Let’s get started with the biggest web design myth of them all: that it’s about web design. That term has been something of a misnomer for years. And in 2023 it’s especially outdated. The phrase web design persists as a phrase because business owners accept it as shorthand for “building a website.” But it puts an unfair emphasis on the visual aspects of the process.
At the risk of stating the obvious, it does matter what your business website looks like. First impressions count for a lot, and the human brain processes images thousands of times faster than it does text. So, someone who is visiting your company online will feel something about your pages long before they read your content. The feeling they come away with matters a lot, because it’s likely to stick with them regardless of how good or bad your copywriting is.
But at the same time, it’s not nearly enough to have a website that simply looks good. To stand out, and to have a chance at winning a new customer, you need all the rational and emotional aspects of your site (i.e., the words and the visuals) to match up.
In this first article we are going to give you a few principles to work from. Each is designed to move you past a place of seeing your website as a piece of corporate art and more toward a tool for generating impressions and outcomes.
Visuals Attract, Content Converts
Imagine for a moment that you are in the market for a new car. You have been online looking at reviews, scheduling test drives, and making budgets. You haven’t decided what you want to buy just yet, but the thought of stepping into some fresh wheels is very much on your mind.
Now, in this context imagine that we were to approach you on the street and hand you a flyer for a brand-new auto that had just been released. As you flip through the pages you can’t help but notice it’s stunning. You love the look of the model. It has the right number of seats. Every option you have been dreaming about is included, and all for a price that is slightly below the budget you have set. It has wonderful reviews and a graphic pointing out its perfect safety rating. It has even been displayed in your favorite color!
You can’t believe your luck. Someone has literally walked up to you and handed you the perfect product for your needs. There’s only one problem: other than the price there isn’t any text on the document. You’ve never seen this car before so it’s not clear what it’s called or where you could buy it. There isn’t even a phone number or a website address. You’re left with the need and desire, but no way to take action.
Obviously, this is a ridiculous hypothetical. However, it cuts straight to the heart of a deeper truth. You can do a lot with graphics, design, and photos. However, if you want to generate sales – in the form of leads, appointments, or even online purchases – then your messaging has to be up to par.
It takes a surprising amount of content to sell even the simplest item. For instance, take the last pen you used. If you were to look it up online you would find a description that would likely include the ink color, the weight or width of the stroke, how long it lasts, and so on. And of course, there would be directions on how you could purchase the item, as well.
The farther you get from a simple pen, the more content and messaging you need to sell something. A lot of that content will probably involve text, but may also include detailed images, videos, and graphics like charts. These are separate from the overall design scheme and layout of your pages, but they are just as important (if not more so).
Business owners and marketers who put all of their attention on visual elements are taking shortcuts that won’t serve them well in the long run. Creating a great website is all about knowing your best customer and giving them the exact material they need to get to know your company and take the next step. You’ll never accomplish that with a slick dropdown menu or a flashy home page hero image. Those elements can help, but they won’t seal the deal.
When it comes to thinking about the ingredients of a profitable website, think like a professional. Remember that visuals attract attention, but content converts visitors into sales opportunities.
Don’t Leave Web Content as an Afterthought
It’s not that uncommon to meet with web designers or business owners who create templates and layouts for a new website, and then go all the way through the coding process, only to fill in content at the last minute. From a process orientation point of view that might make sense; from a practical marketing perspective it’s a bit backward.
Your website will ultimately exist to attract a certain kind of buyer and convince them to take a specific action (or set of actions). For that to happen you need to pay attention to this process from the beginning. Otherwise, you will be left filling in web content in a way that’s designed around space rather than intent.
For a simple analogy, suppose we asked you to make dinner for your family. You would decide on a meal or recipe and then make a list of items you needed from the store. What you wouldn’t do is look at your phone and decide you had room on your shopping list for four ingredients that were 7 to 10 characters each.
Again, we are being a little bit silly. But is that example really so far off from the way many business owners put their web content together? They simply look at a template, count how many paragraphs or bullet points they need, and start filling in the blanks.
There isn’t anything wrong with adapting the content you need to the space and design available to you. But when you treat things like text and images as an afterthought, you are essentially saying that the layout of your website is all that matters. It’s much better to have a content and conversion strategy in place and then to choose or develop a design that works toward those goals.
Perhaps this is just another way of saying that “good web design is about more than looks.” Even if that’s the case, though, we don’t feel bad about being repetitive. As much as we want you to be excited about the aesthetics of your next web design, we want you to be even more thrilled with the results it generates. There are lots and lots of web pages that feature clean text and crisp images. Yours needs to have those plus the kind of messaging that makes buyers flock in your direction.
Aesthetics and Content Should Flow Together
Having established that the look and layout of your website are massively important, but not important enough to let you ignore other factors, we arrive at the real point. Aesthetics and content should flow together perfectly.
When you see as many small business websites as we do, you notice something peculiar. Lots of them have imagery and messaging that don’t really match. At first glance they seem to be on point, but the deeper you dig the more you discover little inconsistencies. Or, in cases where you don’t notice them, you just feel as if something might be slightly off. The colors and fonts don’t necessarily work together with the tone of the text. Or, the layout is bright and cheerful but the headlines and photos all seem somber and serious.
These kinds of mismatched websites can spring up when a designer is working from a pre-built template. They can emerge when different people are in charge of the design and content elements of the pages. And, they can pop up when business owners just aren’t paying attention. It makes sense; sometimes the directive is to simply “get the website done” in order to save time or money.
If you’re like most marketers in most industries, then your website is going to be seen by many, many more people than you can possibly interact with personally. You need the first impressions it generates to tell a story about your trustworthiness, service, and value. That means having a cohesive design and messaging strategy.
It’s easy to overlook that conclusion. You might think to yourself: “Of course you think this way, you work in the online marketing industry.” That’s true, but it’s a matter of expertise rather than self-interest.
Earlier in this article, we pointed out that human biology makes us more apt to notice visual cues than anything else. We are also evolved to scan environments (even digital ones) for signs of opportunity, danger, and consistency. In other words, we are always trying to figure out who and what we can trust. That’s why little things – like a sense that a website is well put together and has an intended purpose – fill us with confidence. It’s also why little issues like using the wrong fonts or leaving typos on a home page can subconsciously turn us off.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Just look at the websites for a few businesses you trust. We bet they present you with a single, consistent design and messaging theme again and again.
As you dive into the web design and development process, it’s okay to be a little bit nitpicky. If you aren’t the type of person to obsess over the finer points, then work with some creative minds who are. It might seem like they are obsessing over little details that don’t ultimately matter much, but those are often the things that help you stay memorable to customers in the long run.
Now that you know why the things that go in your website are important, let’s move on and tackle the other myths about online “design.”