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Ten website design rules, and how to violate some of them

Edge Studio

To design and build your website, there are countless mix-and-match options. You can hire a web design service, or use a Content Management System provider/host such as Squarespace or WordPress (using their tools and a customized template), or even build your site from scratch, maybe starting from a template, and incorporating a player so that visitors can hear your demo files.

Unless you already know about sitebuilding, or plan to make it a sideline, building your own site from scratch is not the most efficient way to go. (If you have that much spare time, focus it on actual Voice Over practice, auditioning and work.)

Whatever your approach, it’s easy to stop too short or get carried away. To get your results “just right,” here are some principles to heed. And sometimes not. This list is far from all-inclusive, but it may help avoid common mistakes.

1. Don’t get a round-hole template for square-hole needs. If using a template, is it perfectly suited to your marketing situation? Some design services tend to use templates for everything, but your voice over website probably doesn’t have the same needs as, oh, their telecommunications services retailer client. This is something to ask the service about before starting. Your site content and navigation should suit what you have to offer; you should not add or limit content to suit the available menu or space.

(One advantage to some templates is that they’re well-tested on all platforms and screen sizes. A disadvantage is that unless extensively customized, they tend to make your site look like everybody else’s. Does the world really need yet another huge, space-wasting, confusing image “slider”?)

2. Some hosting services will build your site for free. What they may not tell you is that their hosting costs more than some of your other hosting options, and if you ever want to move to another hosting service, you may not be able to take your code and your image files with you.

3. Keep it simple. Essentially, most voice artists just need a pleasant-appearing site that states what makes the talent special, provides some confidence-building bio information (whether that includes a full resume depends on you and your situation), and has an EASY way to play your demo(s).

4. Make it obvious. Visitors leave confusing or unreadable sites in just seconds. Within those seconds, your prospect needs to know who you are, what you do, what your specialty is (your “position” in the marketplace), and how you can help them. They do not need to know about your cat — unless you specialize in cat-video voice overs.

5. Don’t bury your demo links. They should be right on your home page, or at most one click away, from a link that’s impossible to miss.

6. Require your visitor to click on the demo link or player, rather than playing audio automatically. There are a lot of reasons that automatic playing can annoy. Also, if you have multiple demos (see below), configure your players so that the first one stops when the user clicks another.

7. Consider breaking your demo into subcategories. The trend is to enable your visitor to select the demo that applies most exactly to their need, getting them to your most relevant stuff in the shortest time. You can of course also include the full version, clearly labeled.

8. Will your site be easy to use? Compare your plan against the principles voiced by usability expert Jakob Nielsen. His advice may not always lead to having the prettiest site, but it will be more usable and sticky.

9. Once you know all the important rules, then you can break them. Let’s use Joel Godard’s site as an example. For years he was the Conan O’Brien’s announcer, appearing in hundreds of skits. Some of those skits involved feigned suicide, which explains the gun reference on his home page. Otherwise, that subject matter would seem risky, in light of various recent news stories.

But the most significant rule violation is that audio plays automatically – a rotating 45 rpm record spins while he delivers an 18-second message (complete with scratches). He gets away with it because it’s funny, relevant, very well written, brief, graphically fun (and clear), and he is already trusted to be a fun entertainer. Without ALL those qualities going for him, the gimmick might not work. Also important to note is that his message is not gratuitous – it tells the new arrival what is on the website and motivates the listener to click through. As opposed to “click away,” which is what happens when a site does this sort of thing badly.

Unfortunately, his video player may not be so exemplary (there is no audio demo on his site). We experienced interrupted streaming and attempting to rewind the player a bit caused it to abort and freeze. Which leads to our final point (for now)…

10. Test, test, test. Big screens, and mobile. Desktops and pads. Full-screen and minimized. All brands of browser, and sorts of computers and operating systems. All Internet access speeds. Have all your friends check out your site and click everything. Either way, you’ll be happy – happy that it works just great, or happy that you caught any glitches BEFORE you started marketing it.

Any rule can be violated, preferably only one rule at a time. Sometimes there’s a good reason, sometime there’s never one. Ultimately, your visitors will be the judge.