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The Bitch Slap: News Flash – Your Website Isn’t About YOU!

Feb 16, 2010 ,

You’ve either got a website already or you wanna build one. Either way, I sure as hell hope you know what you’re doing.

RedheadWriting.com is on a temporary template since I was hacked a week ago and my redesign is in the finishing stages (standby – we’re hoping for a March 1 launch! W00t!). One of the key things I sat down and asked myself during the UI (user interface) design process was: who does this website serve?

The answer was a bit startling: NOT ME.

A website is designed to do one thing and one thing only: exactly what you want your site visitors to do. If you want your visitors to wallow around aimlessly like a beached whale in the dead of summer, you can do that. But I’ll bet you’d rather have some things that look like the following:

And less of these things:

I think Brian Clark over at Copyblogger had it right with the first two points in his article 10 Effective Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers. While not about web design per se, the top two points on the list are Make it Easy and Obvious and Be Laser Focused. A website shouldn’t leave people wondering what to do or what you’re all about. So here’s the bitch slap:

Stop thinking like a business owner and start thinking like a site visitor.

Here are five questions to ask yourself about your current or future website (and shit howdy, I’ve asked myself ALL of these throughout my site redesign process):

Web Design Question #1: Who am I and what do I do?

If you can’t answer this, neither can your copywriter or your web designer. It should never be mistaken that you’re a plumbing company when in reality you’re an ad agency. Talk about your business going down the shitter.

Web Design Question #2: What do you want people to do on each page of your website?

And no – that’s not a trick question. You don’t want people to interminably stay on your home page, nor do you want people to leave your site for lands unknown (aka a website that’s not YOURS). You have to TELL them what to do on each page of your site. If it’s a blog page, maybe you want them to keep reading – show them more posts that relate to the current post’s topic! Maybe it’s the home page and you want their email address for your newsletter list – make it easy and obvious to subscribe! If there’s not a call to action (in web designer terms CTA) on most every page of your website, your website fails before it even begins. You’d have been better off going to get a taco than paying a designer a load to build you an online box with no tape to hold it together.

Web Design Question #3: How does your competition address the above two questions?

I know – everyone thinks they’re Gordon freakin’ Gekko. The competition should bow down to you because two simple words sums it up: you’re better. That may very well be, but if you consider them to be “competition,” they’re obviously doing something right, eh Sherlock? Find out what they know and use the CASE principle one you get it: Copy And Steal Everything. There’s nothing truly new under the sun, but there are innovative ways to make other people’s successes work for you. No one’s too good in this life to be above taking notes.

Web Design Question #4: What are you willing to do in order to get the job done?

Any zoo animal can have a website. But will your website separate you from your competition – or at least put you on the same playing field? I’m so tired of seeing Geocities bullshit ghetto websites and Angelfire rejects. It’s not expensive to have a solid website built (see Your Website Sucks) and whatever you spend will be worth it. Don’t walk into a Ferarri dealership asking what kind of mileage the thing gets. Seriously. Solid web design is worth what you pay. Check out Visual Adventures, Time for Cake, Judith Shakes Designs and Phases Design Studio. I work with all four of these firms on a regular basis. They’re the schiz and can build you a site that you can edit yourself without being afraid that clowns are going to crawl out from under the bed and eat your pretty design because you hit a wrong key. Stop hiring your friend’s daughter or boss’s nephew. If you do, please send me a fork with which I can stab myself in the eye. It’s a lesson I learned with RedheadWriting.com – WordPress templates can only go so far. I’m beyond a template and needed a full-fledged designer. It’s worth it. Amen/pass the salt.

Web Design Question #5: What are you going to do to promote your website once you build it?

It’s no longer enough to be online – you have to earn web rankings. And sugar, let me tell you: that ain’t free. If you’re not prepared to pay in reciprocal links, cash for a solid SEO strategy or invest a whole helluva lot in a social media campaign designed to drive backlinks, you’re making a huge mistake. A website is a marketing strategy. Any solid marketing strategy is supported by other strategies. It’s likely you found this post from a social media or social bookmarking outlet. That’s by design. It’s not my only means for encouraging traffic to the site – it’s a component. Any website design that doesn’t include the exploration of a SEO strategy is failing before it begins. Need more info on Search Engine Optimization? Check out seOverflow’s search engine optimization blog as well as SEOmoz.org’s resources section.

That’s it -tough love in the land of web design. Now I’ll throw the mic over to you, dear readers: what else is HUGE in the realm of web design? Lay it on us and make it thick, please. Like a milkshake that’s going to leave my lactose-intolerant self balled-up on the bathroom floor in cramps…awwyeah.

