If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re probably intensely focused on building amazing products and/or services, and the last thing you want to think about is your website design (or redesign). The only time you think about your website is when you’re thinking that you wished it would help you sell more.
Does that describe you? Are you a smart business owner who wants a more effective website, but is simply too busy serving customers to worry about the dark and mystical inner workings of web design?
Even Entrepreneurs Must “Get” Website Design Basics
This is a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that you need to at least understand some basic website design concepts, whether you’re going to design your website yourself or hire a professional to design it for you. The good news is that the basics are pretty easy to grasp.
The key to an effective website, whether you’re hiring a web designer or designing it yourself, is to avoid the following critical, yet common, web design mistakes that I see smart people just like you make all the time.
Seven Critical Website Design Errors and How to Overcome Them
1. Having the Wrong Person/Company Design It
Who should design your website depends a lot on your situation and budget. Since I run a digital marketing agency, you might be surprised to hear me say that not everyone needs to invest in a custom designed website!
Sure, a truly bespoke website is a fantastic way to present your brand, but if you’re in the early phases of a side hustle, your money may be better off invested into generating sales rather than perfecting your website – especially since businesses tend to change drastically as they grow, which often forces them to redesign their websites early and often anyway.
In cases like this, you may be able to make due by having a technically inclined friend design it, purchasing a WordPress theme, or even using a site builder like Wix or Squarespace. You just need to be aware that these options mean you won’t have the benefit of an experienced designer to make effective design decisions. Just because you think the new website looks great doesn’t mean anyone else will, or that it will convert visitors into customers.
If your business is already established or you’re starting a full-time business, you’ll definitely want to hire an experienced web designer or web design agency to get better results in terms of branding and conversions. Ideally they should have some experience in your industry, and it’s even better if they are local, so you can sit down for a face-to-face meeting from time to time because this helps make the web design process easier, faster, and more efficient. If you choose this direction, be sure to check references, Google them (both the company name and names of key personnel), and get a clear scope of work before agreeing to anything.
2. Designing for Yourself Rather than Your Customers
It may be your website, but the “my house, my rules” line of thinking doesn’t work when it comes to web design, because in order to generate sales, your website needs to appeal to your customers, clearly convey your value, and inspire trust.
I was reminded of this a couple of years ago when I began targeting a new niche. What worked for my existing clients simply didn’t work for the new ones I was trying to acquire, because they responded to design styles differently, had a different vocabulary, and faced different goals, needs, and fears.
I suggest first setting aside any preconceived notions you may have about your prospects and their industry, and find out what really matters to them, directly from them. Some of the questions you’ll want to ask might include:
- What industry-specific challenges keep them up at night?
- Which people, companies, and organizations in the industry do they admire, and why?
- What misconceptions do people often have about their industry and company?
- Which specific problems are they hoping to solve by potentially buying from/working with you?
- What factors matter most to them when deciding which companies to work with?
Investing the time to learn about them will give you valuable insight into what motivates them and how they perceive your company. In some cases, you may need to entirely reevaluate how you present your company, while in other cases, you may simply have to edit existing information or add additional information in order to effectively convey what you do, how you do it, and most importantly, why it should matter to them.
3. Overlooking Responsive Design
Between the massive yet steady growth of mobile devices and the resulting emphasis Google has placed on satisfying mobile users, you’ve almost certainly heard about responsive design. But if you’re like many busy business owners, you may have dismissed it as yet another fad that’s going to come and go.
Responsive design is not a fad that’s going to disappear, because it’s a method of designing a website to adapt for ideal usability based on the screen size of the device it’s viewed on. StatCounter reports that 51.3% of web traffic today comes from mobile devices, and that percentage will only continue to grow, meaning responsive design is critical and will become even more important in the future.
As you might imagine, since responsive design improves user experience, visitors tend to stay on your website longer, view more pages, and buy more of whatever you’re selling. But it may surprise you to learn that responsive design may also help to improve your organic search ranking.
So what exactly is responsive design? In its simplest form it repositions, resizes, and hides elements based on screen size, but a more advanced responsive design might do all of that while also serving different sized media based on screen size. For example, you might display smaller images (or even omit video entirely) when your website is displayed on mobile devices because of the smaller screen size, reduced bandwidth, and potential data charges to visitors.
4. Excessive Visual Effects
I was recently discussing the redesign of a client’s website when he told me, “Take a look at this website and let’s make ours look just like that. I really like how everything spins and flies onto the screen as you scroll down.”
However, it’s generally a bad idea to add a lot of look at me! type visual effects, like fading in or out and spinning or moving to your website, because while you may think they look cool, they will also distract your visitors from your content. This means you’ll convert fewer of them into paying customers.
In most cases, these effects only serve to provide “visual bling” with no substance. Subtlety is essential here.
I can assure you that no one in the history of the internet has ever said “Hey Mary, these guys have everything spinning and flying onto the screen, so they must be a great company!” In fact, the opposite is usually true because of a term called banner blindness, in which subconsciously, people associate excessive visual effects with banner ads, so they tend to ignore content that utilizes them.
Instead of excessive visual effects, focus on producing amazing content that demonstrates your expertise and trustworthiness. This could include blog posts, videos, white papers, and even testimonials.
5. Ignoring Page Speed
The growth of mobile devices has made page speed a critical part of an effective website today. As I mentioned earlier, more than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, which rely on a connection that’s significantly slower than the one at your home or office. This means that your website needs to load quickly, even on the slower bandwidth that mobile devices utilize.
How fast (or slowly) does your website load? The good news is that you don’t have to guess, but the bad news is it’s probably a lot slower than you think. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a good starting point in measuring your page speed, but GTmetrix will give you a lot more actionable information to make improvements.
6. Using Huge Media Files
The first step in improving your page speed is to optimize the media on your website.
You’ll start by making sure you’re using the optimal file type depending on the contents. In most cases, photographic images should be saved as jpgs, images with mostly solid colors or with a transparent background should be saved as pngs, gifs, or svgs, video should be saved as mp4s or movs, and audio files should be saved as mp3s.
The next step is to make sure it’s sized properly. A common mistake people make is to simply upload photos directly from their phone or camera, which are usually 3–5 times larger than they need to be. Your images should be resized to be no larger than the largest they’ll be displayed on your website. You should also take advantage of srcset to deliver differently sized images based on the screen size of the device they’re being viewed on.
The last step in optimizing your media is to compress it. If you’re using a professional image editing program like Photoshop, you already have powerful compression tools at your fingertips, but if not, then you can find several effective options online.
7. Web Hosting
Most people still view web hosting as a commodity that should be purchased on price alone. A few years ago, I might have agreed that was true for most businesses, but between the volume of mobile traffic today, and the emphasis Google now places on page speed, you simply can’t afford to cut corners on hosting anymore.
The good news is that most decent hosting companies today offer affordable packages optimized specifically to run WordPress websites blazingly fast, complete with PHP 7, CDNs, and page caching. That increased speed often results in visitors spending more time on your website, improved ranking, and higher conversions.
As you might expect, this type of specialized web hosting is a bit more expensive, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.
DIY or Agency, Aim for Solid Website Design
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll now better be able to determine if a web design agency you’re considering hiring knows what they’re doing, or if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, it might even enable you to put together a decent website yourself!
Are you ready to conquer a website design or redesign? Share below on how you’ll get started!