17 Website Tips You've Never Heard Before
March 22, 2019 - Boston, MA
Of course much has changed since 2002, especially with regards to technology and websites. And we've learned countless valuable lessons over that time.
So today we're passing along 17 web design/website tips you've probably never heard before:
1. Avoid the temptation to do it yourself
Web design is like plumbing. If you don't know what you're doing, it can go bad very quickly. It's well worth the money to let a professional handle it. What's more, services that are advertised as free and easy are usually neither, and often end up creating major headaches and loss of time in the long run. This goes for web design, hosting, email, support, and everything web-related. Hand it over to a professional...slowly back away...and let them do what they do - better than you.
2. Be unimpressed by WordPress
WordPress is great for blogs. For small business websites it's incredible overkill and bloat, and locks your business into a proprietary platform. WordPress will soon be replaced by something new, and you'll be stuck with a WordPress site. For small businesses we suggest spending a few bucks to have a design firm create a website that's 100% your intellectual property - in plain HTML.
3. Nix WIX
We covered this already in #1, but it bears repeating. WIX is suitable for personal websites and freelancers who haven't assigned a dollar value to their time. Spending hours tinkering around as a part-time web designer - especially when it can be outsourced for short money - isn't a great use of resources. And like WordPress, WIX locks you into their software and services forever.
4. Jump off the blog train
Very few small businesses need to be blogging (which literally means 'web log' - an online journal). We don't need journal updates about the latest goings-on at the local dentist's office. Even if we're a client. Writing high-quality, authoritative, and customer-focused articles on a website can be very helpful for clients and SEO. Otherwise there's enough fluffy low-quality content on the web already. Focus on less content, but higher quality. Use social media for everything else.
5. Dump social media
Wait a minute. Didn't we just suggest using social media above? Yes, but only for businesses that have frequent updates and engage directly with customers. Social media is great for restaurants, fitness centers, companies that offer seasonal work and specials, etc. A professional service business or small B2B doesn't need to engage on social media with any frequency, and shouldn't even put the icons on their website. Most do it because everyone does it. You have the visitor where you want them - on your website! Why suggest that they jump away to a less direct experience with your brand?
6. Know when to present forms
Putting contact forms and newsletter sign-ups on a home page is like proposing to someone on a first date. On a website, new visitors aren't ready to take these actions. Don't risk coming across as that pushy salesman begging to engage from the moment you step foot in their store.
7. Steer clear of driving directions
Between Google Maps and vehicle voice-navigation, we don't need driving directions on websites any more.
8. Skip parallax
Parallax, the effect created with background images that smoothly slide over eachother as you scroll down a page, is awful. It looks neat as an effect, and we have used it in our projects, but it makes the user experience confusing. And confusing sends people away. We'd rather create static pages with compelling copy and great design than dazzle them with trendy effects.
9. Be bolder
Business owners are fraidy cats. I can tell you this as a business owner. We tend to mimic what others do, stick to safe (and vanilla) messaging, and not take hard stands on anything. It's all to avoid the possibility of turning off a potential client. Most businesses are also always starving for new business. These two things are related. Bland offerings, weak copy, lack of innovation and risk aversion all contribute to a business offering that isn't compelling to customers. Go bolder in your copy and messaging and you will see it reflected in increased interest and sales.
10. Embrace stock images
It's popular and easy to say stock images are bad. But it's all about selection and use. There are amazing stock (aka professional) images available in higher-end libraries, and they're excellent choices as part of a broader website theme. One unique way to do this is to choose a theme of images (e.g. stonework, ocean, paths, movement, cityscape, children, etc) and use abstracts of those across a website. Images are on a website to add visual interest, and abstracts do that well.
11. Try logos instead of a resume
When writing out staff bios (especially your long-winded President/Principal/Founder one), consider something unique. Instead of typing out your resume on your website, use logos to represent your history and passions. Let's say you like Sam Adams, golf, the Sox, you went to Holy Cross, and you volunteer at a few organizations. Use logos to represent each of those things, and visitors would instantly know more about you than they'd ever discover through your written text - since they'll never read it. Certainly worth a shot, and I bet you'll get positive comments on it.
12. Your home page is (almost) everything
Psst...here's a secret. Your home page is 90% of your online presence. If it's bad, your website is bad. If it's great, your business will feel impressive (even if it isn't all that great). It's so powerful to have a sharp, eye-catching, clean, modern home page that the rest of what you do and say on the website becomes merely background. Of course the better you make those sub-pages and your content, the better it will all be together. But if you're not spending the vast majority of your time making your home page (imagery, headline, copy) compelling, you're making a mistake.
13. Quit talking about yourself
It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to go through your website and remove every instance of 'We' you find in your copy. Replace it with what matters to the people visiting your website - them. Get comfortable writing copy directly to visitors using the word "you", not "our clients". Write how you speak. Engage with visitors. Talk to them about how your services will benefit them - not how amazing you are. They won't take your word for it anyway.
14. Know when to stop selling
Wait, stop selling on my website? But isn't that the whole idea? Yes, your website can be your best sales tool, but not if all you do is pitch on it. So in addition to not talking about yourself as much (see above), you also want to ease up on the salesy-ness overall. Offer some help on using your service. Suggest ways to get more out of your service or how best to approach working with you. Offer guides, answer common questions, and (gulp) even be a little funny or entertaining. If all you do is try to sell on your website, you'll likely do very little of it.
15. Lighten up
Lighten up in your language and it will come across better. So many businesses try to sound so 'professional' when they write out their website copy that it comes across as robotic and ridiculous. Visitors don't like that. At best you'll send them into the arms of a competitor who can speak their language. Be professional of course, but be casual and honest. Write the way you would speak to a client. Don't bury visitors in a pile of industry jargon.
16. Don't tell your web designer how to do things
One of the worst things you can do in working with a web designer is to tell them how to do things. You aren't allowed in the kitchen in a restaurant. You wouldn't dare guide your doctor's hand during a procedure. And you'd look pretty arrogant telling your financial advisor what stocks to choose. Leave it to the professionals. The people you're paying. Instead, tell them your goal. Do you wish your headline would stand out more? Excellent! There are many ways your designer can accomplish this, including adjusting font family, weight, style, size, position, color, background color, shadow, outline, z-index, transparency, to name a few. When you tell a designer to "make it bigger", not only is it disrespectful to them as a professional, you're limiting the results you'll get. If only for your own sake - don't.
The web is a dynamic place with lots of moving pieces and providers working together to make it happen. And it's all just being run by human beings. That means sometimes things go down for a moment (but always come right back up). Or an email doesn't get through. Happens to everyone, including us. Our suggestion is to relax. It might be helpful to recall all the hiccups you've had with your web or internet services in the past. They were all resolved pretty quickly, weren't they? And without any damage beyond minor inconvenience. Something to keep in mind when dealing with web technologies. Breathe. You'll be fine.