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:
- More signups for your email list
- More RSS subscribers
- Higher conversion rates from visitors to customers
- Email inquiries about services
- More blog comments
And less of these things:
- Where the hell is ______?!?
- I have no idea what this site is about. How did I get here?
- I can’t find anything on here.
- OK, read the blog post. I’m leaving now to go troll eBay for Disney memorabilia.
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.