How Does Your Website's Design Rate?

Cole Wiebe
January 15, 2019
Read time: 5 minutes

Your website has no intrinsic value

No intrinsic value? Web designers around the globe just fainted. 🙂 That's right; your website has no value simply because it exists. Let's face it, your potential customers do not  search for your site to ooh and aah over the design. Most visitors will never notice the design unless it provides a poor user experience. And Google certainly doesn't rank sites because they look pretty.

Your site's purpose is to present extremely valuable, relevant and compelling content that connects people with your brand, products and services. Your content must solve a problem and/or deliver on the promise to improve their lives in some way.

The clone wars

Every week there are more providers giving away attractive template-based websites. Web design has become viewed as a cheap commodity. For a small business, renting a site from Squarespace for $24 a month represents an incredible value. But considering the mediocre content and limited traffic most sites will probably see, and the pathetic conversions, the owners might as well go with a the free or $14 Unlimited plan from WIX. Or there's another popular approach: many hosting companies include free website builder apps with their budget hosting packages.

Don’t get me wrong; you can own an attractive, functional website for free — or practically free— from WIX and Squarespace. In their space, these companies are outstanding. The fact that there's no content strategy on most of the sites hosted there is no fault of cookie-cutter templates or computer-generated website builds.

And you can buy a box of nicely printed business cards from VistaPrint for only $10. You want my contact information?... there it is. Just like the business cards, that generally will never see the light of day, if all your website represents is a checkmark on a to-do list, or an expense on the balance sheet, cheaper is definitely better.

The request for proposal (RFP) approach

For many professionals and business owners, sharing a popular, very recognizable template design with thousands of other businesses isn’t going to provide adequate brand identification, so they send out an RFP (request for proposal) to the local talent pool. Local web designers find themselves working for less and less, bidding their way down in these highly competitive races to the bottom. Needless to say, commoditization and grossly underpaid artisans has led to some very uninspired semi-custom work.

To win the bid, most "designers" quote with extremely thin margins, so as many off-the-shelf components as possible will usually be sourced and  installed. The ultralight budget simply doesn't cover hand coding and custom design. "Semi-custom" typically means a popular off-the-shelf template has been modified ever so slightly, by uploading the logo and entering the brand colours, to partially fit the business owners' application.

The RFP typically specifies some examples of sites the client likes, and a list of the features that must appear on the site. References are made to the improved results they are hoping for from the new “design.”

This process also results in clone site, but with a few minor branding enhancements. A template/theme that looks similar to sites the customer likes is located, mocked up with the client's logo and brand colours, and submitted for approval. The contract is signed, work begins, the new site is hastily assembled from a 'stack' of very inexpensive off-the-shelf components, and the client's content is then dumped into the pages.

And then everyone waits for incoming leads or online sales to pick up. But alas, they don’t, and the stakeholders reflect that it sure was a good thing they didn’t pay very much for the site. But with little or no SEO (search engine optimization), no content strategy, no content writing and promotion, and a user experience that was essentially whatever the theme/template designer included... yeah.

I know, there must be a better way, right.

Your website should be your greatest business asset

An effective website contributes to profit, not overhead. That's the problem with simply throwing a bit of sales content into a cloned website platform... no thought has been given to designing and custom building an asset that makes you money.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
- Steve Jobs

For most websites, the design process is completely ass backwards. It begins with the design or "look and feel" and features the owner likes. The content is then made to fit into that design. Later, when the results disappoint, some thought may finally be given to the reasons the site is failing to connect with the audience and produce any leads or buyers.

Building a successful website
  1. A website that performs well and delivers a solid return on investment begins with the user. Audience personas, ideal customer profiles and desired outcomes are clearly defined before the design process even begins.
  2. A content and customer acquisition strategy is then mapped out to engage with that audience and convert casual visitors into subscribers. More content will be rolled out to move subscribers through the sales funnel. Even after your visitors complete an action that makes them your customers, valuable content will keep your brand top of mind for years to come.
  3. Only when you know who you’re building the website for, the content you will be publishing, and how the site will be used, it’s time to custom design and develop a master planned platform for presenting your valuable content to your unique audience. (Here's my web design/development process.)

Final thoughts

When you send out an RFP, you're buying a low priced commodity... labour on the cheap; not a dedicated innovator and highly creative marketer. You get a sadly underpaid follower instead of a leader who can take your business places.

Your customers are unique. The content that will connect with your audience is unique. So, you need a custom website that clearly differentiates you and your brand from everybody else, and delivers a very unique and custom user experience.

Effective websites are built to a blueprint, based upon a marketing strategy created specifically for your prospective buyers and the content that will build relationships with your audience, and move them towards a purchase decision.

There is an immutable law that states that we get exactly what we pay for in life. Business owners will toss a budget 'cookie cutter' design onto the internet, that doesn't really consider their customers at all, with some mediocre recycled content, and then appear genuinely surprised when customers don't beat a path to their door. It's unreasonable, of course, to expect the most — in traffic, subscribers, fresh leads and new customers — while investing the very least.

For many prospective customers, your website will provide the first real impression of your brand, products and services. I'm suggesting this may not be the place to cut corners.

Countless business owners have already discovered that a fresh "design", with the same content that wasn't working before, is unlikely to improve anything. I stated earlier that most websites are designed ass backwards. So what is the right order?

  • The discovery process determines who your ideal customers are.
  • Once we know who we're creating content for, your content strategy is mapped out. Knowing where your audience is hanging out on the internet tells us what kind of content will engage your ideal customers.
  • Regular content is then published, the results carefully tracked, and we are able tweak the content and delivery each month based upon empirical data. Knowing how your audience consumes your content enables us to design the marketing copy and content funnels that convert into leads and sales.
  • Actual traffic and sales results give us the reason why some design updates should be made to improve the customer experience and increase sales.
  • Now you're ready to design a new site, or freshen the one you have.

Cole Wiebe, content marketing expert, Vancouver, BCCole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach. He is also a UX (user experience) web designer and developer of over 20 years.

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2 comments on “How Does Your Website's Design Rate?”

  1. Ouch... brutal truth. I wish I'd read this a few years and 4 website rebuilds back. Every year or two we had the new site designed, dumped our content in it, and eagerly awaited the surge of traffic and sales increase, but nothing changed.

    Haha. Same tired page copy and content... what ever made us think a fresh 'look' would fix it?

    Publishing valuable, regular content, and promoting the hell out of it has definitely helped. I think we're ready for you to rewrite our site's pages and create some conversion funnels. And after that, we should get you to fix our site's user experience. Talk soon.

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for the comment. Don't feel bad. Most of my web design/development clients come to me after doing it backwards 3 to 5 times: designing a new site, and then making their content fit into the design.

      Be happy to write the copy for your site, and build some conversion funnels.


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