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web-design-is-marketing1Recently I’ve been thinking about Web Design and in particular how to get the balance between the multiple aspects of a successful website right.

It starts by deciding what is going to be the most important. This will help form a clear vision for the website so that the other areas don’t obscure that vision.

So, what is the most important aspect of a business website? Design? Usability? SEO? Functionality?

You may get differing advice on how to design your website depending on who you ask:

Ask a Design Agency and they may well tell you that it’s really important that they build you a fantastic professional looking site.

Ask an SEO Agency and they may well tell you that it does not matter what your site looks like if nobody can find it via a search engine.

Ask an IT developer and he may well tell you what you need is a unique build with an app or some flash functionality to make the difference.

Ask me and my advice is that there are only two answers that matter.

The first is that of the website visitor who will say ”the website must make it easy to find what I want”. (In a survey by hubspot 76% said this was most important aspect, only 10% cited ‘a beautiful appearance’).

The second is that of your boss who will stress how it must generate leads, enquiries and sales.

These two answers can be summed up as it’s ability to effectively market products and services. In other words…

“Web design is marketing”, it’s not IT and it’s not design!

Your website is the online marketing channel for your business.

Those that use your website want you to make it easy for them to do business with you and your boss will want to know what leads and sales are being generated.

I don’t think the guy sat on a street corner in Portland USA worried too much about the design of his cardboard placard, he was much more concerned that he got his message across to as many as possible in a way that would make it easy for people to do ‘business’ with him.

UPDATE 11/9/13

I’ve just been sent this short video entitled the “Power Of Words” It makes the point brilliantly and beautifully.

Web Design SOS

Although you might employ a designer, or perhaps your print company who have branched into websites, to build your site, the ability to effectively market your products and services is primary, the way it looks is secondary. They will not necessarily create you a successful business website.

Only today, I got a call from a disappointed business owner.

Her website, built by her print company, had failed to deliver to expectations. “I went with them because they did me a nice logo” she explained.

Looking at the site, indeed the logo was nice, but the marketing was entirely made up of a  few glossy pics.

At first sight it looked like you could maybe buy these products online, but no, the site was purely informational.

The visitor was supposed to go to the shop to buy. There was nothing to suggest this and in fact the address of the shop was hidden away on the contact page.  

Have you had a conversation like this:

“I want a new website”,

“What do you want?”,

“I don’t know but I know the one we have got isn’t working”,

“Are there any websites that you like?”,

“Yes my competitor has a nice blue one”,

“I can build you one that’s an even nicer blue!” … and off you go…

Don’t get me wrong, an amateurish presentation will likely turn potential customers away but a simple professional look is usually all that is required on which to place your well thought out marketing.

Often I see an over emphasis on design that frankly just makes it hard for anyone to do business. 

Some examples:

biobak - click to visit site

If you want to spend a fun hour of your life on such a site try .

I’m not being sarcastic here. It really is a fun site, with some ingenious creative ideas.

But once you have entered the site, trying to work out what it is all about, if they have what I want, how to navigate and how to make contact, is less than easy.

I left with more questions than answers.

creativewithak - click to visit site

Here’s one that you will probably spend a lot less time on as you will most likely be completely lost as to what you are supposed to click on, so make a swift exit.

Cardiff Contemporary - click to visit site

And just to show it’s not just design sites I’m talking about, here’s one more. Cardiff Contemporary.

It took me a while to find the navigation. Once in the first line I read is:

“Welcome to the Cardiff Contemporary portal – a gateway to a host of festivals, exhibitions, interventions and events taking place in Cardiff”.

I never did find my way through the gateway to find any festivals or events. As for interventions… well I’m none the wiser.

Now I get the fact that design agencies want to show off their creativity and maybe they would class these websites as art. But here I feel art may have got in the way of business. I would be wary of following that path.  Especially if you are not a design agency.

Design For Your Marketing Message

Targeting potential customers effectively with a great value proposition. A message that compels the visitor to take the action you want. Oh and they get this message instantly and can see exactly what they need to do. This is what will make your online presence effective.

Did you smile at the Portland street beggars message? If you can illicit an emotional connection all the better.

Here is a good example: 


Basecamp where web design is marketing

The main components of the page are:

  • Free Trial – Great value proposition.
  • “Last week 6,404 companies signed up…, now it’s your turn” – compelling message + customer testimonial.
  • Simple form to start free trial – the obvious next action, there is not much else you can do on this page, what are you waiting for?

Design wise there is not a lot going on here, just a clean and professional design that allows the key marketing elements and message to stand out. 

When your target customers visit your website they should be able to answer these questions within a few seconds:

  1. Does this place have what I’m looking for?
  2. Why should I get it from you?
  3. How do I get it?

If I’m looking for project management software and I go to Basecamps website, within 5 seconds I’ve answered those questions

  1. Does this place have what I’m looking for? – The big eye catching heading tells me yes it does.
  2. Why should I get it from you? – Crikey 6,404 other companies signed up last week – some may well be my competitors, this looks like where most companies come for their project management software.
  3. How do I get it? – I see I just need to enter 4 fields here including a password, so looks like I’ll be signed up and ready to try it out straight away.

Within 30 seconds I’ve probably converted and will appear in next weeks statistics.

Designing Your Website For Your Target Customer Needs

Now what about your own website?

It’s a good idea to step into the shoes of your target customer, or better still ask some, then look at your website. Do you say something like;

  • “ah yes they have what I want, I can see it there.”
  • “Yes, I can see how this will be of value to me, and benefit in ways I hadn’t thought of.”
  •  ”I can see from the testimonials and trade affiliations that I can trust them to deliver.”
  • “I want to do business so I see this is the next step that I need to take.”

Notice I didn’t say, do I like the look of this website, or I like that animated graphic so this is the place I want to do business!

The design of a website should be driven by the marketing. It includes compelling value propositions and clearly leads them to the way to get what you are selling.

When I speak with a customer about designing a website the questions I ask are things like “What do you want to achieve?”, “Who are your typical customers?”, “What do they want/need?”, “Why would they get it from you?” well before I ask anything about how it might look.  

Once these things are clear and understood, then the other elements should fall into place.

The time spent on research at the beginning of the project is what will ensure that the website is a business success. 

And follow the 5 principles of web design. 

  1. Know and understand the needs of your target customers.
  2. The design should facilitate your marketing to your target audience. 
  3. The navigation & usability allows your target customers to easily find what they are looking for.
  4. The SEO built into the site is aligned to target customer needs.
  5. Functionality is only to provide an easy way for the customer to get what they need and to do business with you. 

Your website should be a tool in your marketing armoury. Get it right and it will prove to be your most cost effective marketing channel.

What do you think? Add your comments below. Why not ask your friends via the sharing buttons on the left there.

Would you like to book a 1:1 consultancy session with me? You will  get expert advice on designing your website for your business. Call me on 07906 971762.

Do you need a website built on these principles? Give me a call on 07906 971762 to find out more.

image courtesy of misserion

About the author: Pete Stevens: I work with businesses to get the best out of their website; maximise visitors and maximise sales. I live with my wife and 2 teenage children near Bradford & Leeds in Yorkshire UK. I enjoy golf, football and curry mmm!

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