Few things are certain these days when it comes to building a high-performing website that actually generates traffic and ultimately, conversions. Sowing everything together seamlessly so that your message coincides with value while visual appeal is maintained (vs. compromised) is much more complicated than it used to be. The whole works must satisfy the moving target of evolving SEO and not sound robotic with keywords and phrases. All this while captivating the user’s mind and holding their attention. Oh, and it has to look fantastic on any conceivable device and can’t look too complex but different, yet informati— you get the point. Building a website is a balancing act of art, research and technique. Problem is, pulling it off is generally a three-ringed circus when you do things properly. Heck, it was for us six years ago. So where do you start?
As far as products or services, creating a winning website requires time and investment into learning hundreds of best practices and understanding how to incorporate your creative side in a way that intrigues the viewer towards a decision ending in a sale. It also has to make business sense in that it must take that viewer on a journey of perceived AND experienced value without wasting any gaugeable time in the process. It’s trust-building and problem-solving using value in a nutshell. Get it wrong, and you’ll waste months—sometimes years—of effort and time. Get it right, and you’re just another website with a dry and mundane dog-and-pony that doesn’t solve real problems or clearly incentivize how you do so in the first place. No, to build a winning website you have to establish disruptive and compelling differentiation that stands out with a lasting impression to motivate your viewer towards an eventual sale, but at minimum leaves a warm and fuzzy feeling if they don’t stick around for the finale.
We at Webizyte put together a comprehensive list of critical requirements and practices that we’ve used to successfully generate increased conversions and real satisfaction for our clients over time. Think of these practices as a cheat sheet that helps guarantee you accomplish your mission and grab attention while building trust on your website. This will help you forge lasting relationships with your happy clients as time goes on. This is NOT a spec sheet of technical how-to’s with WordPress, but more of a set of guidelines to observe amidst the technicalities. Let’s get started…
1. Blink, and they’re gone.
First of all, it is critically important to make sure that your viewer first understands exactly what you’re offering (specifically, the problem you’re solving), why you’re the best and why they should do business with you in the shortest amount of time possible. This is your beloved value proposition. We see so many companies that ignore this in favor of some cliché tagline, logicless motto or just nothing, period. Communication is everything.
Now, you used to have five seconds (back in 2017) to convey your VP when your homepage loaded “above-the-fold” before the viewer would lose interest. Then, in 2019 you had just three seconds to get your precious ‘prop across. Now in 2021, you have 1.5 seconds to grab the viewer’s attention and the remaining 1.5 seconds to seal the point before they start demanding interaction or media. It’s not much for fairness, but it’s no news the instant-gratification world we live in demands movement with interaction and entertainment in a very short window. You can thank mobile browsing for this shift— being simple couldn’t be more painfully emphasized here. Keep it clean, quick and to-the-point. Two heartbeats into reading is already too many, too late. It happens that quickly.
2. Colors, consistency, cleanliness.
A theme generates a feeling. A feeling describes further expectations. After all, we buy with emotion. The thing is, those expectations are paving the road towards a conversion of the prospect you so desperately landed on your site. It is VERY easy to take your two or three theme colors and start losing track of things like specific hex codes, opacity, fonts and sizes. Some of the most successful websites we’ve built are the simplest and most basic in theme and format. For most basic websites that don’t exceed a few pages, stick to the rule of One, Two, Three: One font, two colors, three sizes.
Some websites warrant a more comprehensive structure, though if you’re not careful you can easily saturate your design and then you’re threatening to compromise your site’s consistency of simplicity. Your page should be easy on the eyes not only when reading but when skimming and scanning around during scroll. Not to mention, this works wonders for SEO and keeps page loading zippy. And it relaxes your viewer so they’re less exhausted and therefore, stick around longer. Never make your viewer make the effort, even with the little things. That’s all on you.
3. Go Phone or go home.
There was a time when a desktop site was the primary design language, and the responsive version followed suite on a mobile device. Not anymore. In 2021, a whopping 70% of all internet traffic comes through a mobile device—and let’s face it—it’s not on the failed iPad we once looked at as “revolutionary”. Squeezing everything into just 6 diagonal inches (i.e. iPhone 12) has become the new standard while landing leads with a laptop is a bonus, at best. Although it’s ideal to spitball theme ideas with storyboards sized for a laptop screen in the beginning, consider wireframing your mockup for mobile first, then decide how you can expand on that design for the desktop variant after you have something solid.
