Imagine asking a builder to build you a new house without knowing exactly what you want and without architect’s drawings or building plans.
Perhaps you would tell him: “I want it to look really cool, modern and a bit like the one next door but not like the one across the road.” You want doors and windows (of course) plus three bedrooms and a driveway, but he’s the expert. He can just go ahead and build it.
What sort of result would you expect?
Half-way through construction you might not like what you see. You might ask for the front door to be moved or decide you need a separate living area for the kids. So you ask the builder to move a few walls because it’s not what you wanted or expected.
How do you think your builder would respond? Would you expect to pay for these changes?
And would you even deal with a builder prepared to take on the project, based on such loose specifications?
Or would you trust the whole project to an apprentice or worse a well meaning friend who has a knack for carpentry?
Of course not! It’s a recipe for disaster … for both you and your builder.
Yet, we regularly encounter a very similar scenario when pitching competitive quotes for websites.
More often than not, a website brief prepared by a (well-meaning) potential client is insufficient to enable us to quote accurately. Yet many web developers are prepared to quote on this basis. Who wears the loss when the scope inevitably creeps? What happens when you hear the dreaded words, “we can do that but it wasn’t in the original quote”?
Who wears the variation costs, you or the developer? Have you really won if the developer does make the changes without charge? What sort of business are you dealing with? How long will they be in business on that basis? What sort of relationship do you now have?
Surely there is a better approach. A website must not only look good and accurately portray your business and its brand. It must be functional. What do we mean by functional? It must:
- be easy to navigate
- be relevant to the demographic of your users
- be clear to users who you are and what you do.
We are well past the stage of a website being “cool”. If your web developer mentions that word run for the hills! Don’t let your site be a guinea pig or a folio piece for a graphic designer’s ego, a paid training session on the latest technology or a chance to use what they think is “cool”.
Imagine if your builder put some really “cool” windows in your house but no one could figure out how to open them.
Your website is not for the designer to use. It’s not even for you to use. It’s for your customers!
Put yourself in the users’ shoes!
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I need a website?
- Who is going to visit my site and why?
- What are they looking for?
- Why will they choose to visit me and why will (or should) they buy from me and not my competitors?
Think of your website as your virtual shopfront … your window to the world. It provides every potential customer’s first impression of your business and perhaps their last and only one.
Prospective customers visit your website because they want a solution. It makes good sense to engineer your site to help solve that problem as easily and efficiently as possible, and to make every visitor feel comfortable about your business and its credibility.
On your website, are your internal departments and products structured in a way that’s relevant to the user and how a user is likely to access/search them?
Imagine if your office entrance or store had 12 different solid doors, each labelled with a specific department. How would a visitor know which door leads to what they are looking for? And can they get back, if they choose the wrong way? It could be quite daunting and confusing, couldn’t it?
How many websites replicate this with meaningless (to the user) hierarchical menu structures which confuse the user and waste their time? Does yours?
A simple example – imagine you are a recent retiree looking for advice on investing your lump sum payout and superannuation.
You Google “financial planners” and start reviewing the websites returned by the search. Which website do you think would be more attractive to you, assuming all other things are equal:
- One that lists a whole menu structure of departments and services, and text pages of everything the business does?
- Or one with a prominent and clear button on the home page that reads something like – “Just retired, need help and advice for your financial future? Click here”
Remember … the user doesn’t care how you’re structured they just want their problem solved!
So what does this all mean for you? When undertaking your next web project, be sure to engage a business that thinks strategically and can engineer a site that caters to your users … one that is clearly scoped, defined and architected before it is given to a graphic designer to make it look good.
Be sure to engage a web developer that asks the right questions, to clarify what you want and what you are getting before they start designing it. The graphic elements come later.