So you’ve decided that you want a new website to help your business attract more customers. You’ve chosen which web design company you’re going to work with and the project gets underway… this is where the trouble can begin.
As most people have never worked with a website designer before, they are unclear how to get the best from the relationship and consequently, the completed website can often be unfit for purpose. Every single day we get calls from business owners who have paid big money for a website but it simply isn’t helping them to get more customers.
When you analyse why their website isn’t working, it’s typically because the project was badly managed. So let’s look at some tips for ensuring that you have a productive relationship with your website designer and end-up with a website that does what you want it to.
Tip 1 – Be Careful What You Wish For
The first rule in business is to ensure your customers are satisfied. However, this creates a huge problem in the world of website design. Let’s imagine that for some unbeknown reason you want an animated image of a dancing chimp on your website home page…
Your website designer will probably look at this request and think “Why?” So now he/she has a real dilemma to contend with…
- Do they say to you, “You’re a firm of accountants, do you think a dancing chimp is appropriate?” which will no doubt result in numerous lengthy emails between the designer and the client which just costs the designer time they can ill-afford.
- Or, do they just shrug their shoulders and add the chimp?
The first option can often lead to heated discussions with the client which undermines the working relationship whilst the second option results in positive feedback from the client as they’ve got what they want. So if you were a website designer, which option would you go for?
A good website designer will have the confidence and experience to tell you when your ideas are bad for business. What you need to do as a client is accept that you are not a website designer and therefore, your own ideas aren’t always in the best interest of the website.
Whilst most of you reading this might think that only an idiot would want a dancing chimp on the homepage of their commercial website, the principle of a client wanting to incorporate their own vision covers a whole host of other website elements that aren’t quite so obviously a bad idea.
And this brings us nicely onto…
Tip 2 – You Are Not Your Customer
A simple question – Who is the website being designed for?
- Is it you? Nope.
- Is it the website designer? Nope.
- Is it your boss or partner? Nope.
The reality is that your website needs to appeal to your users, i.e. your prospective customers. It’s their reaction that matters the most as they are the ones who will hopefully email or call you once they’ve been impressed by the website. However, as the client is paying the bill, it’s often their personal preferences that take priority in the design process and this is a big mistake as it nearly always compromises usability.
Take a look at the two boxes below and ask yourself which styling you prefer…
This is a heading
This is some text in a box.
This is a heading
This is some text in a box.
We would hope that you wouldn’t like either as they are both difficult to read on most devices however, if you asked 100 people, you can bet that a few would like one of the examples.
Now imagine that you really LOVE one of the styles above and you want to be applied to all of the content in your website. Are you doing what’s right for you or what’s right for your users?
Again, your website designer should step-in at this point and tell you that using styles that you like are not necessarily what your target audience are going to want to see. Surely the perfect website is one that everyone can use, no matter what device the site is viewed on, how good their eyesight is or how their screen is configured?
As a general rule, it’s better to play on the safe side rather than trying to be too ‘wacky’ or ‘different’ with the overall styling of your website.
And talking of the word ‘like’, we’ll move onto tip 3…
Tip 3 – Never Use The Words “Like” or “Dislike” With Feedback
The most tense moment for any website designer is the reveal – the moment they show their first draft of the website design to the client. Bear in mind that hours of work and research have gone into the project by this point and it’s the first time the client gets to see how their hard-earned money is being spent.
Now by far, the worst words a website designer can hear at this stage are…
“I/we don’t like…”
Sometimes it’s something simple like the styling of a button. Sometimes it’s a catastrophic negative response to the whole design. However, whatever the reaction, the words “don’t like” or “dislike” should never pass your lips and here’s why…
The words ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ are subjective. They are based upon your personal preference but as we’ve already established, the people whose views really count are your perspective customers. However, we tend to find that the whole like/dislike debate can easily be removed by asking the client to use a different phrase…
“That doesn’t work because…”
Now when the client looks at any part of a website design and uses this question, it completely removes the subjectivity. For example, imagine your business/website sells mens fashion items and the following image is used on the home page by the website designer…
You could say to your website designer “I don’t like that image of the guy in the country” and the website designer will then tell you they’ll replace is with an alternative image. This process could be repeated many, many times until they find something you do ‘like’.
