This is Block 81's archive of past articles. Once in a while we may add more, but it's rare.
Block 81 is a design studio producing beautifully crafted websites and brands for independent businesses and startups.
February 7, 2017
Websites are no longer just websites these days. More than ever, websites are critical pieces to a company’s marketing and sales efforts. That means companies of all sizes are dependent on a successful online presence, which, in turn, means they’re dependent on web professionals.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t misconceptions about how web design and development should work. For whatever reason – and there are plenty – a lot of business owners have misguided ideas and beliefs about this industry and, more specifically, about designers, agencies, and the web design process.
This article aims to point out some of those misconceptions (myths, if you will) and what’s actually true.
It’s not. There’s no other way to put it. Web design and development isn’t easy. There are plenty of sites out there that look simple, basic, or effortless, but for 99.9% of them it’s safe to say that they didn’t turn out that way without a ton of hard work and a thorough process.
Every feature on a site needs to be thought through properly to ensure that it meets the overall goals of not only the site, but the company as well. That then trickles down to design (making sure that the features are easy to use, readable, and accessible) and development (making sure that the site is fast, uses proper coding techniques, and works on a variety of screens and devices). All of these equals dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of work.
You hired your design agency, so it’s understandable that you may think you get to call all the shots. You’re paying for the project after all!
Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not exactly right.
You don’t (shouldn’t) hire a web designer just to have them do exactly what you want. You hire them for their expertise in not just web design but also in online/digital marketing. They aren’t just creating pretty designs for design sake. They’re doing it to reach a higher goal – to help your business succeed and make more money.
That doesn’t mean you can’t offer constructive feedback – that’s critical to the process. But micro-managing or not being open to the ideas and expertise of the professional you hired will bite you in the end. Instead, trust them – they know what they’re doing and have the knowledge to drive traffic and turn visitors to leads to customers. If they don’t know how to do that, get a new web design agency.
Just like you want your time respected, your design team wants their time respected too. Everyone works differently – just because you are up at 5 AM or work well past 7 PM and send out a message to your design team doesn’t mean that they can or should respond.
What’s more, there’s a good chance your design team is working on more than just your project. While there are some agencies or designers that only take on one big project at a time, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things that they have to tend to. Expecting them to respond immediately is unrealistic.
Instead, make sure you know when you can expect a response. For example, here at Block 81, we try to respond within one business day – it’s rare when we don’t. But that’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves – other designers or agencies may require a little more time or can respond faster. It’s only when your designer takes more than a few days to respond that you should begin to get concerned.
A website is never finished. The web is always changing. Websites need to be continually updated – even if just for security purposes – to stay with or ahead of best practices, emerging trends, and technology in general.
Failing to keep your website up to date is a big gamble. One that may not be an issue right away, but a gamble that will inevitably cause you a major headache. In other words, it’s not a matter of if a website will have issues, it’s when.
“If you build it, they will come.”
Sorry, that just doesn’t apply to your website. It’s nice to think so but just because you launched a new site doesn’t mean is going to “go viral”.
For starters, how would people know that it’s even been launched? More importantly, your website isn’t the end all of your marketing efforts – or at least it shouldn’t be. No, your website is the hub of your digital marketing.
Your website – and therefore your business – needs to be promoted. Whether that’s the job of your web agency depends on the agency (some do marketing, some don’t). Either way, growing your business through your website requires a team effort and a combination of good marketing and website optimization. Don’t just assume that your website will give an immediate payoff or ROI – it requires a bit more effort than that.
If you’re thinking, “this site, xyz.com, is so nice - let’s do the same thing”, that is a pretty terrible idea. For starters, it’s illegal. But just as important, it’s not a good strategy.
Other websites – including competitor sites – should serve as an inspiration for what they’re doing right (and even what they’re doing not so right). Copying anyone else means your company blends in and has no real personality or brand of its own. This “me too” mentality makes your company just like every other and won’t stand out in any way which means you’re not showing any advantage over your competitors. That means potential customers have no real reason to pick you over someone else who has done a better job of communicating their brand and their message.
It’s unclear where this misconception came from, but it’s a frustrating one to just about every designer and developer. While a visit to a unique, simple, and beautiful website may seem like it was easy and cheap to create, generally speaking, it wasn’t.
The kind of talent and skill needed to create a truly unique, beautiful, and money-generating website is grossly misunderstood. Good website designers are much more than pixel pushers – they do more than just make your website attractive. They create it to be an extension of your brand and your marketing with the underlying goal of making you more money (yes, even if you don’t sell anything directly on your website).
Instead of looking at your website as a huge expense or necessarily evil, think of it as an investment. Over time, it should be giving you a return. If it’s not, you might have a brochure site or something else is wrong.
