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DIY Website Design - Part 1 (The Problem)

Mike Jr (MJ) on May 17, '21

Posted in Branding, Design, Marketing, Business

If you are a small-to-medium business looking for a tool to build yourself a website, you're in luck! The platforms for assembling good-looking, up-to-date websites keep getting better. Providers like SquareSpace, Wix, Weebly, WordPress (and dozens more) have created the super-widgets for business owners to quickly build a website for the world to see. And for those who enjoy dabbling in design, these tools offer a ton of creative capability.

But if you look at many websites for small businesses today, there doesn’t appear to be a significant leap in the quality of sites overall. Sure, most look more cohesive, but some stubborn problems still persist, even in spite of all the great tools and widgets on the market.

Why have DIY design tools failed to bring about a new golden age in small business websites?

Possibly because a tool cannot answer the bigger, deeper questions that every business owner must ask before they go to market.

Access to a design tool doesn't make one a designer, any more than access to a kitchen makes one a chef.

Tools and Apps Aren't the Problem (or the Solution)

We all appreciate good tools; the diversity and innovation among design platforms is very positive for the web (IMO). But when we look to a tool to solve a problem it was not designed to solve, we are likely to get frustrated or experience mixed results.

a random collection of tools

Tooling isn't the problem, content is.

Most website building platforms do a great job at helping business owners solve simpler problems, but they come up short in the following areas. You see:

We’re living in a hyper-entrepreneurial, do-it-yourself economy that urges you to get started fast. Yet few businesses make it in the long haul. How few? Only about half of small businesses survive passed the 5 year mark. Beyond that, only about 1 in 3 small businesses get to the 10 year mark and live to tell the tale (according to this article in Forbes).

Defining the Real Problems

So where do so many DIY small business websites fall short? This is not a complete list, but it represents the types of shortcomings that are very common when speed and ease rush owners past important strategic questions:

Commodity

It's common for businesses to look at their competitors' websites and make a list of what they like or dislike about them. While research and comparison are good things, the danger is that a business may create a "me-too" website without saying anything original or unique about its offering.

Combined with the tools and rapid templates available on the market, the result can be that your site not only sounds like your competitors, but it looks like them too. Ask yourself, "Does my business website do anything more than simply represent the fact that I'm open for business?" If not, then you may be positioning yourself as a commodity.

Ask yourself, "Does my website do anything more than simply represent the fact that I'm open for business?"

Disconnected

Because a website is one of the first things on every start-up's to-do list, it often reflects the concerns and preoccupations of a business's earliest days. A website with disconnected content may be long on vision, mission, and “about us” pages, while lean on products and service offerings.

Disconnected websites also lack a meaningful call to action for customers, other than merely “contact us.”

Ask yourself, "Does my website feel focused inward (on us) or focused outward (on my customers)?" Fortunately, the cure for an inward-focused or disconnected site is simple: do everything you can to fully address what your company does for your customers and why it matters to them.

Foreground the customer’s benefit, and use it to lead them to the actions you want them to take.

Note: It's also easy for inward-focus to creep in when your company takes part in a rebrand. With so much time and effort soul-searching to redefine the brand, it takes real discipline to redirect all that energy into shaping a customer-focused expression of what your newly launched business / brand is all about.

Unnatural Language

The thrill of starting a new company not only can cause customer disconnect, but it can also result in language that feels more grandiose or stilted than it should. The cure is once again placing ourselves firmly in the customer’s shoes, and writing as if we’re speaking to them in real life.

To familiarize yourself with the right sort of tone, look to the big companies like Google, Netflix, Target, and Airbnb—many of whom made their fortunes by making life simpler and easier for their customers. They’ve learned to use language that keeps that promise, and you should too!

Over-mapped

Because website design tools have made it easy for owners to create pages, sections, articles, and more without limit, the ease of creation can result in a site architecture that is too complex. For example:

We highly recommend a content-first approach as many have learned the hard way—more is not always more.

Immeasurable

Challenges with measurement and integration reach well beyond DIY websites. If you want to make this a strength, make sure you think ahead about what kinds of interactions you’ll offer on your site, and how you’ll measure them. Consider, for example:

A website that’s focused on customer engagement and fully integrated with your marketing operations can help you radically improve your strategies and tactics.

Abandoned

You can almost sense an abandoned website when you stumble across it, like a ghost ship on the ocean of the internet.

If you feel like your site has gathered some virtual cobwebs, it's time to add some fresh content to boost visitor confidence.

Is There Any Good News?

If the problems described above have the fingers over your mouse or trackpad trembling, fear not! You're not alone.

The disciplines of design, marketing, and business development have always been a challenge, and they always will be—no matter how many new drag-and-drop tools get announced next month.

There is always an opportunity for a determined company to stand out from the crowd and create a website that actually improves their business. In Part 2 of this article, we will provide some tips on how to do just that, by:

All the tools are there—and they will be ready when you need them. Ready for the solutions? Read Part 2 here.

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Mike Moreau Jr

About the Author

Mike Jr (MJ)

Mike is the creative director at Harvest Media and loves to help clients grow.

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