When it comes to web design, development and audience targeting, where do you start and where do you let go? Where does your trust in the professionals you hire to develop and design your web presence come into play and what damage can you do if you get too involved in the creative and development process and not the marketing end, knowing who you are trying to reach, why and how?
Being the owner doesn’t give you all-knowing powers over all aspects of creating a successful business. There are aspects of business you must turn over to other professionals. Whether it’s an accountant to keep your book, a manager to help you with day-to-day operations or a web developer or/and designer to give you a proper and prosperous internet presence, there are times you have to defer to their expertise and desire to do the best job they can to keep you as a client. Basically, if they do a good job, your business grows and as it grows, so do your needs for more of their services. It’s a win-win situation from their vantage point.
The first things to consider when you’re thinking of creating your first web presence, is what are you selling and whom do you want to reach? Surprisingly, this is where many business owners go down the wrong path.
A recent client responded to a creative brief, outlining how his web site would be put forth to grab a piece of a market tied up by two large competitors, by turning down the route of picking up local customers by showing a lower price and “family-type service” that his competitors didn’t have. Instead, he wanted to seize dissatisfied customers from his competitors. Why? Because a friend of his told him it would be a “totally new way of gaining clients.”
The problem with this thinking is that it needs to rely on the failure of competitors and they were not failing in the market. His only choice for attempting to gain a share of a very tight market was to offer better service with a lower price. Waiting for scraps to fall from the table, so to speak, is no way to run a business or expect growth. The friend had no stake in the owner’s business and he had no marketing experience. It was simply an idea that he considered different… and it was. Unfortunately, it was different because it wasn’t sound for any type of business.
Even designers can fall into this trap. Too often designers seek the advice – or rather the approval of other designers when designing their own portfolio sites. Design should be purposeful, reaching the target audience – the client. Asking other designers for their opinion just brings up subjective opinions such as personal color preferences, use of negative space or the inclusion of glitter unicorn gifs spread liberally throughout the site. The last example also reminds us that other opinions may be based in jealousy and offered only to sabotage a competitor… or just a really maniacal suggestion from a lunatic.
Lesson number one:
Clients are their own worst enemy when it comes to website design. These types of projects are a constant struggle against what experts know to be true because they deal with problem solving every day. What the client’s second cousin’s son’s step-uncle that once built a website in 1992 thinks a modern website should look like is not a good source or opinion. Be weary of taking Uncle Frodo’s advice even if he is telling you what you want to hear, which is a great point because often relatives and friends are “yes-men/women.”
Unfortunately, there are also people either around the client or the client themselves that want to brag how they designed their own site and micro-manage design and marketing decisions. Do that and you will only brag until your business falls apart and then whom will you blame? It’s business and not an ego-trip. You want to do what’s best for your business and sometimes that’s trusting other professionals with more knowledge than you have. Admit it and let go!
Personal likes and dislikes may not be shared by your target audience. Thinking you are one of the “in crowd” with those likes is not a business decision. Naturally, your site must reflect your “brand.” Your brand is simply how you do business. It’s the personality of your business and how customers see you. Coke-a-cola, for instance, is a brand of refreshment, Americana, cross generational, friendly and fun. 7-Up is the “un-cola.”
General Electric, as put forth in their tag line “brings good things to life.” Apple, which is always worth mentioning has several branding tag lines, that have propelled it into a corporation with more money than the U.S. treasury: “Think different,” “The power to be your best” and “Think outside the box.”
What is your brand? This should garner some discussion when planning your web site. As this may be the first impression of your business consumers have, they should know immediately with how they will be dealt and what kind of trust they can expect. This branding is also how you identify your target market. The aforementioned example of the man who wanted to attract the throw-away customer from competitors, wanted to brand his site as a new source of service and not one based on a different type of service, so, his target audience did not meet his branding.
Lesson number two:
Every website is created for some target market or target audience. Try to always keep them in mind as you are creating the site. In order to succeed, you’ll need to provide them with what they want. It’s easy to forget about your target market and design the site how you like it, but what really matters is what your target market will think. Anticipate what they will be looking for at your site and find a way to meet their needs.
The goals of a business are not always aligned with those of its customers. In a perfect world, you may expect site visitors to sign up for newsletters, view ads, and provide their contact information simply because they’re being asked to do so. What the user wants is to complete what ever it is that brought them to your site and then leave.
This can lead to web site design decisions that businesses THINK will help them (pop-up forms, ads that block what you’re trying to read as you scroll, etc.). They think any attention is good attention. This is not the case.
A web site, as with a business, is a success if the visitor knows within 10 seconds of visiting the site what they’re supposed to do. The fancy term marketers use is “Call to Action”. Don’t let your homepage get bogged down with too much information. Focus on the goal. Do you want your visitor to register for an event, contact you or just go right to the purchase?
Step out of yourself when it comes to making decisions on your web site. Forget about being “the boss” or the “person who calls the shots” and think in terms of what your visitors will think because THEY are the final boss and decision makers. If they don’t like what they see, then they will, in essence, fire you.
Lesson number three:
A lot of new website owners get excited about the new site and forget that the content is what will ultimately determine success. Sure, a website should look good but the content and usability of the site shouldn’t suffer at the expense of its appearance. Minimalist designs are becoming increasingly popular, and one of the biggest reasons is that they allow for the content to be the focal point. Just as much time and effort should go into creating the content as goes into creating the design. A web site is not just one element but also a partnership of many elements, working in tandem to serve the site visitor’s needs. A good web developer/designer will be able to look at all of the elements and tie them together because that is their specialty. As the business owner, you are more concerned with doing business and how it will sustain and grow. The intricacies of web elements melding together for maximum efficiency is a concern you cannot handle as well as professionals, so you need to step away, as mentioned, from your role as the business owner and, as Apple puts it: “Think different.”
Sometimes dealing with a bloated beast can be almost impossible. The beast, in the case of a web site project can be both the client and developer/designer side. The old saying of “too many cooks” is an easy trap that projects fall into. Design-by-committee is one of the deadliest problems as too often people lend opinion not because they have an idea about the project but because they are required to have a presence and feel they must render an opinion to justify their involvement. This doesn’t help the project. Ideally, if others must be involved, make sure they have a proper stake as well as insightful impact in the project.
Too many people with the ability to put forth decisions can make the decision-making process incredibly slow and unresponsive. This is something you need to establish with any supplier when first developing the relationship. For any project to work smoothly, there needs to be one person who can make the tight calls as and when they are needed. Imagine a smaller version of congress dealing with a web project. How long would even a dozen congressmen and women take to finalize a decision?
However, this doesn’t mean the other people lose control and can no longer contribute. Involving them in the testing process means they are always in the loop and means more people can contribute positively to the project without it getting bogged down in bureaucracy. When in doubt and there is no meeting of the minds, turn to A/B testing to separate fact from opinion.
Lesson number four:
Making big decisions about the direction of a web design should be a dialog. Multiple parties come together to work on the project because they all have something to contribute. The best results come out of a professional collaboration where everyone involved respects the opinion of their colleagues.
Transparency is the key to a successful collaboration on all parts. As the client, you must be transparent with all of your information, desires, likes, hates and any and all information you can supply. Ask questions and you will get answers. A good design/development team will take the information the client can put forth and draw up a creative brief that lays out the needs and plans for moving forward. This shared transparency will make the project move smoothly but more importantly, build a trust and respect that is the difference between an acceptable web site and a great web site.
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