99% of website designers suck because they sell website designs.

What? Just read that back again. What does that even mean? Let’s break it down.

Aflua used to be a design agency. What I mean by that is that we produced high-fidelity, impressive designs for our customers to drool over and buy into. We were polished graphic designers for the Internet.

This produced good short-term results for us: we wowed the client, built websites for them, took their money, and then mostly said goodbye. We pumped and dumped.

This is exactly what most web design agencies still do. They focus nearly all their efforts on ‘making the sale’, pushing appealing design as a vehicle to sell websites. And this is truer than ever in the small business sphere.

So why does this suck? After all, website designers sell website design, right?

Wrong. The Internet is much more complex than it was back in the 1990’s. It is no longer enough to expect that a graphic design, adapted for the Web, will cut the mustard.

 

A Website is a Customer Engagement Platform

What that grandiose phrase really means, is that your website needs to be much more than just your company brochure converted to HTML.

  • It needs to offer compelling, fresh content on a regular basis, managed through a simple yet flexible Content Management System (CMS).
  • It needs to react correctly to the device it’s being viewed on, restructuring page layouts to best suit smartphones and tablets, which are fast becoming the default way for your audience to visit you online.
  • You need to know and understand statistics about traffic sources, and why they are leaving certain pages more than others.
  • Depending on your industry, it may need to be able to accept credit cards or PayPal payments directly, so you can generate revenue.
  • That being the case, it may need to send information to your accounting software and produce and send an invoice to the buyer.
  • It may need to integrate with other systems to streamline and automate parts of your company workflow.
  • It needs to communicate with your social media pages, and allow your visitors to share across those social sites they frequently use.
  • It needs to answer your potential and existing customers’ questions, whether through an FAQ, help desk software or through a form you interact with.
  • It needs to ensure the quickest path to your visitor finding what they are looking for, and cater for that need better than your competitors.
  • You need to have a basic understanding of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) best practises, to ensure you keep Google (and Bing and Yahoo!) happy and your site stays in their search results pages.
  • And yes, it needs to look stunning and be branded correctly to your company identity.

Of all the points on the list, the last one is the least important. After all, would you rather be the owner of the most beautiful store on Nowhere Street, or own the average-looking store on busy Central Avenue.

Of course that’s a bit extreme – you can have a great looking website that generates fantastic results too – but you get the point.

If your website design firm is producing great design but not making a difference to your bottom line, maybe it’s time to take a step back, and think more strategically about where you would really like your online business to be.

I guess the bottom line is this: if your website is not generating leads or sales online, then it is useless.

 

So How do you Find a Good Designer?

So if you are looking for a designer, one of the most important things is to ask questions before you start. A good designer will have no problem in explaining things to you in common language. Take time to understand how they work, what their area of expertise is, and also who will have responsibility for which parts of the site during the build and once it goes live.

Secondly, never make cost your main criteria for choosing a designer. Everyone looks for a bargain, but ultimately you get what you pay for. So if you are being offered a fully-functioning e-commerce website design with all the bells and whistles for a one-off payment of $200, then alarm bells should be ringing: that designer will cut corners in the best case, and leave you high and dry half way through the project in the worst. A good designer will value their work.

That’s not to say that good quality website design needs to cost the earth either: at the other end of the scale, if you are being quoted $2,000 for a 3-page website with no functionality other than a simple contact form, you should be equally skeptical.

Most important of all is to ensure you have ongoing advice and support for your project, from someone who realises that your success will contribute to theirs.

Don’t get pumped and dumped. Good designers will stick around, and be active over time in the development of your online presence.

Jake Burdess

Director at Aflua
This post is by Jake Burdess, the founder of Aflua and HEROIC. Jake is an English designer who lives in New Zealand with his wife and three kids.

Latest posts by Jake Burdess (see all)