We have many interactions with potential clients that request a design “spec”. Essentially they want us to prove our “design chops” and work through a concept of their site before they hire us. It’s always a hurdle to get past but we don’t do it. Not because we don’t want to invest the time to show how great we are or how much we value the opportunity, but because of the simple fact that it’s not the right way to approach a new website development project.
The most important thing you can do when developing a new website is to ask yourself three all-important questions. It’s not about whether the site has a blue or green color scheme, but the three questions that follow:
1. Who do you want to come to the site?
2. How are you going to get them to your website?
3. What do you want them to do when they get there?
These questions may be broken up into many secondary questions and a handful of outcomes. But we want to dig right down to the specifics and ask a lot of questions. For example, In a manufacturing business it might be the actual business owner that you want to sell to. Maybe it’s the General Managers? Both? Chain stores? Locally owned stores? All of these questions will influence the design.
Once the first question is answered, you have to ask yourself how they’ll find your website? What is your strategy to get yourself in front of as many potential customers as possible? Will it be niche advertising on industry sites? Will it be making a big push to rank in the search engines? For what keywords? Will you use Pay-Per-Click campaigns? How does social media figure in? Does it figure in at all? There are many questions to be answered.
Next, after you successfully drive traffic, what happens when they get to your site? How does your website convert them from visitors to clients or customers? Do you want them to call? Email? What can you do on the site to convince them to contact you? Do you have any incentives? Who gets the message when someone emails you? Who answers the phone? What do you ask when customers call and what’s your strategy? If they email you, who answers the questions? What do they say? These are the things that will turn a passive web presence into a living, breathing, revenue producing component of a business. While design is important at many levels, a successful website starts with strategy and the strategy drives the design.
What we know about being an “expert”.
Another hurdle that we face with potential clients is when they ask us if we’ve done work within their industry. While direct work within a particular industry can be helpful, we find that an objective approach to their website and strategy serves our clients well. Our job is to find relevant, targeted visitors and convert them into paying customers and clients. We can do that successfully in any industry with the correct strategy and research. We are not experts in any particular industry except for internet marketing and that’s why we’ll make you successful on the web and make your website work for you.
So how can we be successful without being an industry expert? We develop a successful business internet marketing strategy by defining clear goals, and qualified targets with the help and expertise of our clients. It doesn’t matter if we’ve built one or ten thousand websites in a particular industry. We’ll never understand a particular business and the customers as well as you, the business owner. Trying to seek out a company with experience in your industry is going to be tough, so what you should be doing is trying to find a company that wants to talk about developing a unique strategy WITH YOU and learning how to best connect with the people in your industry. In our experience, a company that “specializes” in a certain industry doesn’t mean much more than they’ve found a targeted niche that they can exploit. Give them a try and I’ll bet that they start talking about their “products”, “your design”, “what package size you’re purchasing” and “your contract length” before they start talking about a unique strategy that works for your individual business.
Familiarity breeds jargon. Let the research drive your strategy.
Familiarity can breed a skewed perspective… or more to the point, familiarity breeds jargon. In the world of search, it’s imperative to let the audience drive the language. Too often our clients get so caught up in how things and processes are defined within their industry—so much so, that the resulting language is far different from that of the actual customer. This is a common reason that many companies find their websites of little use to anyone outside of their company or current customer list. That’s where a company like ours can help as we step outside of the industry and look in to see how we can help you find relevant customers and clients.
How does strategy drive the design and the success of the website?
Everything we do on a site; from the graphics, to the structure and navigation,the words that we use, the position of text and elements on the page, the color selection, the fonts and language is based on the initial project goals, conversations with our clients and the research that we conduct during the initial phase of development. All of this will drive your design and answer the three questions that we mentioned previously.
From that planning and research, we develop a strategy. This allows us to develop the information architecture – what links to what, what is top-level, what is sub-navigation, what is the primary site conversion path, what areas are both hierarchically and contextually linked, etc. This dictates what shows up on the home page. It tells us what must be prominent, and what is secondary. We’ll make decisions like, ‘these areas are in the top-bar navigation, and these reference links will go in the footer” because this best fits the primary strategy.
We’d hate to go through the building of a design, only to determine later that the best way to meet the strategy is to do “X” (whatever X may be) and not have it on the site design. In this way we end up working against ourselves. We can do many graphic treatments, mock ups for just about anything. It’s certainly not a time and materials sort of thing. In building a site, the design elements are some of the last things that we do. So, whatever “mocking” up we do would be little more than some graphic showing off on our part. We’re all for showing off but it’s highly unlikely that any element of that design would ever make it to the final project if we start with the design. Most importantly, we would be missing the point and that is to design a successful, efficient, and profitable website for your business. To do that we MUST start with internet marketing strategy, not discussions about design.