Write Up: How to Improve your Website for 2015!

The Tools Show: 8 January 2015

Check out the video here: How To Improve Your Web Site for 2015 – The Tools Show

Happy New Year, everyone! 

How do web marketers start off a new year? By checking in with our websites, of course! The beginning of a new year is a great time to re-evaluate not only your waistline but your company’s website: Maybe it’s not fitting as well as it used to, or the new styles are calling your name, or it’s not attracting the opposite sex, I mean customers, as well as it once did.

Never fear–The Tools Show is here to help you think about how great web designs get built! 

First, a word about how great website designs DON’T get built…

One of the biggest pet peeves and user turn-offs on a website is the use of too many colors and fonts that don’t go together: basically, when a design doesn’t fit with the product that being sold and that product’s audience. For instance, a lot of bright colors might be fine for a site designed for kids, but if you want sophisticated adults to stay on your site long enough to learn and/or buy something, then it should “speak” to them in the right colors and with the right “look.”

Yes, of course, you’re saying to yourself, that makes perfect sense. Why would anyone do anything different?

Let’s take a look at a great cartoon that illustrates how good designs go bad, by The Oatmeal:

This explains it all.

This explains it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Idea here is that as a business owner, you know a lot about a lot of stuff probably. But you may not know a lot about good design and how/why it sells. So you hire a professional who does, but then you have to get out of the way!

How to Prevent Bad Design

Too often, people think that because they know their business best, they know how it should be presented, but that’s not really the case. There is an understanding of what is good design and what elements make for good sales that professional designers have learned. A good designer will ask you the right questions to get an understanding of your product, your business, your brand, in order to be able to put together an effective site design that embraces not only the principles of good design and marketing, but conveys your brand to your target audience. This is a process– a series of conversations that needs to happen so that both parties understand the other.

The best way to help ensure that this happens the right way is to look for and hire an expert–and once you’ve vetted them by looking at other things they’ve done that you like, getting recommendations from others, etc.–and then be open to having the conversation(s) that needs to happen to come to an agreement. You, as the owner of the site and the business, of course should have input as to what represents your company/product best, but you also need to listen to the design expert when it comes to design elements.

Don’t feel like you can’t say “We need to go back and re-evaluate the design” if you’re not getting what you expected from a designer, though. You have your right to an opinion, to question and try to understand, but the line is crossed when a business owner says, “But I’m right,” like in The Oatmeal example. You have to trust your expert who is telling you that what you’re asking for is bad design, and remember that they are in fact the specialist.

Strategy & Design

So what about strategy? Are you expecting that a designer also knows enough about online marketing strategy to effectively address it in the design? Maybe yes, but it’s not a bad idea to have an online marketing specialist in the mix, just to make sure. Sometimes the coolest design won’t work for your SEO purposes, for example. Making sure that these are working together, not against each other from the beginning is important.

Sage used to be “all about the strategy” and didn’t care so much about design. “I only care about conversion!” was his motto. But over the years, he’s realized that they are one and the same, really. The design and the message feed into one another; the emotion that a good design exudes, what it promotes in the user, is what drives conversion. Greg agrees: “It’s every bit about a look and feel as conveying a message.”

Some Examples:

RedCross.org

 Red Cross homepage

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Cross website has a very clean design, loads of white space, but uses the power of emotional, human photos to convey the feeling of compassion that they are about. You don’t even need to read the words to get the message from this site–and in fact, too many words sometimes can be distracting, cluttering up the design and primary message of a well-done site.

SalvationArmy.org

The_Salvation_Army_International_-_The_Salvation_Army_International

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using the same concept (just smaller photos), the Salvation Army website’s design also conveys the concept of their purpose–helping others, in this case, with the addition of the religious aspect also conveyed in the photos with the Pope. The photos and graphic elements all speak to their core message: the specific red in the Salvation Army site of course brings to mind the red kettle that they use around the holidays.

MongooseMetrics.com

Mongoose_Metrics_by_Ifbyphone

 

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, strategy and design can also work against one another. You may have heard that video is a great thing to have on your website, for SEO purposes. But videos, like every other element of your website, need to serve a purpose. In this example, while Sage whole-heartedly loves this company, the fact that the badly-done pop-up video on this site comes up every time, without fail and without a way to close the window (even if you’ve seen it a hundred times already!), just causes annoyance to the site’s visitors. Most likely, this has the opposite effect than is what the company desires.

Your Best Website

All in all, keep in mind that the overall design of your website needs to convey specific information to your audience, and a professional designer can help you see how the elements of a good design work toward that goal. Yes, there are other considerations, like SEO, conversion, and UX (user experience) that contribute to the usefulness of your site, but an effective site doesn’t prioritize one over another. It may be in your best interest to consult with experts in all or some of these areas, because you can’t assume that a designer will be well-versed in all of them (thought they might be).

Think of web professionals in the same way that we have come to think about doctors: that they tend to specialize in one sort of complaint or part of the body–podiatrists, oncologists, cardiologists, etc. The same is true for your website as a whole: you’ve got the design, the words, the marketing aspects, the search engine considerations–ideally, they should all work together harmoniously, but you may need specialists to give you details on how best to take care of each aspect.

You can’t build a good strategy in a vacuum–all of your experts are experts for a reason, and if everyone leaves their egos at the door and communicates, then a beautiful, effective website can be yours. The starting point for everyone? The big WHY–what is the website for? What is it’s purpose: converting, sales, just getting leads or eyeballs? Although it may sound like a dumb question because of its simplicity, it’s the basic information that everyone needs to be able to do their jobs (providing you, the business owner, with a good website).

Bottom Line when working with designers and other web professionals: How can you recognize the solution if you don’t know the problem?

 

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