Design Archives - Jesse Thomas Design
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How to Find the Best Photos for Your Website

The right images are imperative to your website. Images set the mood, they deliver the first messages received by visitors to your site, and they communicate important subtle ideas about your business and product.

If you’ve paid for a nice website theme or even custom development, you’ll want to maximize that investment by having outstanding photos on your site. It could be very well be the difference between your website looking professional vs. mediocre.

So let’s dive into the details on how to choose the best photos for your website and what you should expect in terms of cost.

How much do website photos cost?
Your cost for website photography can range anywhere from free to thousands of dollars.

Stock photos are a popular choice because they are a low cost option. There’s a seemingly endless number of stock photos on websites such as iStock, Shutterstock, CreativeMarket, Getty, and many others.

Searching through all these options can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack, especially if you’re limiting yourself to free stock photo sites. Given how important images are to the look, tone, and first impression your website makes, it is often worthwhile to spend a few hundred dollars on quality stock photos rather than limiting yourself to the free images.

However, beware of bad stock photography. The wrong images can turn people off and lower the trust and credibility that visitors have for your business.

How to choose the right stock photo
First, let’s talk about the images you don’t want: Photos look like stock photos.

You’ve seen them on other sites: The plastic-looking people don’t appear authentic, or the style of photography has been overused by marketers. When people can tell you’re using stock photos it may subliminally suggest the following:

  • This company is as fake and insincere as their photos
  • They’re just like everyone else (generic)
  • They didn’t invest much money in their website photos, so the quality of the products and services might not be very good either.



The trick to successfully using stock photos is find images that don’t look like stock photos. Characteristics of these photos may include:

  • Unique and interesting-looking people
  • An artistic style or feel
  • A different way of photographing a common subject



Here are the steps to choosing a great stock image for your site:

  1. Consider what idea needs to be communicated – Ex: Low prices on sweaters
  2. Brainstorm a list of visuals that might express that – Ex: Smiling people in sweaters, or a rack of sweaters
  3. Search on the stock photo site of your choice using keywords – Ex: “Sweaters,” “Smiling people in sweaters,” “Rack of sweaters,” “Holiday sweaters,” etc.
  4. When you discover images that fit the tone of your website and the idea you want to convey, save them to your lightbox or favorites. (You’ll need to be signed in as a user to do this – most sites let you set up a basic account for free).
  5. Review your favorite images in the context of how they’ll be used on your site. For example, if you’re finding an image for a homepage slider and you want text in the image, where will the text go? (If you love a certain photo but aren’t sure if it will fit into your site design, check with your website designer – they may be able to find a way to make it work.)
  6. Choose your image and download a comp – this is a free version of the image that has a watermark on it to prevent theft. Your designer can place this temporary version of the image into your site layout so you can see how it looks. You can do this with several images to try them out and compare.
  7. Once you’ve decided which image to use, purchase and download the highest-quality image available (in case it needs to be resized or cropped).



When to hire a professional photographer
In some situations, you may not find what you need from the stock photos out there and may want to hire a professional to take custom photos for you.

You should hire a professional photographer if:

  • The subject matter is custom – Ex: You have a unique product
  • You have a unique idea to communicate or…
  • It’s important to your message that your photography have a specific or custom tone.



Done well, custom photography can help set your apart from your competitors.

With both custom and stock photos, you may or may not be able to use the photos in other marketing materials – check the licensing terms in the contract if you think you might want to use a photo beyond this single use.

What NOT to do
We’ve all got cameras on our phones these days, so it may be tempting to think you can just snap some hi-res photos of your products yourself instead of hiring a professional photographer. Let me strongly caution you against this. Here’s why:

The art of taking good photos isn’t in the camera, it’s in setting up the shot. Lighting in particular is very hard to get right, and often requires special equipment. Framing the shot, setting up a flattering background, making the colors pop – these are all skills that the pros know and most people with an iPhone don’t. So unless you’ve got training as a photographer, leave it to the professionals. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

Photos matter
When I design websites for my clients, I take great care to use the right photos and illustrations for every project. I hope you’ll do the same. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like my help to create the best image for your business.

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How to Save Money on Website Development

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when creating a website is that they begin the development process too early. They hand over a half-baked set of ideas to their website developer at the beginning of the process, then are understandably upset when the result isn’t what they wanted, and then weeks of triage coding ensue.

