Web development & design – The same but different.
Since you are here, it seems reasonable to assume you are evaluating agencies or options for your website development and design needs. If you’ve already been looking, you may have noticed web designers tend to say the same things. “We’ve designed forty-thousand websites and drink 50 cups of coffee everyday, and Sally, our designer, is into cats and plays the piano.”
It’s cute (sometimes), but not very helpful. Chances are you already have some idea what you want your website to look like and what you need to say about your company. Turning that into a website should be easy for any decent designer. That’s not to say there aren’t differences in designers. Some designers are incredibly gifted, while others suck pretty bad. It’s a good practice to avoid the ones that suck.
Website development and design isn’t the challenge, driving new business is. Your website needs to do just that. Around the office we talk about “commoditizing” great design. In other words, it should be a given that all of our websites look great, load fast, work on mobile, etc. We don’t want to downplay the importance of great design, we just do it very rapidly. If you think about it, it takes a good designer just as long to do great work as it does to produce crap. We avoid the crap and still work very quickly.
Speed is key to all aspects of website development and design.
A lot of web design agencies take months to build a simple website. What sucks about that is (a) the opportunity cost of living with what you have*, and (b) more hours spent in development typically drives up the actual cost in dollars. Dragging projects out is miserable anyway, so just don’t get stuck in that situation.
Opportunity cost is a key concept. Presumably, the reason you are looking for a (new) website is to fill a need that’s not being met without it. Your goals may be different, but it’s a safe bet you want more customers to spend more money more often… with you. Far more than “design” goes into engineering a for-profit web experience. If you think about it, there’s no absolute way to know if a design is any good until it has been published to the Internet. This presents a problem.
*Assuming the new website will actually perform better than the old one, which is not always the case.
For-profit web design & web development
If your goal is to make money with your website, it makes sense to verify that’s really happening. Here’s a one question quiz:
Question 1: Your website has just gone live, do you…?
- Pop open a beer and check “new website” off your todo list.
- Sit back and hope it works.
- Utilize data to verify the best possible user experience, conversion rate, effectiveness of your CTA’s, etc., then make course corrections to continually improve rankings and visitor data until it grows to become a money factory** for your company.
Let’s analyze each answer:
- Unless you have a medical condition or personal issue, we are advocates of the beer part. However, while sampling the suds may improve your outlook (and make you funny and attractive), your website is never done. We can’t predict the future and it is a moving target anyways. Even with the best intentions, a new website can do a lot of harm if you get it wrong. Walking away now is like waiting in line at an amusement park and never getting on the ride. Take the ride.
- A wise leader once said, “hope is not a strategy.” Hope is good. Dreams are good. Puppies are good. A good book and a walk on the beach—all good. None of these will do a thing to make your website pay off. It is better to have a strategy and a plan and work it until you get the result you want. Trust us. We’ve done this before.
- While this is the best answer, even this is a partial list. Your website is never done. Things change. You learn. We learn. Learning, working, changing and growing, and beer and puppies and walks on the beach. That’s how you make a successful website, plus a more profitable company and comfortable work-life balance.
**There’s no such thing as a money factory. Well, there is, but you can’t have one. Turns out most governments frown on citizens having their own money factory. Go figure.
Don’t guess. Know.
Guessing isn’t any more of a strategy than hope is. Guessing is fine if you have a jar full of jelly beans and a car to win. When it comes to your business, not so much. One of the reasons for our short website development and design cycle is to get your website published and returning data as quickly as possible.
It is one thing to use knowledge and experience to set baseline design principles. After all, we know that certain words, pictures and their quality, or the placement of menu items have well-established norms based on years of accumulated information. It is prudent to use what we already know to establish guard rails. In other words, you have to start somewhere.
What you don’t want is to be emotionally attached to a design idea to the point where you cling to it no matter what. Around here, we often use the term “data-driven design.” In some circles, data-driven design is catching on as a buzzword because it sounds cool and smart. There isn’t really a defined standard for what is and what is not data-driven design, and consequently, many agencies that claim to do it don’t even know what it means.
The amazing thing about the internet is we have the ability to accumulate data from just about anything that happens online. This provides a massive body of information that gives us the ability to know exactly how your website development will affect the experiences of your users. You are probably familiar with primary website metrics like the number of visitors, the ratio of those that are new versus returning, bounce rate, time of site, etc. These are great but not very useful for knowing which parts of your website are leading to what.
Much better is the ability to see real human users interact with the pages on your site—to actually trace mouse movements, scrolling and clicks. We call this session recording and it is an eye-opener. Similarly, we use heat maps representing cumulative mouse click, scroll and movement information as a roadmap for wording or placement of objects. Used along with other advanced tracking metrics, we can tell exactly what interests visitors and doesn’t. More importantly, we get instant feedback from real customers to guide design decisions.