Where to Start
Shopping for a website builder is like shopping for fruit. If you don’t know a little bit about what to look for, you’re likely to come home with something that’s half-ripe, half rotten, or just plain tasteless.
So, what factors do indicate whether a website design is good or not? If you can’t name much beyond “it’s pretty,” then chances are that the website you have right now is pretty mediocre. After all, anyone motivated enough to learn the basics of Wordpress can build a website, so your chances of having gotten someone really good by a random drawing of local freelancers is not great.
As a business manager, being able to judge a good website design is actually pretty straightforward. You just need to gain a basic understanding of what the website should be doing for your business in the first place. After all, if you don’t know what good it does for your business, why would you spend money on it? Once you understand how it all relates to the bottom line, then you will be equipped to hire a good website designer. The rest of the detailed expertise will follow.
If you haven’t really understood the role a website should be playing for your business – if your website is 5-10 years old, was built by a freelancer whose main selling point was price, or is just woefully out of date – then this article is definitely for you.
Why Your Website Is Important
We see mediocre and even really bad business websites pretty commonly. We’re not here to shame you if yours isn’t too great. However, we’re also not going to sugar coat it – you need to know that having a bad website is limiting for your business. First we want to help you understand why, and in doing so will give you some starting priorities for what to look for in a redesign.
The main reason your website is so important is that people, by default, simply expect it to be the reference hub for your entire brand, products, and services. To prove it, just ask someone something they don’t know about a company similar to yours. Where do you think they’ll turn first? If anyone has a question about who you are, what you do, what your products and services are, or how you do things differently from competitors, they just assume that your website is going to hold the latest and most authoritative information.
This goes for both your customers and staff. When talking about why your website is important, we would actually place your staff in highest priority because they are the ones talking with your customers on your company’s behalf, every day. Your staff creates your products and performs your services. Your staff are your sales people. How could you expect your staff to represent your products and brand well, if you haven’t even been able to represent them well on your website, which is by most peoples’ intuition the main information hub for your entire business? Even if your staff wants to represent your brand well, what is their reference for what your brand should be, if not the website?
So you see, your website is the living, authoritative definition of who you are as a business. That definition you are broadcasting, good or bad, filters out to your customers not only directly as they visit your site but through your staff and all the goods, services, and communications they produce on your behalf. Even if you and the staff do care about your business with a passion, your website, by its sheer mediocrity, is sending a message that you really don’t care very much after all. A website that looks like an afterthought or a generic template does not communicate care, pride, or quality, and it doesn’t inspire those things either.
Your Website’s Core Job
There are a lot of specific things a website can accomplish, like acting as an SEO engine, or raising sales conversions in online retail, or providing product configuration utilities. Those can all be important but are topics of focus for other articles. For starters, we want to focus on what we will call your core. Your website should be accomplishing these core things for your business:
What you do (products and services)
What is unique about what you do (unique selling proposition)
Who you do it for (customer demographics)
Tell a story
Feature attractive imagery and brand
Use minimal, concise, well-written text
Present engaging media
Guide users to the content you know they want with intuitive design (usability)
Keep navigation and content simple
Make content easy for the eyes to scan using contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity
Always supply opportunities to click down to more detail if the user wants it
Make all details of products or services available on dedicated pages
Use bullet points, diagrams, infographics, imagery, and charts if possible to explain detailed concepts instead of walls of text
Provide easily searchable resource pages such as blog articles, FAQ pages, or PDF libraries for buyers
Have a clear primary call to action on each page
Don’t have too many competing calls to action
Keep the actual conversion process as easy as possible (easy product ordering, short contact forms, obvious phone numbers, direct contact info for your sales people)
The obvious benefit of this model is that when potential customers visit your website, they are captivated immediately, and then hand-held down the sales funnel with maximum service, clarity, and efficiency. Your website has now become a branding, information, and conversion machine for your business.
The fascinating thing about this model is that it parallel the things a good traditional sales person should do when communicating with customers. That brings us back to the idea that by having articulated the brand and sales process on your website in a very purposeful way, you will actually be providing an operating model for your staff as well. The dual-facing roles of your website – to clients and staff – are why a website project, when done well, can become a defining event in your business. By having done a great job of defining your brand, your clients, and your product offering, and then throwing in metrics monitoring to boot, it can actually start to inform your overall business strategy as well.
When is your website good? It is good when it becomes a service to your clients, a conversion engine for your sales staff, a brand model and information source for everyone, and an informant for your business strategy.
Actually if your website can accomplish all that, it’s not just good, it’s great. This model may seem pretty formulaic, but once you dive into each of the five categories we outlined, you’ll find it takes well-rounded marketing and design expertise to be able to translate each concept to compelling content on the page. For example, in steps 1 and 2 it takes not only a photographer, but one who can design a photo to communicate your brand visually in place of a wall of text. It’s difficult, but the important thing is to recognize that even if you can do an okay job at it, you’ll be miles above most websites.
So to get started, you need to locate a marketing person who has a discovery and design process he will guide you through, rather than someone who immediately jumps into the technicalities of building the website. The right person should have a network and resources to execute each design task, and should be a good judge of quality work.
Given the model above you now have a basic framework from which to shop for such an expert. Different experts have different models, and that’s okay. The main things you want are for them to be able to describe their discovery and design processes to you, and for them to show you a portfolio of projects they have done in the past using such a process.
If you’ve gone through a process like this, followed a well-reasoned discovery and development model, and know what your website’s functional role is within your business, then you probably have a good website. If you haven’t gone through that process – then you should.