Nope! Your website should be about your visitors – the folks who could become customers.
Your messaging and imagery should reflect your brand and company personality, absolutely. But it should do it in a way that isn’t all about how great you are. Save that for the about page.
Instead, write your copy with the intention of engaging visitors, keeping their attention, and ultimately convincing them (without being overtly salesy) that what you offer will benefit them.
Imagine buying a car. It comes with a warranty in which the manufacturer or dealer cover quite a bit for a limited time. Now imagine that after the warranty was up, you demanded that your oil changes, tire rotation, and x-thousand mile service be free.
You’d probably be laughed at. So why expect that from a web design studio?
Many design studios will give you a warranty or support period that starts after the site launches and ends after a certain amount of time. During this time if any issues come up, they’ll get fixed at no additional cost. Some terms may apply, but generally speaking, it’s common practice for this grace period to be included in the contract.
Taking the car analogy a bit further, if you don’t give it the regular maintenance it needs (oil changes, fluids, tire rotation, etc.), eventually it’s going crap out on you. And it’ll be expensive. A website is no different.
Technology changes at a pretty rapid pace, especially when it comes to security. Falling too far behind in updates will eventually cause issues. Your site may no longer work in newly released browsers, or critical functionality will break (believe me, it’s happened).
Instead of wondering when that’ll be (see point 4), it’s best to be proactive. If your web agency doesn’t provide maintenance after your site goes live, find one that will. (Selfish promo: we do; yes, even if we didn’t build it.)
I remember when there were maybe two browsers that most people used and smartphones weren’t around yet. Ah, those were the good ol’ days of web development. Okay, not really - anyone remember IE for Mac? <shudder>
The fact is, even back then, just about everyone thought that websites should look the same in every browser. Frankly, it was mostly possible given both, browser technology and the state of HTML back then.
These days, however, there are at least four major browsers that people use, each with slightly different code rendering engines. To make a bit more challenging, not everyone uses the most up to date version either. And let’s not forget good ol’ smartphones. Here again, we’re looking at a few different browsers for the three major phones, each with slightly different ways to render code.
Is this a good time to mention that some browsers render fonts differently too? Oh, and how about TVs with browsers in them?
You get the idea.
While we certainly come close, the fact is, it’s impossible to get a website to look the same exact way on every single browser. It’s just not going to happen.
Compromises have to be made, but I think we need to think about this differently as well. The problem with this idea as a whole is that we’re focused on how a website *looks*. While a great design is important, your site’s content is far more important. Your content is what is going to engage and persuade (or not). So as long as your content is solid across browsers and platforms, you’re good.
Most people can write. Some can write well. But not everyone is a copywriter.
I know how to use a hammer and power tools, and I can read instructions really well. That doesn’t mean I should build and/or install my own kitchen cabinets. I could, of course. But I’m not going to get the same result as I would with a professional.
Same with websites. Many business owners will skip on paying for a copywriter for their website projects purely to save money. The logic is, “if I can write, why do I need to hire a writer?”
Copywriters aren’t just writers. They have a specialized skill that allows them to take your intended message and convert it into compelling copy that can convince even the most hesitant of buyers to fork over some dough. Additionally, that copy helps bring your brand messaging to life and gives it personality. Not everyone can do that.
Please don’t. For starters, it’s lazy and doesn’t add anything to your brand image and perception. More importantly, it’s illegal.
There are copyright laws to consider. The best case scenario is receiving a cease and desist letter warning you to stop using the author’s work. But that’s embarrassing and means you have to scramble to figure out what to put in its place. And what you really don’t want is to pay a hefty fine for using a copyrighted image. Instead, just fork over either a little bit of money for stock photos or truly invest in your brand and website, and hire a professional photographer.
This misconception has been around for at least a decade. The truth is, scrolling is an inherent part of the web. Scrolling happens.
Users will scroll down to view your content, provided that it’s compelling enough to make them do so. This is especially true on mobile – not everything will fit on that tiny screen.
The key here is to not worry too much about scrolling and instead focus on good content that will keep a visitor engaged.
The speed at which the web and its technology changes is crazy fast. Design trends and marketing trends also change. Some are fads, for sure. But some are proven to the point that they’re less of a trend and more of a tactic.
Because of these continual changes, expecting your site to last for more than five years is a bit unrealistic. Kind of like that pair of corduroy pants that you really hope come back in style (hint: they’re not).
The web is going to change and so is your business. And your website should be a part of that. It’s not a brochure - changes can happen much easier on the web than in print. Instead of thinking it’s done when it launches (see point #4), keep analyzing it and when it makes sense, make subtle changes that will help your conversion rates.
As for redesigning your site, it’s not uncommon for that to happen every two or three years.