Alternatively, you could say…
“That image doesn’t work for us because the man doesn’t reflect our target market which is men in the 20-30 age bracket”.
You see the difference between the two statements? One is based on personal preference which the designer will always struggle to meet whilst the other one is based on a specific reason and can easily be addressed.
Conversely, if a website designer has used best practices and you do say, “That doesn’t work for us because…”, they can typically give you some sound reason why they chose it in the first place so you can make a balanced decision on whether to replace the particular element, or not.
And that takes us onto…
Tip 4 – There’s Usually a Good Reason
An experienced designer will intuitively create a website with best practices in mind. So if they place a button or link in a certain place, it’s usually done so for a very good reason. There are many things that need to be considered when a website designer arranges the content of a website page, for example:
- How each element, whether that be text, an image or a menu, looks next to adjacent elements.
- If it’s in a place that a typical user would expect to find it.
- How the element would look on a smart phone or tablet, or laptop PC.
- Whether the element enhances or weakens the user experience.
- If the element provides a function or is simply ‘eye candy’.
These are a just a few examples of what a good website designer will consider when bolting your website pages together. Now imagine if the client asks to move something for no other reason than their own personal preference – all that website design skill and experience becomes redundant because the client prefers a button on the right of page rather than the left where it ideally needs to be.
Think about it another way, if you take your car to a garage to have the brakes replaced, you wouldn’t tell the mechanic the best way to do it would you? You rely on their expertise to ensure that the brakes are fitted to work as efficiently as possible. The brakes on a car have a specific job and so should every element of your website.
And that leads us to…
Tip 5 – What Do You Want Your Website To Do?
This is probably the most important tip and really should have been tip 1 but we were distracted by the dancing chimp.
A simple enough question isn’t it? But it’s so seldom asked by most website designers at the outset of a project which is a real shame as it would ensure that both the designer and the client were on the same page.
Before you answer the question, let’s look at what you DON’T want your website to do because these are the most common mistakes made when a client commissions a new website:
- You don’t want it to distract visitors from your primary marketing message.
- You don’t want it to be difficult to navigate.
- You don’t want it to be full of self-promoting or bland copy.
- You don’t want it to be pretentious or over-designed.
- You don’t want it to take an age to load on a smart phone.
So looking beyond all the minutia, what it the most single important thing you DO want your website to do…
You want your website to help you secure more customers
After all, a website is simply another marketing medium is it not? At its most basic level, it’s really no different from an advert in a magazine, or a sales brochure, or any other piece of marketing material.
And thinking about the core principles that should be applied to EVERY piece of marketing material your business currently uses, it should…
- Be relevant to your target market
- Deliver a clear benefit to the reader
- Encourage a response from people who view it
It’s not really that complicated is it? And you probably ensure that all your marketing material already does exactly this but for some reason, these principles are often ignored by clients when they commission a website.
So be clear right from the beginning what you want your website to do and ensure that your website designer understand it too.
Some of the tips in this article might seem a little harsh on the client and you might be thinking “Hold on, who’s paying the bill here?” Whilst that is perfectly understandable, what is important is not what you’re paying for your shiny new website, it’s ultimately what return it gives you.
If you want to work with a website designer who simply follows every instruction you give to the letter, how confident can you be that you’ll end up with a website that does what you want it to? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell a client that their ideas are wrong (dancing chimp) but we are of the opinion that people use our services because they value our experience and expertise, not because they like being told ‘yes’ all the time.
The final takeaway from this is that most website designers are not experts in marketing – they are creatives who want to produce incredible eye candy. Maybe that’s what you want but when you’re proudly showing-off your new website to your friends and family, be prepared for an empty inbox and a silent telephone that will accompany it.