, you’ll find your old friend (word-of-mouth marketing) was online this whole time. You’ll discover that your online presence will take on a life of its own as people start recommending you on social media and their own websites. It just takes time and effort to get to that point.