On the surface of it, websites seem like simple things. You type in a URL and you get a home page with a few links to specific content. If it is that simple of a site, it should be simple to set up and create, right?
The quick answer to that question is yes. However, that doesn’t mean you will have a useful, productive or successful website. Many tools exists that allow you to create a quick and cheap website. For example, you can get started with a business website with Squarespace for as low as $18 per month. Wix and Weebly are other common DIY website builders.
While deals like that sound great and cheap, they come with caveats.
First of all, this deal requires you to design the website. You will have to make design decisions such as colors, fonts and layout. Tools like Squarespace give you the ability to drag and drop elements and customize some sections, but you are limited to options Squarespace provides. In other words, you are already put in a box.
Additionally, when it comes to design, there is a whole science around usability and user experience. Industry standard gives about a second or less for users to understand what your site is about and what the structure of your sites navigation is. After that, users will start dropping off to move on to some other site that may be easier to use. Let me repeat that. You have a second or less to communicate what your site is and how to use it. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as there is so much competition for users attention on the web.
Combine that with internet users have a short attention span, and the odds are stacked against you. There is also a whole industry built around web advertising. You may have an awesome engaging website, but if you cannot drive traffic, it’ll be a waste.
Web advertising can fall under a number of different specialties, all of which will have an impact on your website’s design. For example, search engine optimization (commonly known as SEO) is the strategy of structuring your website to be friendly toward search engines such as Google and Bing. If these search engines cannot "crawl" your website and understand it, you might as well be invisible on the web. SEO also has a number of "off site" strategies such as building links to your website from other websites. Search engines like to see your site referenced elsewhere on the web.
But in order to make those links valuable, the reference on the other website has to be aligned with the content on your site. A whole treatise can be writing on the subject of SEO. Furthermore, your site will need some strategic planning. Does it align with your business needs and objectives? Where does your website fit into your sales process? What is it exactly that you want your visitors to do? Contact you? Buy something on the site?
Sometimes these do not have obvious answers. You will have to try, fail, repeat and optimize to find success. This is a process which requires well-designed experiments. Many books have been written on the topic of analytics. A common strategy is A/B testing. This is where you send some users to one design or experience (called A) and send others to a different one (called B). Then you compare the results. This can take several rounds of testing. Think of it like going to the doctor to get glasses. Which is better? No. 1 or No. 2?
I was able to just scratch the surface of what complexities can lie in creating a website. In some cases, you really don’t need to overthink your website. For example, I most likely wouldn’t recommend going above and beyond something like Squarespace or Wix for a small local nonprofit. However, again you should ask yourself, what is your objective and is just throwing a website online really all you need to do to achieve it?
Brian Boyer is the managing partner of Web Pyro (http://?www.webpyro.com) located in Wooster.