It’s also a good idea not to side with one version or the other to deliver more or less fluidity. Rather, know your on-screen real estate first. Then, you can borrow more blank space from a monitor later for the desktop version. This method works wonders for us in building performance-focused websites simply because it’s more efficient in practice; it’s easier for our developers to streamline the design, thus less time is required and ultimately means our clients save more capital since it doesn’t take as long. So it’s a win-win for investment and design consistency to prioritize mobile before desktop in most applications.
4. Back the backend.
What the world can’t see is just as important, if not, more. One of the biggest go-to strategies for just about every major web development agency is to cram as many websites onto one webserver environment (or redundant auto-scaled stack) as possible. This is fine until four of those 100 shared sites go viral and everyone in the world starts hitting them at thousands of visits per day. Then, all websites in the system will gradually slow down and drop loading speeds since overall performance will be reduced. The reason for this? It’s cheaper. This is one reason why you DON’T spend a couple bucks on a cheap build-your-own-website platform that promises ease-of-design but doesn’t address specific performance indexes. In our case, we saw this far too often during our hay days and so we committed to “one-client, one-server” at inception.
We’ll typically deploy a Linux “t3-small” server via AWS (which powers all we do under the sun) to start. If the client has a requirement for heavy media or already has a very ample following, we’ll scale up to a larger machine from there. This is why it’s so important to be flexible with your backend. Also, don’t forget to make sure you’ve got a couple layers of auto-scale redundancy for that one server. For us, the number is typically four machines ready to hit the ground running if need be, but it varies for each client.
5. Work every kink.
This is what will really set you apart from looking like another typical landing page: get absolutely every detail right. You’ve found creative ways to convey your business to the world. You’ve made it look top-shelf professional and cutting-edge from every perspective. You’ve carefully placed CTA’s and elements in key locations. Now, you need to go to work on further optimizing what you’ve already optimized. Then, you optimize some more. Most web design agencies will close the ‘lid once the finished product loads fairly quickly, has an SEO score over 90, an Accessibility and Best Practices score in the mid-high range and has confirmed functionality and responsiveness on every device type with a spelling and grammar check to boot. This is your opportunity to really go the extra mile-and-a-half and squeeze out any tiny negatives, no matter how irrelevant or frivolous they might seem at first.
Dive deep into your code and squeeze out as many inconsistencies as possible. You’re creating the way the world will perceive your brand— OR how they will dismiss it. Sadly, many web developers won’t set aside the extra time for this. This is because the time constraint of heavy spot-optimization is unique to every client website and isn’t easy to standardize, nor predict. For us, it’s fun in a way because it gives us the opportunity to learn something new every time and I’d be lying if I said that flexing an under-promise-over-deliver for a client isn’t a giant confidence booster. It’s passion-driven and being a little OCD only aids in the turnout of what a website really can do. So, if there’s any time to really go crazy with perfection, it’s during the optimization phase.
6. Fire drills.
I mentioned we use AWS for absolutely everything (we also host our sister product—Telescope Task Manager—entirely on AWS). While they are undoubtably the absolute pinnacle of web technology as we know it, even they can have their occasional hiccups. At the time of writing this, just last week AWS had their(first?) major crash in that their entire US-East-1 division data centers experienced a catastrophic halt of all operations.
Now, before you raise an eyebrow at the giant monster conglomerate for dropping the ball on billons of dollars of business operations, know that their systems were only down briefly before their top talent (one of which is a friend of mine) jumped into action and got things running smoothly again. How were they able to do this? Contingencies. Many businesses only have a few layers of them and deal with further depth—should it arise—on the ‘fly. Scary, right?
For us, we like to take a militaristic approach to worst-case scenario situations by planning AND training for the worst. And so should you. Though it has yet to happen in real-world, all of our developers commit to training for a global server crash where the website has to be migrated onto a new, fresh machine and deployed after the URL is moved to the replacement server. We actually make sure any of us can do this individually, with no assistance whatsoever. All it takes is a laptop and about 45 minutes, most of which are just waiting for systems to boot up from scratch. While every website requires routine maintenance (sometimes daily), it’s important to assume the whole works can come crashing down at any moment for any reason, though it is extremely unlikely.
Make sure you backup everything, every time you change anything whatsoever. Make sure your backups are saved in multiple places(including places your clients could access in the event you got kidnapped for a year) and make sure you can restore from a given backup at any time from anywhere. It’s a healthy level of paranoia that your clients will appreciate you possessing and means if the unthinkable happens, you’re prepared to remedy the issue in a very short amount of time. Commit to this, and your clients will periodically thank you for being so focused on preserving the health of their website and ultimately, their business.
