Making a great first impression is everything in life, and that also applies to web design for electric cooperatives, broadband, and other utility organizations. It typically takes a site visitor no more than a couple seconds to analyze a website to determine if they will stay or leave. Content is important, but its visual appeal and website navigation are what influence a visitor’s experience.

Effective visual hierarchy on the homepage of your utility website should inform, impress and persuade a visitor’s attention to continue to navigate through the site. Therefore, for a utility  website to succeed effectively, it’s important to minimize uncertainty and maximize optimization.

What does visual hierarchy mean? Hierarchy is how you visually structure elements on your website by their level of importance. Your goal is to create a memorable online experience by structuring your site in a way to be remarkably effective for a site visitor to quickly and easily assess information and accomplish their goals.

When creating your goals, you’re probably thinking, “Everything I want to include is important.” The problem, however, is that if you incorporate everything down to the kitchen sink, your site’s visitors will get discouraged and move on. No one has time these days to sift through the mud just to get to the gold. Instead, keep the homepage clean, simple, intuitive, and concise by limiting the content to these key components. You have the rest of the website to house a majority of the in-depth content.

Tools & Tips for Your Web Design Project

Your trusted web design and utility communication experts are here to assist you with some tools and tips to help make it easier for you to collect important information about a customer’s experience on your website and to break down your goals to only feature those key essentials. Here are a few examples of how you can collect information:

  • Google Analytics: Helps you get to know your customers by tracking and reporting your website traffic.
  • Website Heat Maps: A tool that allows you to see what visitors are looking for on your homepage, where they click, how far they scroll, what they look at or ignore, or how quickly they leave.
  • User Research: Observation or send out surveys and questionnaires.

Goals for Your Web Design Project

Once your cooperative or utility organization has done research on visitor experiences, it’ll be time to figure out what your goals are. The following tips will hopefully help provide some guidance:

  • Set Clear Goals: What are your main priorities? What are the most important steps or items you want your visitors to do when they land on your site? Limiting this to just a few is best. Too many goals will only confuse visitors. Something to keep in mind is visitors are trying to quickly find what they need and making those items accessible within one or two clicks will also help reduce phone calls and emails.
  • Discuss Top Pieces: List all of the things you would like to include on the homepage, this could be something as small as contact us.
  • Prioritize: Categorize your priorities into what is most important. It also helps to talk to customer service to figure out what users are frequently searching for, or another option is to get your site analyzed using Google Analytics. Keep in mind, what might be a priority to you may not be a beneficial priority for your users who are simply interested in just paying their bill.

Website Structure and Visual Elements

Think of your utility homepage as the prime real estate. This is a great way for your utility to shine and expand to existing and new customers in your area (this is especially important for our broadband utility partners). When structuring your homepage, there are a few visual elements to consider:

  • Size: Users notice larger elements more easily.
  • Color: Bright colors typically attract more attention than muted ones.
  • Contrast: Dramatically contrasting colors are more eye-catching.
  • Accessibility: Affects individuals with disabilities or those who primarily use mobile devices or have slow network connections.
  • Alignment: Out-of-alignment elements stand out over aligned ones.
  • Repetition: Repeating styles can suggest content is related.
  • Proximity: Closely placed elements seem related.
  • Whitespace: More space around elements draws the eye towards them.
  • Texture and Style: Richer textures stand out over flat ones.

Components to Consider for Your Utility Home Page

Here are at least 9 components you should consider displaying on the homepage that will help give guidance and structure for your visitors:

  1. Utility Logo & Brand ID: Include your company logo so visitors instantly know what website they are visiting.
  2. Phone Number: Easily accessible on all pages. Should be displayed prominently either in the header or footer or both. You’d be surprised how often site visitors grow frustrated in “hunting” for a phone number.
  3. Contact Us: Either fully displayed on the homepage or a link to be accessible from an interior page.
  4. Clear Navigation: Interior pages organized with global bar headers with drop-down menus provide simple and clear navigation across all pages. Make sure links aren’t broken or cause traffic to navigate away from the site.
  5. Compelling Headline: A strong eye-catching headline will help convey your message.
  6. Call to action: Key interactive items that stand out from the rest of the content. These usually are frequently sought-after topics (i.e. bill payment and account management, outage information, job opportunities, rebate programs, and rate plans for broadband or telco organizations).
  7. Utility Overview: Be concise about a recap of who you are. We often provide this in the form of a data visualization banner that mixes in iconography with stats to show who your utility is by the numbers.
  8. Email opt-in Forms: If you have a newsletter, be creative in why a visitor should sign-up. Examples would be to include an overview of information, a special offer or a discount on their first order, or maybe a free download as a thank you for signing up.
  9. Social Media: Only 20% of utility organizations feature social media on their site. This allows visitors to have a choice in how they want to connect with you.

In conclusion, visual appeal matters when it comes to web design; especially for utilities. When there are an infinite number of sites to sift through, just remember it only takes milliseconds for a visitor to form an opinion about your homepage, and you want that opinion to be a positive one that conveys trust.

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