In this series we’ve already covered 8 steps that you should take before doing any programming whatsoever. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.
  • Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE. Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, the customer you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.
  • Step 3 – State your MESSAGE. Focus on one key message. This requires discipline that few people exercise, which is why you can use it to set yourself apart.
  • Step 4 – List the necessary ELEMENTS. A necessary element is one that will make your website incomplete if it’s not there. Listing these items will give you and your website developer a better sense of what type of website you need.
  • Step 5 – Create a MIND MAP. Brainstorm a list of things that represent your message, especially concrete, visual things.
  • Step 6 – RESEARCH designs with similar goals. Spend some time on the web identifying sites you like and want to emulate, and competitors that you want to differentiate yourself from.
  • Step 7 – Create THUMBNAILS. Thumbnails are small sketches that are the first visual representation of your website. Use them to play around with different design ideas.
  • Step 8 – Create ROUGHS. A rough is a larger, more detailed version of your thumbnail sketch that indicates what content is going where in your final design.

Now I can understand if you think that after the roughs are done, then it’s time to move on to the development stage. We’re almost there, but not quite. There are two more steps that can save you big bucks if you do them before getting a developer involved.

Step 9 – Create COMPS
This is the stage where your design really comes to life. Once you’ve gone through all the other planning steps, you’re ready to create the desired design using design software, like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. This will allow you – and your developer – to know exactly what your website should look like before going through the expense of developing the site.

This process typically does require a design professional, or at the very least someone used to working with the design software. Coding is relatively difficult to make changes and adjustments to; it’s easier and faster to make tweaks in design software. You may want to try out different colors, experiment with fonts, and play around with other details in order to perfect your design, and that sort of experimentation is much more economical at the design level than at the development level.

If designing in-house, you may start your design from scratch or start from a template that includes all of your desired elements.

You can start the comps stage even if your website copy isn’t ready yet. If your design requires a lot of content that isn’t available yet, use “lorem ipsum” as placeholder text – click here to get placeholder text you can easily copy and paste into your layout.

Step 10 – Show your design in CONTEXT
Once you’ve got a comp you’re happy with, you’ll want to view it in the desired space. With a website it’s important to look at your comps in the browser to get an idea of what the site will look like when it’s finished.

You can do this by creating an image (jpg or png) of your comp and dragging it into a blank browser window. Make sure it is sized to the correct pixel width and height in order to accurately reflect what it will look like. (You may have to click on the image to zoom in to full size.)

Get a feel for what the comp looks like as you scroll up and down. Put yourself in the mindset of a first-time visitor to the site and think through what their experience will be. Is it easy to find what they’ll most likely want? Is anything important missing? Is it clear what the next steps are?

Use this experience to further refine your design. Again, it is much easier to make key changes to your design before starting development on your site than it is afterwards.

Get the website design template
If you’d like to receive my free website design process template that walks you through all the steps in this process, subscribe here.

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The Simple Sketches that Could be Worth Big Bucks to Your Business

Today we’re going to talk about sketching thumbnails and roughs. Now, before you protest, “But I’m not an artist!” let me reassure you that there’s no artistic skill required. And it’s definitely worth your while because spending a little time doing these two things can save weeks of development and redevelopment time and thousands of dollars on your website project.

This is Part 5 of my 7-part series on how to create the website you really want, on time and on budget. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.
  • Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE. Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, the customer you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.
  • Step 3 – State your MESSAGE. Focus on one key message. This requires discipline that few people exercise, which is why you can use it to set yourself apart.
  • Step 4 – List the necessary ELEMENTS. A necessary element is one that will make your website incomplete if it’s not there. Listing these items will give you and your website developer a better sense of what type of website you need.
  • Step 5 – Create a MIND MAP. Brainstorm a list of things that represent your message, especially concrete, visual things.
  • Step 6 – RESEARCH designs with similar goals. Spend some time on the web identifying sites you like and want to emulate, and competitors that you want to differentiate yourself from.

And now, on to the next step two steps…

Step 7 – Create THUMBNAILS
Thumbnails are the first visual representation of your website. They’re small sketches that are quickly drawn without any need for skill – think of them as the stick figures of design. Their purpose is to give a basic overview of what will be needed on a page.

