Working With a Web Design Firm to Plan Your Website

October 25, 2015

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer a company that is about to hire a web design firm is don’t try to plan the site yourself. While you probably have ideas of what your dream website should be, these ideas aren’t informed by usability research, or grounded in best practices for the web. Without a guide to help structure the site appropriately, performance will likely be poor. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to work with a web design firm to build your website.

 

A website is the digital home for your products and services.

 

People who aren’t immersed in digital marketing sometimes think of a website the same way they would think of a book, or even a painting. They see it as a way to convey information, or to spark emotion in someone. Those things are true of a website, but they leave out an important dimension – users travel through this medium.

 

When a door leads somewhere that is unexpected, a pathway is too long, or a particular room looks bad, visitors feel uncomfortable. They may leave without having reached their destination, never to return.

 

Marketing sites are meant to engage users and to stimulate action. In that sense, a website is similar to an artfully crafted home environment. People enter through various doors, and based on the architect’s intent, travel certain paths to reach intended destinations. When a door leads somewhere that is unexpected, a pathway is too long, or a particular room looks bad, visitors feel uncomfortable. They may leave without having reached their destination, never to return.

 

The complexity and impact of website architecture is significant. Problems arise when it is short-changed.

 

When companies insist on creating their own site architecture, problems emerge such as:

  • Users have difficulty finding what they’re looking for

  • High abandonment rates prior to conversion

  • Poor rankings in search results

  • A volume or structure of content that overwhelms and confuses site visitors

  • Language that users don’t understand because it’s too heavily branded
     

Your website deserves the attention of an information architect.

 

You and your marketing team may know your product and your target audiences well, but do you know how information should be presented digitally so that visitors feel comfortable traveling within your site? Do you have the insights to architect pathways and utilize design techniques that subtly nudge visitors further down the sales funnel? Combining your product and brand knowledge with that of someone who is well-versed in website architecture  – an information architect – is the ideal strategy. A sophisticated website design and development firm will have an information architect on staff or available as a consultant. The architecture created by the information architect will be the critical foundation for your site. No amount of stellar design and copy can band-aid a poor architecture.

 

A web shop that cares more about making you feel good about your ideas for the site than increasing your ROI is not a valuable partner. Find a firm that understands your goals, will examine your requests critically, and will offer alternatives, when necessary, for better results.

 

Some companies think it’s worth the cost-savings to architect their own site, but when you skimp on your site’s foundation, your site (and by extension your products and brand!) will seem cheap and amateurish. If your brand is outstanding, then support it with a polished digital home.

 

I realize this stance isn’t going to make me popular with some small business owners or marketing managers who think they’ve already figured things out and simply want a firm who is wiling to build their blueprint as-is. Yet the fact remains: a web firm that cares more about making you feel good about your ideas for the site than increasing your ROI is not a valuable partner. Find a firm that understands your goals, will examine your requests critically, and will offer alternatives, when necessary, for better results. Involve the web shop as a digital partner in the early stages of planning, and let them bring their years of experience to bear through site architecture, user experience design and content strategy.

 

Clients add tremendous value when appropriately engaged in the process.

 

The more engaged you are in the process, the better. However, engagement without trust isn’t productive. Don’t waste time dictating color tweaks, demanding photo carousels that distract users, or insisting on a menu structure that is contrary to your partner’s recommendations. Instead, offer insights about your brand personality, your products, your customers, and the way internal fulfillment processes work. Share your marketing plan and marketing materials during discovery and planning. Make yourself available throughout the entire process to answer questions and to review deliverables thoroughly as they are presented. Speak up early if something feels wrong, instead of waiting until near-launch to raise a red flag. This is the level of engagement that will lead to a well-functioning, branded site that serves as an effective marketing tool.

This article was originally published on my previous blog, https://speakorlisten.wordpress.com/.

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