DIY Web Sites:
Pretty House, No Furniture

Web SitesA colleague of mine recently asked me where I thought the Web was going. I’m far from an oracle, but two things are certain as we enter 2017: Content will continue to reign king, and video tops virtually every marketer’s lists for content development initiatives.

That’s likely bad news for the scores of small business owners, who thought that redesigning their Web sites using DIY outfits like Squarespace or WIX was all they needed to be viable in today’s digital economy. Sure, they saved a few bucks over hiring a professional web designer, but whether or not their sites are truly functional and designed to meet the demands of their customers is an entirely different matter.

No, this isn’t a shameless backdoor argument for MojoWeb’s Web design services, nor is it a slam on Squarespace or WIX, which have their place as low-cost alternatives for companies to get online. Rather, this article is a teaching moment on the importance of good Web design to the success of your business.

End User First, Design Second

I’ve been a loyal student of legendary usability consultant Jakob Neilsen for almost 20 years. He and his partner Don Norman came up with what I consider a biblical definition of user experience:

“The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother … True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features.”

Truth is, Web sites aren’t art galleries (unless you’re running one), but that’s exactly how they’re sold by Squarespace and WIX. They convince unknowing SMBs that a great first impression is all that’s required for a successful Web site. Add some navigation points, some cheesy stock photos and a contact form, and, et viola, you’re done.

Wrong. The look and feel of your Web site is important, but it’s ability to consistently meet the functional and informational expectations of end users is where the rubber truly meets the road.

Not to say that aesthetically pleasing design isn’t important. It’s a necessary first step in gaining the trust of an end-user with your company. That trust will evaporate or becomes meaningless, though, if your “cool” design is hamstrung by common design mistakes which frustrate visitors from realizing their objectives or inhibit them from making the leap from browser to buyer. Things like poorly organized content and confusing navigation are still the leading causes why people leave Web sites (read: going to your competitor).

Copy, Paste … Bye

Content is more than king. It’s everything, and for good reason.

Trust in your company or brand can disappear if your content is little more than lazy, re-purposed brochure copy. This is especially the case with B2B firms and consultants where trust ultimately turns on their ability to fully demonstrate their expertise over their subject matter or industry. That requires much more than a bulleted list of deliverables or canned executive bios, and a slick design won’t save you.

Writing for the Web is incredibly different from writing a business letter or a report. And, there are rules. My mentor Jakob Neilsen recommends that Web copy should always be concise, scannable, and objective. He further advises site owners to always be aware of the end user’s cost/benefit calculation upon arriving on any page. Namely, how much time and effort are they going to have to endure by reading your content (cost) and what do they get if they read it (benefit)?

It’s also important to note that writing Web content is not a one size fits all affair. Different rules and approaches apply for writing product descriptions, for example, as opposed to writing an About Our Company page. Knowing the difference isn’t just about style. It may make or break a sale or an engagement.

Finally, a whole different set of rules apply to e-mail marketing and social media content, which often includes the use of photos, infographics, YouTube videos and other content working in tandem with a well designed site.

Beware Curb Appeal

None of these things are insurmountable, and I’ve only scraped the surface of what constitutes great Web design. However, the bottom is plain: DIY designs may be cost-effective and beautiful, but in the hands of their owners they’re too often the equivalent of building a custom mansion and neglecting to add a kitchen, knobs on the bedroom doors or filling each room with card tables, flimsy chairs and bean bags. Sure, your crib will have great curb appeal, but, once inside, your guests will only be doing one thing.

Pulling out their phones to search for a local hotel.

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Pat McKenna is a digital strategist, social media manager/instructor, web designer and founder of MojoWeb Productions, LLC. in Milwaukee, WI. He can be reached via e-mail or by calling (414) 732-3397.