Funeral home web sites

Part Two: The Overall Design Process

Part 1: Online Brochures, or Engaging Educators?
Part 2: The Overall Design Process
Part 3: The Power is in the Prose
Part 4: Don't Neglect Your Web Stats

Welcome to the second installment of the four-part series on funeral home Web sites. The previous installment focused on the necessity for educating your site visitors, as opposed to creating a Web site that is little more than an online brochure. I feel most strongly about that - a wise consumer makes the best customer, and that's especially true when the price points are relatively high.

In the concluding remarks of part one, I gave you two assignments. The first was to generate a list of common questions proffered by your client families. Those questions will be the basis of the educational elements of your site.

The second assignment was to consider what your overall goals are in designing, and writing content for your Web site. Granted, the underlying goal is education of your site visitors, but there are other important factors in your site content strategy. Ask yourself these questions, if you haven't already:

  • Are you most interested in differentiating your firm from your competitors?
  • Or are you choosing to position your firm as a leader in the field, with strong brand recognition?

And... I've got another one for you:

  • Who is your ideal audience?

Are you targeting Baby Boomers, veterans; traditionalists, or the more innovative, more creative members of your community? Knowing your demographic “ideals” allows you to focus your Web site by targeting your copy to their interests.

Site Components

Main page: often called the Home page; this is what users see when they first arrive at your site. When they do, you have about one minute to show them the most important information about your company.

So what would it be? You have to answer that question based on your company's priorities. It may require a meeting with management and several revisions. But once you have that answer, the rest of your content falls into line.

Company area: commonly called the About Us page

Products and Services area: Not just your GPL, or an online catalog.

Customer Service area: Contact Form, Aftercare resources, Advance Planning tools.

Interactive User-Driven Tools: Your online guest book, Video Tribute Library, or Memorial Service Webcasting interface.

Press Room: if you make use of your local newspapers, all articles should be archived here. (See my article in American Cemetery for July, 2007, A Keen Eye, and a Warm Heart for ways to use the media to promote your firm.)

Each of these areas will link to more detailed information that the user will value.

Note: Reading copy on a Web site is hard on the eyes - so I advise that you use as few words as possible, and use a lot of white space between short paragraphs.

The Look and Feel of Your Site

Page layout is an art, and in the final analysis, can't really be judged in objective terms. There are, however, "standard" design principles. Should Web sites always follow them?


The question to ask is, what effect are you trying to create?

All too often I see funeral home sites that are like lullabies - they put me to sleep with the colors and graphic images. Recognizing that you may wish to provide a level of quiet comfort to your site visitors who may be in the early stages of grief, I can say only this: balance their comfort with their (equally important) need to be able to make decisions while on your site.

A basic fact is that the Web is not a reliable medium. A Web designer can never be sure exactly how the page is going to appear to the end user. The only thing you can be sure of is that it will look different on different systems. Bearing that in mind, I advise simplicity.

You should give some thought to what types of colors are appropriate for your site and the message you're trying to convey:

  • Bright primary or secondary colors (blue, red, yellow, orange, and green) are rarely seen on a funeral home site - but not always inappropriate.
  • A dark blue or brick red can add a little life to a black and white page. Try using colors like these for heading text or for horizontal line breaks between copy sections.
  • A pastel shade is a good choice for a background.
  • Earth tones are organic and unobtrusive. They can be used in either dark or light shades, and they tend to contrast well with primary colors.

Some would say that any background color other than white or black is too much, but many admit that a well-chosen solid color background can set the mood, while giving a site a unique identity. Choose a very light neutral color, and think carefully about the kind of associations a particular color has. If in doubt, make it white.

A good overall design has the following three traits:

  1. It has unity and variety.
  2. It supports, but does not overpower, the message.
  3. It is appropriate to the particular message being conveyed.

A basic principle of classical aesthetics is that a good piece of art has a balance of unity and variety. That is, everything fits together into a recognizable whole, but at the same time there is enough variety to keep things interesting.

Unity and consistency are very important design principles, because they reinforce the unique identity of your company and Web site. And, in marketing your business, that's pivotal to success.

Next time we'll look at the words on your site. And that's where things really get interesting. The power is in the prose.

If you'd like to know more, I offer a complimentary Web site design analysis. Send me your URL via email ( with your contact information. Or call me at 831-338-0220. I'd love hear from you!