Within the last few years, website design has gone DIY. And while, for the most part, I think that's a good thing, the downside of this is that we've got a lot of well-meaning people doing their best to make a great website…and falling (way, way) short.
For those of you who are doing your best to build a great website in your spare time here is a simple guide to 5 of some of the most widely held misconceptions about what makes a site great. Oh, and by the way, the pros fall prey to these myths too!
- You're writing to people who care. The fact is, you are NOT writing or selecting photos for people who love you or support your work or even buy your product. Your website visitor list is not nearly the same as your daughter's wedding invitation list. The people who are coming to your site only care about themselves and the question or problem that led them to search you out in the first place. The people who find your site are looking for relevant information and they have one question in their mind, "Can these people help ME?" With this in mind, your site must provide relevant information quickly, easily and well organized. The people who are coming to your site don't love you enough to put up with boring copy, bad photos, or navigation that doesn't make sense. They'll simply move on.
- If it moves, it must be good. And of course the Part B of this myth, "If it moves a lot, it's even better!" Spinning globes, photos that spin, starbursts that splash across the header, copy that blinks, etc. are a waste of time at best and at their worst can actually drive vistors away. These animations take your page longer to load and only cheapens your message. Stuff that moves on your website sends the message to the reader, "This is HYPE. Be on your guard! We're trying to sneak something past you!" If you feel that your message really does need that extra punch in order to get noticed, maybe you need to work more on your message. Listen, the fact is…CONTENT is still king. Design, color, and navigation are important but WHAT you say is far more important than HOW you say it.
- "Under Construction! Please check back!" Don't you hate that when you go to a website and you click on a page and find this message? You hate it and yet you don't think it's so bad when you are doing your own site! Let's put it this way, let's say you check in to a nice downtown hotel on your next trip. You walk into your room and are impressed with the appointments. Nice comfortable bed, beautiful cabinetry, lovely drapes, great flat-panel T.V. Then you notice yellow tape across the bathroom door and a sign "Under Construction! But we'll be finished with this project next week!" Well, good for them. But that doesn't do much good for you! The fact is people won't come back to your site. Do you really think that they'll jot that down on their desk calendar to check back on that page in a week or two to see if it's finished yet? And I'm sorry to say that I have checked back on sites and know for a fact that pages have been "under construction" for over a year. Not good. If you have a page that's under construction don't even make it active. Don't allow visitors to that page until it's ready to go live.
- Logical, linear construction. That is, when you diagram the website it will look much like an organizational chart. In other words, the home page at the top. Then the primary navigation in a row under that. Then the secondary and so on, where the diagram resembles a pyramid. Nope. Your web site diagram should look more like well…a web. There are many entry points to your site. Not everyone is going to enter by the front door, nor should they. The magic (for marketers) is that you can create unique landing pages that cater to the relevant information of those seeking certain information. In the camp/conference center industry you could have a landing page that really focuses on your kids summer camp programs. Another separate page (with the same look and feel) that focuses on your year-round retreat ministry. Maybe another Spanish language page or a page for your banquet facilities. Then you can direct Google searchers to those specific landing pages based on the key words. That way visitors to your site are going directly to the page they've searched for instead of trying to navigate their way to that page from the home page. First time visitors to your site won't give you that many clicks.
- Have lots of photos of happy faces! Don't get me wrong. I love photos of happy faces. And those are a lot better than photos of sad faces! But it's true that a picture is worth a 1000 words. So make sure that the photos are telling different stories…all with the same theme. The constant theme is this is a place where people are happy, fulfilled, satisfied and grateful. But the different stories focus on the ministry, the lodging, the meals, the activities, etc. "Party pics" (photos of people posing and smiling for the camera) are okay, as far as they go. But remember whether you're selecting photos or writing copy, you should SHOW and not merely TELL. Photos that SHOW how people are having fun are far more powerful than party pics that simply TELL us that these people are happy.
Remember, your website is out there, living and breathing on the web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It's speaking about you when you're not around. You want to make sure it's doing a great job and speaking well and not telling a story inconsistent with who you are. Don't buy into the myths!