Guest Blog: The case for a sustainably designed website – from Andy Davies

MAI Guest blog - Andy DaviesI am a sustainable web designer. Websites are my bread and butter. I believe that the web is a force for good and a tool for business. The internet is a global marketplace and a catalyst for change.

In the modern world, we all have a digital life. Businesses and individuals tell their stories online. We interact with our friends and customers online. We share our stories, triumphs and fight our failures. For both private and commercial entities there are opportunities for collaboration & new marketplaces.

The problem is that the carbon cost of the net is huge, largely unseen & unconsidered. Communications tech will emit more carbon by 2025 than any country except China, India, and the U.S.

What about when the grid is decarbonised?

The push to decarbonise infrastructure will help. Studies show that the globe can be powered sustainably by 2050. But, the space and resources required for renewable energy will be huge. The world’s population continues to grow and with it, access to the internet. In 2019 approximately 53.6% of the global population were users of the internet. More recent estimates put the figure at around 59% (4.66 billion users).

With an increasing population & improved access to the web greater levels of efficiency are required. Too many websites today are not built efficiently. They are difficult to find, load too slowly and don’t do what they are supposed to. Lots of businesses thrive in spite of their sites, not because of them.

Sustainable Web Design

This is where sustainable web design can help. Sustainable sites should be: clean, efficient, open, honest, regenerative, and resilient. They will improve site performance like site speed and conversions while lowering carbon emissions. Who doesn’t like a win-win?

The simplest step you can take is to ensure that your site hosting is powered by renewables. Websites are hosted on servers. Servers are basically computers that connect web browsers like Chrome or Safari to the files associated with your site. Your site needs to be available 24/7/365 so the servers it is stored on are constantly consuming power. As this is unavoidable it is vital to reduce the impact of that.

Eco-friendly Web Hosting

There are a wide range of excellent site hosts who can offer renewables-powered hosting. The Green Web Foundation has a directory of green hosting companies. The directory comprises 323 green hosting companies in 26 countries.

You can choose the type of energy your hosting uses but not what your site visitors use. Renewable hosting should only be the first step, finding other efficiencies is essential. Concentrating on a few key areas will help your sustainability and your site results.

Efficiency 1: SEO

Improving your SEO (search engine optimisation) doesn’t feel like a green step. It’s encouraging more visitors to your (now eco-friendly hosted) site. How is that green?

It comes down to that word again, efficiency. Your site showcases the solution your business offers. Whether that is a service or a product, ultimately you are solving a problem for your customer. The quicker and easier your ideal customer can find your site, the less time they need to spend browsing. Less time spent on websites finding the product, service or piece of information needed to solve that problem means less energy used.

Again, this is a win-win. If you are confident in what your business offers, driving engaged visitors to your site means solving problems more quickly?

Efficiency 2: Structure, layout and design

Search engines are now driving traffic to your site. The next step is efficient site structure, layout & design. This is an essential requirement for efficient visitor conversions. Think of sites where the confusing layout made a purchase difficult. Now think about how often you have actually made a purchase from those sites. Rarely, I would guess.

Making sites easy to read and navigate means turning more potential customers into actual customers.

Have a look at your favourite ecommerce site and see if you spot the following elements:

  1. Large, easy to read fonts
  2. Accessible colour schemes
  3. Clear “calls to actions” (e.g. a “Buy Now” button)

You will definitely find them at Patagonia, Allbirds and Fair Phone. If it works for them, why not follow their example?

Efficiency 3: Content

Your visitors can find your site and use it easily. What are you going to say to them? It is easy to pack a site with imagery and wording describing everything your business does. But are you getting your message across effectively? Every image and piece of content on your site has an energy and emission cost. The question is, can you justify every element on your site?

Have a look at the main pages on your website and ask if they are fit for purpose? Do the pages and content clearly state their purpose and invite people to take action? Are you answering questions that your customers actually ask? Is the content smoothing the way to a conversion or confusing the issue?

In addition, you should consider whether your posts and contents are still relevant? Are your old pages or posts still seeing traffic, or are they obsolete? If they are no longer relevant, could you remove them from your site?

Efficiency 4: Optimisation

Once the 3 considerations above are covered, you should think about on-site optimisation. Page speed is a key performance consideration. A quarter of users will leave a site if a page takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Faster pages are more user-friendly and more planet friendly. Search engines rank faster pages more highly. The less time and processing power required to load a page, the less energy used. Less energy means less emissions.

Elements such as high-resolution images, auto-playing videos, slide carousels and tracking cookies are all “heavy”. Images can be resized and optimised. Videos can be optimised and played on click. Slide carousels are often less effective than a simpler layout. Data from tracking cookies is often not analysed. Optimised pages should be engaging and effective.

Conclusion

Sustainable websites should be great websites. They should load quickly, be easy for users to find, engaging and convert more users. The benefits will be as clear for your business as they are for the planet. What’s stopping you from improving your sites’ performance and reducing its carbon footprint?

About the author:

Andy Davies is a freelance web designer running Sitegeist Web Services. He builds high impact, low carbon websites that focus on user experience and site speed.  He is on a mission to spread the word about a more eco-friendly way of building websites.

Further reading:

Inspiration for parts of this article came from Sustainable Web Design.

Wholegrain Digital has a brilliant resource for business that want to do some Digital Decluttering Gerry McGoverns’ site has a wealth of data and insights into digital carbon footprints.