Whilst our aim in existing as a company to make your business’ Digital Presence as profession and painless as possible, there are times when people prefer to make their own website rather than using us, either from scratch or using a popular DIY builder.
We won't go into why we believe that using us is better for your business than using a DIY builder (cost, time, functionality, experience etc) but we will go through a small list of design points that we've created. Please bear these in mind if you choose this route as there are a few interesting issues we see pop up time and time again.
We're big believers in "your website, your call" so honestly there are no “don’t dos” beneath just “things to think about” we would probably advise against; and with that let's jump in:
Homepages - Get to the point
9 times out of 10 your homepage is how people first interact with your website. If it doesn’t say what you’re about and help customers to move to the next stage of their journey, you’ll lose them.
With that in mind the first thing to do is to make sure you set our your stall. Customers go to your website to find out more more about what you do and who you are. You could tell them via a paragraph on the homepage, but even a concise header/ subtitle “we buy any car” or “Affordable, professional, reliable website services for Individuals, Sole Traders & Small Businesses” can quickly let them know what you’re about.
In addition make sure that you have clear call to actions on your homepage that move to the reason you exist such as “visit our shop”, or “book a tour”. These can be done through category images, buttons, or even obvious header menus but they should always be one of the first things a customer sees.
We advise quite heavily against massive walls of text, such as mission statements, as the first thing a customer sees. (Short introductions can be a positive). It’s usually better to tell people about what you can offer them before you tell them why owning a dinosaur park has always been your lifelong ambition.
We also advise against full screen or almost full screen images that have nothing on them. Are they just being pretty, are you selling what’s in them, can I click on the image, should I click on the image? Put yourself in the mind of a customer and ask yourself do you know what to do. Does a picture of a kitchen say enough compared to a picture of a kitchen with “Oakwood Kitchens, from £2,999. Find out more ->” on it?
Interactions - Don't be too fancy
No not a stylistic point, go as glittery as you want with parallax effects, custom CSS3 effects, sticky menus, animated images etc. They look cool although most customers can live without them. The key thing here is how they work across different devices.
Our design & development team talk in terms like “Mobile First” which means we design how things look on Mobile devices, then worry about Desktop computers later. It makes sense because most of the traffic we see on large sites these days, through experience, is mobile but to be honest it’s much less fun to do it in this order.
It does however prevent things like all your images stacking on top of each other before people see any text. It also stops a remarkably common occurrence: hover interactions that don’t show up at all on mobile devices because you can’t hover on a mobile phone (disregarding here that one of the latest Google Pixels tried to implement that feature in a limited way). We’ve seen hover interactions in use on a shop for category pages, where you couldn’t tell where you were going until you clicked on the image. Yeah, no thanks!
Information - Keep up to Date
It can be hard to keep up to date with every little thing on your website, particularly we're thinking of countdown timers here. Unless you’re a super organised with a site that can refresh its code almost instantly you will, at least once, be late to remove a countdown from your site. To be honest if it’s removed within around half an hour of its end date & time it’s rarely an issue for your customers or your lawyers. However, we really recommend you pay attention to your copy. The number of times we’ve seen “Christmas is near” in January just doesn’t give confidence to buy from that site. And we must also strongly advise that if you must add seasonal or time limited announcements to your copy, and you’re not sure when you can change it, you try not to make it a full-page banner.
In the longer term we also advise that you try to refresh your site as often as you can, and at least every 1-2 years. Technology and design move very quickly, and an old site can often look unloved. We’ve personally found people do not like putting card details into things they think aren’t maintained.
Brand - Make sure you're memorable
What do people think of before they think of you? We’ve briefly covered this in one of our earlier blog posts but we couldn't miss it out here. There’s a reason that Facebook, Etsy & Not on the High Street (amongst others) give limited space over to Small Businesses to customise the branding of their products, pages or store. They want customers to feel that they’re shopping with the Big Brand rather than the Local Producer, “I found this great little thing on Not on the High Street” (sorry Dave’s Donuts not today).
Your website is the place where you get to right that imbalance. It’s your space so we advise you go mad and memorable, paint the walls, get a big framed picture and put your name on the door. There are however a number of websites who don’t do this and it can feel like despite being on their site you’ve just tripped over the item/service you wanted “online”.
When building out your band for the first time we recommend three things as must haves Logo, Colours and Font. (Remember you can always update them later!) We’d caution against going completely nuts with colours though as a multi-coloured site can be as bad for remembering as a black and white one. Despite some popular views a primary colour, secondary colour, light highlight and dark highlight are really all you need to kickstart your colour palette.
Text - Make it easy to read
It’s so easy to get carried away with pictorial backgrounds, and personally we’re big fans, but just putting text over the top of an image can make the text incredibly hard to read. Simply colouring your text can also appear fine at first glance but if you try resizing the image your text can end up over a completely different part & colour of the background. We highly recommend adding some form of additional highlight to the text box to help your words stand out.
Experience - You've got it, show it
If you’re doing it yourself adding your vast back catalogue, or completed projects, to your website can be quite time consuming; never mind adding new ones when you finish them. Nevertheless, customers like to see what they can expect and we’d recommend giving them a heads up. If you’re a new business, why not put some examples of demos or even catalogue offering you currently stock? We strongly advise that you don't let customers wonder how could you are, show them!
Overall there are a lot of small issues in website building that can quickly catch even the most alert new builder out. The number one thing you can do to protect against this, apart from hire an experienced professional (hi), is to ensure you get your new website reviewed by someone who doesn't know what you do. Get a friend to visit your site on their phone. If they can't tell you what you're offering within 5 minutes you might as well start again.
Some of the issues noted above do take a while to fix but remember hiring a company like Small Beans means we'd design your site for you for free on multiple devices, give you free monthly updates to your site content, and review your site for you each year for free with the guarantee that if we think the design is getting a bit old or could be improved we’ll send you some recommendations for changes we can do to make it even better.
If you'd like to check out our Website Packages here