Anyone who pays any attention to my Facebook feed knows that I’m more than a little happy with my newly revised website.
I didn’t understand why, at first.
After all, the previous (and free) template I’d been using did what it was supposed to do: it provided pages and a menu. It was clean and it was simple. What more could it need?
As I discovered, it needed a feeling.
What I hadn’t thought about when creating my own, earlier, sites was the range of reactions I’d typically have when visiting other people’s websites, whether it was an immediate need to click away from the chaos—or an urge to stay a while, admire the professional organization and sharp colors.
When the latest iteration of my website was finished, I said to its designer, Richard Kelsey of Absolute.click, “It’s like wearing a nice suit.”
Not a unique or even very creative observation, but that was how it felt (and feels).
An important question, though: Who but me cares how I feel about my website?
Sure, it gives me more confidence to approach people who might visit it—and that’s a great value—but what really matters is the impression they get from it. Isn’t it?
I wanted to know more about the importance of having a good website—whether “good” translates as flashy functions, easy navigation, or a perfectly appropriate theme—so I asked Richard a few questions.
(“But, he’s a biased website designer,” you say. This is probably true. However, my experience with him has also shown him to be honest and straightforward. I’d have no interest in interviewing him, otherwise.)
I wanted to interview you because you recently redesigned my website, and one of the elements you added was the A-ha, yes! that in one move, with one page, eliminated endless links and redirection and—well, clutter in general.
I’ve had websites in one form or another since 2007, and I’ve never been so satisfied with appearance, organization, and navigability. How did you do that?
Well, essentially, you always want to take a less-is-more approach. Clients sometimes tend to want everything they can possibly think of, right there and now, without a real concept. It smacks you in the face.
Most of the time visitors barely witness half of what is going on, simply because they don’t take the time, let alone want to. Something has to grab their immediate attention, or has to represent at least a sign of something they expected to find.
Most design elements and functions that have come out lately have been clearly developed to meet, match, and improve user experience and behavior—which, interestingly enough, also results in and is beneficial to better search results with Google & Co. What’s easier for users is also usually easier for “spiders” (search engines) to crawl.
In Your Homepage Is Not As Important As You Think, Dan Blank writes that visitors to websites rarely see the website’s home page after being referred to the site via links, social media, search engines, etc. Therefore, every interior page, he argues, “needs to tell your story … reiterate who you are, and provide context at every opportunity.”
In your experience designing websites, you must have seen some existing sites that could be considered a nightmare, either because they were confusing to navigate or because they failed to serve the identity or purpose of the website owner.
What are a couple typical reasons websites fail?
That’s funny about the home page. Our (and my personal) experience has been that it is quite the opposite. When visitors land on any page other than the home page, panic starts to strike (in the worst case). Most people look for the “Home” button.
There might be many reasons for that, the most popular being that people need a sense of starting from the beginning. It’s like the cover of a book. A “Did I miss something?” sort of moment.
I always like to go to the actual URL (the home) to get a “feeling” for the site. What is it that the site wants to do or say? Indeed, if the home doesn’t entrance me, why should the other pages?
So, a home button has to be easy to find. Poor navigation is a fail. Design and colors I think are just as important, even if it really has nothing to do with content. People like eye-candy. Smooth and simple.
In terms of incoming links and needing to tell your story, I agree with Dan. But the home page is what it is: the roof, the door, the window to it all.
But does a website’s appearance and ease-of-use really make that much of a difference to the average visitor?
It is the Alpha and Omega.
Kidding aside, you can just put text up on the white screen and maybe a picture and be done with it. Why would you do that, though, if you can do so much more and make it more enticing?
Now and then I’ll Google an author or other kind of writer and discover they don’t have a website. When I wrote for the newspaper and was sometimes tasked with writing about local bands or musicians appearing in upcoming events, I found that many of them also didn’t have websites. Facebook pages, yes, but not official websites.
You’re a longtime musician. Isn’t it fair to say that if the writing or music or other art is good enough, a website isn’t necessary because audiences will find the work, the artist, in other ways?
But I have to admit that when as a feature writer I didn’t find websites, I was immediately less inclined to contact the artists for articles. I don’t know whether that’s typical or whether I was being uniquely judgmental.
This kind of ties in with the home page topic. Social media can be overrated. … You [should always] have your website to fall back on. Your home, so to speak. It also creates credibility and trust and, in the case of a music artist, shows how serious and passionate you are about your craft and art.
As much as Facebook and Twitter make it possible for new artists to have a following as big as that of known acts, anyone can create a fan page and be done with it. You may run into the danger of not being discovered there at all. A good website with a good search result in Google might be your better ally.
The website is the home, and everything else needs to be linked to it. Like a web. The combo makes it a “full meal.”
I know Absolute.click offers website design rates on a sliding scale, but why should a person pay anything for a website when there are quite a few decent templates available for free?
Well, the web design business, as any business these days I imagine, has witnessed dumping prices. There are many factors. The global community and competition, the over-saturation of really good web design agencies and professionals, the amount of educated individuals who, yearly, come out of the schools hungry for work, and all these do-it-yourself kits and platforms—some good, some not that good.
It’s up to you, really. How much time you want to invest, what you want your results to be, how professional it is supposed to look. Even WordPress, with which we work almost exclusively, can be used by any novice. At the same time, WordPress has spun an industry that pays thousands of people worldwide daily, and has produced hundreds of companies that dedicate their time to WordPress alone. What does that tell us?
Clients in any area of service can sometimes have unrealistic demands. What should people be aware of before they contact a website designer, in terms of managing expectations?
Believe it or not, when someone comes up to me and says, “I want (or need) a website,” my first questions are, “What for?” and “Are you really sure?”
This may be dangerous in my business, but essentially what I am asking is, what is the purpose of the site? And usually I hope it has a sole purpose, and not a million different things at once. If the website is for a business that already exists, for example, then it is obvious that a website is a necessity for today’s market. If it’s for a new business idea, I would say do your research first to make sure you have a niche market for it.
Actually, the most critical expectation we have found goes beyond the completion of the website: once it’s done and in the world wide web, most believe that’s that, and all is good. But that’s when their real work begins.
Thank you, Richard.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the post-Roe v. Wade novel The Age of the Child, called a novel “for right now” and “scathing social commentary.” She’s a former adjunct English professor, former reporter/columnist/feature writer for a daily newspaper, former writing instructor, and a former editor of the literary journal American Fiction (New Rivers Press). She lives in Connecticut.