Use Wireframes to Design Better Pages and Sites
“Web design” is a big topic. There’s so much to unpack in it that it’s easy to get lost in the details. What began as an attempt to build a better website suddenly becomes overwhelming and daunting. Now, you feel like you’ve got to fix 200 different issues before you can even address what you wanted to deal with in the first place: creating a better page or site that converts. Hold up! You’re quickly getting to a point where it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Take a step back, breathe, and assess your approach. Do you have a roadmap or a mockup of what it is you want to achieve visually? If not, it’s probably time to try wireframing.
What Are Wireframes?
Wireframes: chances are, you’ve heard the term before, or one like it. Sometimes called concept designs, SEOs use these handy documents to block out everything from blog posts to complete website structures. Wireframes are, at their simplest form, an architectural blueprint for any and all pieces of web content displayed on a screen. They’re not really discussed much in marketing circles, likely because once someone finds a layout or structure that works, they’re going to stick to it, with minimal (if any) changes. But if we’re going to stick with the blueprint analogy, then we also must admit that, like houses and other buildings, things have changed. What once worked might not work any more—it’ll get the job done, but why settle for the same? Stretching this analogy a bit further, maybe your first landing page structure was effective for its time and got the job done, just like a starter home. But since then, things have changed—you’ve expanded your offerings, your business has grown, or you need a more sophisticated way to convey your message. You’re ready to upgrade to something that better fits your needs and the needs of your clients and potential customers. When you think of a wireframe as a blueprint, it becomes easier to lay out what you need from a given page or piece of content. It makes planning, development, deployment (and future modification) that much easier.
Why Should I be Using Wireframing?
There’s a tendency in web design to start mocking up full page layouts with detailed graphical elements once a project gets underway. This energy is infectious, and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement… only for the demands of the project to suddenly invalidate hours of work. That’s where wireframing comes into play. This basic approach to design and structure lets you define an informational hierarchy in a layout, making it easier to visualize and control how users process information on a page. Not only is this a must for web design, but it’s also a much more efficient process than using full concept designs, otherwise known as mockups. But beyond this, wireframing allows you to fine-tune your approach to user experience (UX), which can make or break a page.
How Do I Use Wireframing?
To give you an example of how wireframes can help your team, let’s look at how we use wireframing at SEO TWIST.
- We start with a basic layout. For example, a landing page supporting a paid ad campaign will have a heavy focus on above-the-fold content with sections below for additional information. Our wireframes for this are sometimes as simple as an image of boxes with minimal placeholder text. This is the blueprint our team works from, and lets us proceed with content, design, and even web development simultaneously.
- Our designers create graphics around the layout. This is where we start nailing down the look and feel of the page. Because we’ve already given a lot of thought and planning to what we need to include, the design team can focus on optimizing their imagery and layout to ensure a user-friendly finished product.
- Meanwhile, content creation proceeds simultaneously. Because the layout is already finalized, our content specialists don’t have to worry about what goes where or how much text will be on the finished page. The wireframe is their blueprint, too.
- Developers can create code to help block out the page roughly. We won’t have a finished page until the graphic design aspects are complete, but developers can easily start to create a working version of the page.
It’s incredibly simple, and yet it’s easily one of the biggest time-savers we’ve encountered. Because every aspect of the project can move ahead at the same time, hold-ups in one department don’t impact production in another.
How Do I Optimize for UX?
You must account for user experience and do everything in your control to ensure visitors to your site, page, or content understand what they’re looking at and can navigate it efficiently and effectively. Think about how often you click away from a webpage when it doesn’t work the way you wanted it to. That’s the power of UX optimization. We’ve touched upon a few of the major benefits of UX optimization, but how, exactly, do you do it? Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What are the user’s goals when they interact with this page or piece of content?
- What are your organization’s goals with this page?
- What’s your main message, and where will you place it?
- What’s the first thing you want a user to see?
- Where is your call to action? Is it effective?
- What else will a user see on your page or piece of content?
Remember, your main goal is to make it easier for users to accomplish their goals. Thus, if your page is for emergency dentist appointments, make it easy for a user to make that appointment. Because wireframing allows for rapid deployment and revision of design ideas, you can easily block out how a page should be structured. That structure becomes home to tailor-made content and design elements.
Building Trust and Optimizing for Conversions
So, you’ve got a basic layout you’re happy with, you’ve sketched out a rough outline of the page… now it’s time to add elements that build trust and push conversions. Where do you start? Remember the basic questions we had earlier? Keep your answers in mind during this process. Think of your wireframe as a page on a screen. Users will read it left-to-right, top-to-bottom, so keep this in mind throughout. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) focuses on expanding on and refining how effective a page is at converting users into leads. It might sound very design-unfriendly, but there’s a ton of overlap with UX optimization. There are a few key CRO features and elements you should absolutely include:
- A clear above-the-fold section, visible immediately when the page loads. This section is what users will see first, and thus it sets the entire tone for everything that follows. You want to entice users to continue onwards, so deliver your message right off the bat and tweak things to draw the eye further down the page.
- Identification and contact info are above-the-fold. Users should be able to figure out who you are and how they can reach you quickly.
- Clear calls-to-action. Remember, optimal UX is, really, all about getting out of the way so a user can take action once they’ve made their decision. Keep the CTAs instructional.
Remember, UX relies on creating a smooth, painless experience for users. CRO is largely similar but takes a different approach. How do you get them to work together? Try taking a content inventory—what do you absolutely have to include?—and build from there. For example, say you have a clear CTA and USP that highlights your business as the manufacturer of the best dog beds on the market. You’ve got to back that up—so your content inventory will expand to include graphics of happy dogs using the beds, testimonials from owners, images of the beds, and so on. It all adds up, and it all contributes to better, more effective designs before you’ve even started to ideate and create in Adobe.
Putting it All Together
By the time you’ve wireframed a design and refined it with a team, your design team’s probably raring to go. The beauty of a wireframe is that it takes a lot of the nebulous guesswork out of design. There’s no need to question every decision regarding layout, because it’s already been decided. Now it’s just a matter of making it look good, and that gives designers a ton of room to work in. Of course, the real work in UX optimization comes when you’ve got data to back it up. To get this data, though, you’ll need to finalize your wireframe and put it through your full production cycle. At SEO TWIST, we use heatmaps and analytics tools to track user behaviour and actions on a given page. This allows us to review what’s working, what isn’t, and where we can improve, allowing us to optimize for user experience while touching on aspects of conversion optimization. Because, as with every aspect of your marketing efforts, the data you gather and develop will keep you informed and help you strategies for what comes next. Take what you’ve learned with one wireframe and put the results into the next one. And the next. And the next. Before you know it, you’ve cracked the process wide open and can take your designs to the next level. You’re creating eye candy that doesn’t just look good, but that gets the job done—without fail.
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