7. Analyze, assess, apply.
Usually thinking of “AAA” means calling your boss to explain why you didn’t see that nail but there’s no way you can make it to the meeting now. For us, it’s a daily practice that helps ensure constant improvement of a given website. Make sure you set up everything from Google Analytics (which should go without saying in 2021) to heat maps and focus hard on the metrics you receive. Using any of these over-the-counter tools can prove crucial for constant improvement and page performance. Simply coasting with major updates isn’t enough— you want to always be bettering your website so that it’s conceivable that each quarter will outperform the last. You might discover your viewers tend to prefer one CTA over the others. Or maybe they spend time reading a particular paragraph and THEN take action in your favor.
Determining this is very easy and means you can confidently hone-in on improving conversions month-over-month. Those who “set and forget” a website for six months at a time tend to fail because, by the time they jump back on the bandwagon to investigate their findings, it’s already too late. Then, rather than playing catch-up, it’s more prudent at that point to just start from scratch. You can see how this is a giant flush of precious time spent on initial design. Obsolescence is a killer every time. Make sure you’re always keeping an eye on what your viewers are doing, how they’re doing it, when, where- all the angles. It can mean a timely game of trial-and-error but it means you can weed out guessing and actually learn from your viewers’ interaction in real-time.
8. Additional marketing matters.
Simply setting up a new FB page and linking to your website isn’t enough to throw at a funnel, although it’s one of the vitals. In addition to setting up camp (depending on your audience) on major platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Tik Tok, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram, paid advertising on any of these can be a good way to turbocharge your outreach as long as your website is already completely optimized. I say this because there is a very large amount of websites that fork over their kidneys just to direct prospects to a page that hasn’t been optimized on every plane, nor is fully responsive. This is sort of like putting bicycle tires on a Ferrari. If it’s in the budget, you can test the waters on a few of these platforms for a few hundred dollars to gauge if you have an effective outlet of prospect generation or at the very least, awareness. Setting up Smart Leads on Google, for example, can hit A LOT of people in specific areas of specific interests each day.
We always offer these options to our clients after about two initial months go by(post-launch). That way, their sites have been completely indexed by search engines and they have a benchmark for SEO effectiveness and can scale it with paid campaigns from there. The paid route isn’t for everyone, though. Especially if it’s a saturated market you’re trying to grab. For example, this option is almost useless in case of our web development firm since these days everyone and their dog’s cat’s twice-removed step cousin is a web developer. However, some of our clients are in niche markets where a little capital goes a very long way in advertising since competition is so small there. So, consider going the paid route if your budget and industry permit, although always drop your flag first on every major platform to aid in organic exposure before doing so.
9. Keep a competitive eye.
Nothing is worse than complacency. You’d be surprised how many SMB’s will comb through their competition’s best once or twice a year, just to benchmark their findings into a model that’s supposed to counter the competition for a sustained amount of time. Truth is, many of our clients simply don’t make the time to conduct a quarterly competitive analysis. While this doesn’t always mean coming up short, it guarantees missed opportunity.
A responsible web developer plays the role of a light PI on the side. Not so far as corporate espionage but keep track of your competition and what they’re doing every month. You can build a template for comparing and contrasting new ways of staying ahead of the game based on what you see around you. It’s not enough just to monitor their new products or services. Keep an eye out for big things like updated branding, new funnels and upgrades in your competitor’s site graphics and flow. The last thing you want is to appear second in line or be late to the relevance party.
10. Incentivize referrals.
Why every business does not do this, I genuinely have no idea. While this is more of a business pointer than Web Dev 101, it has to be said- pay your customers to get you more. Regardless of what type of business your website showcases, building an incentivized referral model works WONDERS on the web and we have yet to see it fail.
You can certainly automate this process with a membership-based system, but this technique is so scalable when you’re the one in control of what happens on every page. For example, our monthly maintenance fee for updates, research, improvements and hosting starts at $299, but we’ll happily give a month away like it’s candy to those who refer a paying client to us. One month we actually had five referrals from one client, and each of their referrals—now clients—have since referred at least one client to us. When you can freely advertise this on your website, you’re essentially generating your own word-of-mouth business model from existing word-of-mouth. It’s a no-frills compound effect. And it works, every time.
We hope the information provided helps you create beautiful, profitable and high-performing websites— whether it’s for your own or for someone else. Some of these practices may seem a little unconventional, but conventional methods in the virtual world usually get scaled into diluted processes that don’t mold to everyone’s needs. Remember that no two websites are the same and that focusing on the little things typically yield the best outcomes. Also keep in mind that communication is key to expressing your creativity. Operate outside the walls of conventionalism and you’ll become a dangerous developer in the world of web design.
Drop us an email for any questions you might have or for any of your website needs. We’re always happy to help!
Stay tuned for more articles from this blog.