15 comments
Kristen Race, Ph.D.
Kristen Race, Ph.D.

Where were you in my life 9 months ago?? OK, I can't really blame you for that, I guess. I am Exhibit A of creating a website that was not about the visitor! I have done my time, served my sentence, and thankfully, with the help of Shelly Kramer's magic, will be re-newed very soon. And as much of a relief as this is, it's been hell being stuck in the mud of a crappy website. Thanks for sharing, will have these thoughts in my head as I do a final review.Kristen

Kristen Race, Ph.D.
Kristen Race, Ph.D.

Where were you in my life 9 months ago?? OK, I can't really blame you for that, I guess. I am Exhibit A of creating a website that was not about the visitor! I have done my time, served my sentence, and thankfully, with the help of Shelly Kramer's magic, will be re-newed very soon. And as much of a relief as this is, it's been hell being stuck in the mud of a crappy website. Thanks for sharing, will have these thoughts in my head as I do a final review.Kristen

The Redhead
The Redhead

Andrew - thanks for the props and for stopping by to check things out. Working with web developers has been invaluable to me in that I started to see (about three years ago) that a website was more than something "pretty." It was, essentially, and interactive game designed to get your customers to DO something. Kinda of a cool way to shift my thought process.

Andrew Bogart
Andrew Bogart

Hey there! I'm glad that I showed up here. As if I didn't have a bunch of stuff to work on with my site before, now I'm swamped with ideas! You are a real help and a valuable resource to all of us REAL website people out here in the land web design. Thanks a lot and keep up the good blogging!

Troy Halsey
Troy Halsey

Great discussion and very helpful as I try to build my own site. Thanks!

Jaremy
Jaremy

Awesome post, Erika. These are all questions that people really don't think about when building their websites. I recently built my own website (http://heartithateit.com), and that was a major issue - what do I want to do to do on each page, and how can I keep them on my site and stop them from bouncing?Foresight is incredibly important, and people often believe "if you build it, they will come". NOT. TRUE. If you build it, and they WANT it, they might come. And that doesn't even guarantee they'll stay.

Lori Randall
Lori Randall

Soooo sorry your site got hacked. My condolences. :( Good luck with the new design!

lisanelson
lisanelson

Amen to that Shelly...and Erika. Helping our customers understand how the internet environment has changed in the last five years and what they need to do to be a part of that environment is our biggest challenge. We have so many clients that are willing to lay down $$$ for the site, but have no concept of the marketing piece, which ultimately leads to failure. Thanks Erika...as always, you hit the nail right on the head.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Whatever "shiggedy" is, I want some. It sounds like it would go lovely with waffles :)Thanks for stopping by, Shelly! I think you said it better than I ever could, though: websites aren't just online business cards anymore. They're fully interactive extensions of your business that place you in front of more customers than you could imagine. Now, imaging pissing-off all those customers...Hmmmm...best to do it right when you have the chance instead of alienating your client base.

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

Quit writing about shit I am going to write about and doing a better of it. And I mean it. Right now! Seriously (not that I wasn't serious) I have these conversations with clients all the time. It's so not about them, and they are having such a hard time understanding that, because it's been that way for a very long time. Websites used to be online business cards or pretty brochures. But that was yesterday. Businesses relying on just that now have a rude awakening ahead. Thankfully there are nice people (me) (which is a massive overstatement, btw) and bitch slappers (you) to tell them what they need to hear, whether they like it or not. Or whether they are smart enough to hire us or not. And if they don't, they can deal with the reality that their businesses might well dry up and blow away.Well done, Red. Love your shiggedy.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Mike, I just love working with your team. A solid keyword and SEO strategy makes a web marketer's job infinitely more effective and clients happier in the long run!

Mike Belasco
Mike Belasco

Thank god somebody had the "balls" to write this post! Thank you - my thoughts exactly. If you don't do the stuff in here, go get that taco!

Mike Belasco
Mike Belasco

thank god somebody had the "balls" to write this post! thank you my thoughts exactly. If you don't do the stuff in here, go get that taco

The Redhead
The Redhead

High five, Kandra...love the way you guys work and your clients should, too!

phases
phases

Ahhh Erika, you just turned yourself into our dream client. Thinking that the website is built for the site owner (and oh ya, those dang site visitors, they should just figure it out, right?) an issue we have to address with nearly every new site. Usually we clear it all up with solid wire frames and good solid communication skills though!Remember the old saying "form follows function"? That is the guiding post for all great design.

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