How to Avoid This Huge Mistake on Your Website


Waaaaay back in 2005, when I began my humble communications career at Pfizer, I discovered the horrifying mistake so many people make with their websites.

In the 13 years since then, I’ve been intimately involved with ~40 different website designs and launches. From the client side and the agency side. I’ve also had my hands in many different content management systems - ones you’ve never even heard of!

(Like, if you ever worked with RedDot - EMAIL ME, LET’S BOND.)

So you can imagine my shock+horror when I see websites committing this major sin.

HOW is this still happening in 2018? When there have been so many PSAs about it?

People are still paying for websites that “look good” but don’t “work good"!

The problem with pretty? Pretty doesn’t always work. And if your website doesn’t work, then it doesn’t matter.

Your business’s success depends on more than a good-looking website

Ideally your website will do two things: look good (aesthetics) and be functional (useful and easy to use).

The problem comes when looking good is prioritized over working good (well).

Here's an an analogy.

For 4+ years I wrote site copy and blog content for a firm that designs kitchens using major brands. What people don’t know is that “kitchen design” does not mean “making a kitchen look pretty.”

No, kitchen design is about arranging the cabinets and appliances in a way to make it easy for the cook to work. For example:

  • If you don’t leave enough room around the refrigerator door, you won’t be able to open it.

  • If you don’t add countertop support panels, your countertop will collapse.

  • If you put cabinets too close together at a corner, the doors will bang into each other and/or you won’t be able to open the doors.

Many of my client’s customers would come in with architectural blueprints, or requests from interior designers—and they were unusable.

(That’s crazy, right? You’d think an architect would know these things. But no, this is really common because it’s a separate discipline.)

If your kitchen is pretty but you can’t cook up some macaroni and cheese in it...what’s the point?

THIS is how you get a website that leads to business success

Understand that the most important person in your world is your site visitor, not you.

The Obsession Eleven framework is relentlessly focused on prioritizing your audience. Want someone to be obsessed with your business? Start by being obsessed with them and what they need from you.

I really like how Gerry McGovern talks about it. Your site visitor comes to your site to accomplish tasks. What is their top task? The most important thing for you to do is help them accomplish that task.

For example, if you have the misfortune of needing a plumber, your burning (or flooding) task is to find their phone number so you can call them. The last thing you want to do is dig around looking for that number! If you can’t find it quickly, you’ll look for another plumber.

Thinking about your audience, what do they need from you? And how does that vary by page? How does all of it work together?

How to pick a web designer who knows what the hell they’re doing

I’ve had the HONOR of working with many talented as f*ck designers over the years.

But, like all of us in the customer service industry, we’re at the mercy of “the customer is always right.” And in that case, good web designers can end up making a bad website - because the customer told them to.

So these are my guiding principles for working with a web designer to get a truly successful website.

#1: Find a website designer you trust.

Trusting your website designer will save a lot of agony, heartache, and time on both of your parts. The #1 sign you don’t trust your website designer? You start telling them what to do. “Get rid of this button, I want a circle, make it purple.”

The great part about having a website designer you trust is that even if they don’t get it right out of the gate, you feel confident they’ll get it right the next time. (Provided you give good feedback).

Obsession Recommendation: Two website designers I’d trust with my life are Evan Leah Quinn of SixteenJuly (she designed my website and I’ve hired her for my clients) and Rachael Kay Albers of RKA ink (I’ve worked on projects with her and I’ve seen her brilliance in website design and internet marketing firsthand).

#2: Find a website designer who knows, uses, and stays on top of the shifting trends of user experience (UX) design principles.

What makes a web design “good” is constantly evolving. Find a website designer who stays on top of user experience (UX) trends. That slider on your homepage worked in 2010, but not in 2018. People used to hate scrolling; now they hate clicking.

I usually vet a web design professional by asking questions like, “What design trend is going the way of the dodo?” Or, “What do you think of homepage sliders / typewriter animations?” or, “How much copy is too much copy for my website?”

#3 Approach your website designer with questions, not mandates.

Actually this works for most creative professionals - including me! Say you get your first design draft and you don’t like it (boo!).

Instead of saying “My homepage is my welcome mat to the world so you have to list all of my services there” or “I really like this flipping box effect on, just do that,” try asking:

  • I’m concerned people won’t understand what I do. Do you think people realize my business is public relations, and not marketing?

  • The most important part of this page is for a site visitor to click this button. How can the design help that happen?

  • Why did you [do this thing]?

  • What do you think about using a typewriter animation on my Services page?

Questions work better than mandates because 1) it’s more respectful of their expertise and 2) you’ll learn things that inform your online marketing down the road 3) you’ll be the center of attention at every party you attend (you should hear me talk to the host about their kitchen design, wowee).

Don’t settle for pretty. You’re too good for that.

Next time I’ll talk about the best way to use words on your website. Bet on it.

Jenn Whinnem