Wait, didn’t we already cover the myth that aesthetics are everything when it comes to getting a new website? It turns out there are two sides to this particular misconception. Or maybe it’s better to say that it trips up professionals in two different ways. The first is to get them to overlook the power of content. And the second is getting them to ignore web programming, development, and functionality because these things are harder to see.
Once again, the look and feel of your website are massively important. But so are the messages it gives, as well as the things it can do. In this article we’re going to elaborate. Hopefully by the end you’ll be thinking about your web presence as so much more than an online brochure.
What Can Your Website Actually Do?
Stop and think about the basic, “standard” website you might come across in a day. It probably has a home page that tells you a little bit about the business, maybe a few photos of the staff or products, and a touch of marketing hype. It could even include some basic contact details.
Now, think about some of the things the same kind of website might be able to do with a little more sophistication. At a minimum, it can help support the company’s bigger sales and marketing goals, or cut costs. For example, some of the sites we have worked on have programming that allows the business to:
- Sell products or renew subscriptions
- Update inventory in real time based on sales
- Convert currencies for overseas buyers
- Help with employee scheduling and training
- Allow visitors to register for events
- Advertise openings and collect job applications
- Automate customer service tasks
- Integrate with a branded mobile app
You have undoubtedly seen enough websites to know that this is nowhere near an exhaustive list. Not only are there plenty of things websites can do that aren’t on this list, but there are probably possibilities that no one has even considered yet.
The point, though, is that there is a huge gap between what you can do online and what most business owners or marketers settle for. In many cases, it’s because they haven’t been imaginative enough. In others, though, they might have shied away from thinking bigger because they assumed that integrating more helpful features would be expensive or time-consuming.
That might have been the case at one point a decade ago, but it’s certainly not accurate now. There is enough programming knowledge out there to get things done more quickly and efficiently than in the past. Also, the tools we have at our disposal have greatly improved. The upshot is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of time and effort to add business-driven functionality to a website.
To be clear we don’t mean little gimmicks or add-ons. We are referring to apps that can help you sell more, make marketing more effective, and/or take the hassle and expense out of customer service.
The big question for business owners shouldn’t be: “What do you want your website to look like?” Instead, they should be asking themselves: “What do I want my website to do?” In fact, that’s a discussion that should take place before details like photos and color schemes are even considered.
Web Development Starts With Your First Meeting
Getting a fully functional website that helps you improve your bottom line isn’t going to happen by accident. You’ll have to be intentional about the way you build your site – and in fact, your entire digital strategy – from the beginning.
Of course, this is in contrast to the way business owners and creative firms tend to work. In most cases, an entrepreneur or executive turns to an agency when they realize they have a need. That’s typically when they’re launching a new company or realizing that the results they’ve gotten so far haven’t met expectations. The search often begins with a review of online portfolios.
In other words, everything starts with an aesthetic-based approach to choosing a web design team. Because the focus is on visuals, ideas about functionality, content, and ongoing marketing tactics are pushed off as minor issues.
As someone who wants to see your business succeed, thinking about results should be your top priority. When you meet with new design agencies, your first questions should revolve around how they can help you accomplish measurable goals. Only when you’re confident they can help you build a website that automates crucial tasks and helps you attract new customers should you move on to design ideas.
After all, isn’t that what actually matters?
To be clear, web designers and creative agencies bear some responsibility here, as well. Some of our colleagues and competitors like to emphasize aesthetics and portfolios rather than results and case studies. In some cases, this might be because they don’t have the in-house expertise needed to handle custom web development. In other instances they may just recognize that it’s easier to sell designs than it is to have intensive conversations about future results. It’s easy for everyone involved to assume these topics will be worked out later.
Even though it might be more fun to look through web design samples than it is to think about custom apps and conversion rates, though, one is going to make a much bigger impact on the future of your company than the other. Launching a website that looks good should be the absolute minimum you expect from a creative partner. What you’re really paying for isn’t better visuals or color schemes; it’s the chance to be more profitable with the right web strategy.
Knowing all of this, you should be having these discussions at the very beginning of the design process. In fact, they should begin before you choose a web design team to work with in the first place. You don’t have to hash out all the details right away, but you do have to understand that everyone involved has the same goals and perspectives.
Design and Development Are Very Different Skills
One reason more business owners don’t pay attention to web development is that it’s easy to assume that it’s essentially the same as design. After all, from the client’s perspective you’re paying for a website. You wouldn’t worry about buying a brand-new car and the engine not being included, so why should you have to ask about all the different apps that will live on your new website?
The answer might surprise you if you don’t work in our industry. It’s because web design and web development are very different skills and disciplines.
The design part of the equation involves figuring out things like color schemes and layouts. Designers don’t just want a website to look good, but also to be easy to use and navigate. In other words, it’s important that potential customers not get lost on a website or run into bottlenecks. This is the part of the process that’s easiest to see and notice.
Web programming (also referred to as web development) is somewhat different. It’s more akin to coding than it is to drawing. Programmers aren’t really worried about the way things look. Their focus is on developing or integrating tiny programs that perform functions behind the scenes. Not only do they have to choose or create the right tools for the job, but they also need to fit them next to the other apps that might be running already and test the whole thing. This is incredibly important because the more coding you add to a site, the greater chance there is to create instability or security issues. Testing is a big part of the process.
Once the programmer is sure that all the pieces will work together in the right way, they can pay attention to the look and feel of a website. Or, they might turn things over to a designer who can do the same.
What’s important to understand about this division of work is that it involves different kinds of knowledge and experience. There are designers who also do programming, but you shouldn’t assume that someone who can draw nice website will also be able to code one properly. Your creative team needs to have access to both skillsets if you’re going to get a web presence with the right kind of functionality.
Functionality Creates ROI in Web Design
In the same way that you need the right messaging to sell products or generate leads from your website, you also need programming to move beyond the very basics of web design and get into real profitability. It’s simply not enough, in this day and age, to have a web presence that doesn’t do anything except give out information. Customers expect more, and business owners who overlook this fact are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Fortunately, the costs associated with good web development have gone down drastically. You can probably get your new site to do whatever you need without breaking your budget or pushing back your timeline to launch (or relaunch) your website.
To make the most of your web design project, though, you’ll need to address web development with your creative team early in the process. You might even want to select a partner based on their vision and expertise. Certainly don’t hire any provider who doesn’t ask questions about web functionality.
It might seem like an extra step to an already complicated and expensive process, but it’s one you’ll be glad you took when your new website goes live.