Just because you have a well-designed site doesn't mean that it is sufficiently usable. The web is littered with great looking sites that have a whole mess of usability problems. But it's also true that just because a website employs effective usability strategies that it's not necessarily pleasing on the eyes.
We've all seen those direct mail-like landing pages, the ones that scroll on forever telling you just how great the product is that you need to buy. Usually they have a big red heading, some pictures, testimonials and a lot of words highlighted to draw your eye to them. As ugly goes, these pages pretty much invented the thing, but you know what, they are extremely effective. And a lot of that is in their simplicity.
But these pages are meant to do one thing, and one thing only. Get a conversion. They are designed to sell the visitor on something. On the other hand, as we have been discussing over the past couple of weeks, a Destination Website is meant to engage the visitor. Yes, they can also sell products or services, but they go about it in an entirely different way.
The design of a website is an important aspect of building a destination that people want to return to time and time again. But don't go out and spend all kinds of money for the most current, up-to-date website design with all the whistles and bells. Stop for a second to truly consider what kind of website design you really need.
Evaluate your design
There are many levels of great website design. What works for one industry will absolutely not work for another. What looks good here, won't look good there. It's not about having the most advanced website that has all it's pretty in place, but rather having the website design that meets, and hopefully exceeds, the industry standards.
You need to first do your research. Check out all the sites in your industry. Not just your top competitors, but those further down the food chain. See what kind of functionality they have, what colors they use, read their content and investigate their special offerings (whitepapers, newsletters, etc.)
No, you're not going to emulate any site exactly, but this will give you an idea of where your industry is in terms of website design and functionality. Take that information and then move forward to ensure that your site is, at the very least, as good as the industry average.
That's not much of a benchmark, but it's a starting point. If you find that your site design is below average then you need to do something about it. If your site is at or just above average, well there is no reason to settle for that, there but it's not critically important that you do something about it right this moment.
Of course, everybody thinks their website is above average. Get a second opinion. Get a third opinion. Have unbiased individuals give you an honest assessment of your site compared to your competitors. That's the only way to truly know if your site is at, above or below the competitor's average.
Of course, we're just talking the bare minimum here. But building a Destination Website isn't about being minimum, or average, it's about being exceptional. And to be truly exceptional then your site design should be as good as, or better than, the best in your industry.
Again, best can be subjective so get some unbiased opinions to help you out. Find out what it is about the best site that makes it the best. Is it the colors, the layout, the navigation, the architecture, the content, or the added tools and benefits? Once you know what makes another site's design exceptional (and it may be more than one thing) you then need to find out where that site's weaknesses are.
If you just try to emulate another site's strengths then you'll find that you're likely to also emulate all their weaknesses. So you need to find out what those are so you can, at the very least, match their design strengths, but go a step further and excel in areas where they are week. This will not only help you build a better site, but will help you build a Destination Website.
Look for ways to improve
Of course, with websites getting re-designed on a continual basis, it doesn't make sense to employ a major re-design every time someone else does. There are two things you can do.
First, always be looking for ways to improve. Just because your designers have wrapped up this project and moved on to others doesn't mean that there are areas of your site design that couldn't be made better. Most of the time you won't know until after the site has been functional for a while anyway. But find those areas that you can improve upon visually and functionally and budget those into your marketing costs.
Second, it's OK to not always be the absolute best. Sooner or later someone is going to design a better site than you. Just keep improving upon yours and wait to implement a major re-design until it's absolutely necessary, or, until you find yourself getting closer to "average" than "exceptional". I think every site should go through a significant overhaul every few years anyway. Just keep an eye on your industry and always be improving.
One thing to keep in mind, when your website is poorly designed, or even appears to be compared to others in your industry, you lack credibility. Given the option between you and someone else, most people are going to gravitate to the better looking website as it gives the appearance of being more professional, and therefore, more trustworthy.
The one thing you don't want to have is a site that is so poorly developed that it looks like a hobby site. Unless, of course, that's all it really is. Just like an effective brick and mortar business has to consider its location and the appearance of their store, you must do the same with your site design. You're not some kid selling lemonade on the side of the road, so don't act like it.
Read more about Destination Search Engine Marketing:
Part I: Do you Deserve Top Search Rankings?
Part II: What Would Sudden Exposure Get You?
Part III: Standing Out in a Sea of Thousands
Part IV: It's Not Just Marketing as Usual
Seven Building Blocks of a Destination Website
#1: Expert Information
#1b: Seven Types of Expert Information
#3: Website Design
#4: Unique Value Proposition
#5: Time and Presence
#7: Trust and Credibility
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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