The biggest problem I see with web design in 2016

There’s always been a tension between web designers and web marketers over how a website should look. Particularly the home page.

Web designers like to create web pages that look “cool” and modern. Web marketers like to create web pages that SELL things.

Sadly, few websites manage to get both right. In most cases, the web designers win out. They create a nice looking website, which the business owner (and his friends) think looks “awesome”. But a few months down the track, this wonderful new site has failed to generate many new enquiries and/or sales.

I often get approached by business owners who are in this predicament. They have a website that looks “fresh and modern”. But it’s hardly making any sales.

Usually, I can see the problem within about 5 seconds of landing on their home page. It’s not actually rocket science. It’s common sense. But when it comes to web design it’s amazing how few people use common sense.

So, here’s the No. 1 problem…

A classic example occurred yesterday. A business owner asked me to look at his website. I arrived on a bright, modern looking home page. But I was left with the question: “What does this company actually sell?”

It wasn’t clear on the home page. I could see they were selling something related to green smoothie drinks. It looked like maybe they were offering a home delivery service for people who wanted a quick and easy way to make green smoothies. Maybe. But I wasn’t sure.

I clicked to one of the other pages to try to find out more information. Still I was none the wiser.

I could not easily figure out from the website what the company was actually selling!

You would be amazed how common this is. And it’s getting worse – compared with 10 – 12 years ago when I started in the web business.

A lot of the problem is caused by the current fashion in website design. Most websites today follow the trend of having a large image at the top of the page. On top of this image is a heading and short paragraph of text. Then a ‘call to action’ button. And usually lots of social media buttons.

So, when someone lands on a modern web page, they have just a heading and a paragraph of text in front of them. These few words need to explain what the website is offering.

The thinking behind this approach is that people’s attention spans today are too short to read a lot of words. So keep it short and sweet.

That’s fine in theory. But in reality it’s difficult to express the benefits of a product or service in one short heading a couple of lines of text. It’s possible. But it takes an extremely skilled copywriter to pull this off.

So, if you combine the modern fashion in web page design with a top copywriter, it can work. But most companies don’t have the budget to invest in a professional copywriter. Hence the large number of trendy-looking websites today that are failing to make sales.

I have experimented over the last 14 years with various types of website. I’ve built sites that are heavy on images and graphic design, which look great from a visual viewpoint. And I’ve built sites that are minimalist in design, with the focus on the written word. The evidence shows in most cases, a minimalist website with a great sales message will far outsell a cool-looking design. (The exception is where a website is selling something artistic in nature e.g. a photographer’s website or a site selling flowers. But even in these cases, I’ve found it best to keep the underlying design minimal and allow the works of art themselves to stand out against a plain background.)

With my own website, I have deliberately gone against the current trend. The home page is based around a simple design with a strong written sales message. And it works!

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to website design. A lot is subjective. But the bottom line, always, is this: if you want to sell things on the internet, it comes down to the written word. (Or the spoken word if you are using videos. But ultimately those words need to be first written).

Cutting edge design is great. But the right WORDS will outsell design every time.

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