Your primary goal with thumbnails is to think through the process of what visitors on your site will see when they get there, the best way to portray your message, and how you’ll move the visitor through the necessary information to your call to action.

Sketching thumbnails for your website home page can save you tons of time because it gives you direction on what is needed (and what may not be needed).

I often make thumbnail sketches while I’m doing research on other websites, because what I see there gives me ideas for the new site I’m working on.

If you’re wondering just how small and how quick your thumbnails should be, I do mine about 2×2 inches and each one takes about a minute.

Step 8 – Create ROUGH DRAFTS
A rough draft is a larger, more detailed version of your thumbnail sketch that indicates what content is going where in your final design. It is typically a half-page to a full-page in size.

On a rough you’ll indicate where key elements go such as your logo, headline, navigation bar, blocks of text, photos and graphics, footer elements, etc.

It’s much quicker, even if you are not skilled at drawing, to sketch a rough draft of your design with pen or pencil than it is to move elements around on a computer. Even experienced designers find it faster to sketch out roughs on paper than on the computer.

A rough provides an additional opportunity to test out your plans. Sometimes the layout that we have in our heads doesn’t work quite the way we thought it would when it’s down on paper. It is much less costly to find this out from a sketch than after you’ve paid a professional a lot of money to design it on the computer.

It’s a good idea to sketch a few different versions, especially for your home page, so you can think through various the options for what you want the final page to look like. Do you want a big image slider dominating the home page that features products? Do you want your latest blog entry on the home page that shows off your industry knowledge? How will the call to action stand out against the other elements you have on your home page?

Play around with how much information you include on the home page and how much you push back to secondary pages. What would your home page look like if you only focused on one message and call to action, instead of trying to squeeze in everything you think is important?

Also think about what content is “above the fold” – the top square area that people will see on first glance without scrolling. You may sketch out the full page in a rectangular sketch, but the top square is the prime real estate – put what matters most there, especially your call to action.

Experimenting at the roughs stage is inexpensive, so this is the best time to do it. In fact, this is one of the biggest ways to make sure your website project doesn’t go over budget.

Just imagine designing and creating a whole website only to find that you were missing a key element that should have been thought through from the beginning, and which will require changing the whole design to properly incorporate… This kind of thing happens, don’t let it happen to you!

I typically do dozens of thumbnails and a few different rough drafts to find the right arrangement of elements.

After you’ve got a rough that you’re happy with, you can pass it on to your creative professionals (web designer, photographer, illustrator, etc.) with your notes on it. This will help insure that you get the design you actually want right from the beginning.

So what are you waiting for? Get sketching! It’s easy when you remember you’re not trying to win any art prizes. And yet, it could save you big bucks on your website project.

Get the website design template
If you’d like to receive my free website design process template that walks you through all the steps in this process, subscribe here.

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The Simple Research that Will Help You Leap-frog Your Competition

One of the biggest reasons that companies redesign their websites is so that they can stand out from other websites and draw traffic (and sales!) from their competitors. But how do you make your site impressive enough to leap frog the competition, especially if you have a smaller budget? A little research and planning at the beginning of your website design process goes a long way.

This is Part 4 of my 7-part series on how to create the website you really want, on time and on budget. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.
  • Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE. Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, the customer you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.
  • Step 3 – State your MESSAGE. Focus on one key message. This requires discipline that few people exercise, which is why you can use it to set yourself apart.
  • Step 4 – List the necessary ELEMENTS. A necessary element is one that will make your website incomplete if it’s not there. Listing these items will give you and your website developer a better sense of what type of website you need.

And now, on to the next step two steps…

Step 5 – Create a MIND MAP
Mind mapping is a brainstorming process where you list things that represent your message. Write down everything that comes to mind, especially visuals. If it’s on your mind, write it down.

You can use a notebook, write on a white board, or type it into your computer notes app – whatever you feel most comfortable with. Some people do their best thinking out loud, so they could record it on an audio recording device using their smart phone or computer.

The idea here is to use your stream of consciousness to discover hidden things that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise that may evoke feeling and communicate with your audience.

Here’s an example: What do you think of when the message is “We have the best price and selection on sports apparel”? It could be something like this:

  • teams
  • logos
  • variety
  • jerseys
  • hats
  • football
  • strings
  • storefront
  • discount signs
  • % off
  • clothing racks…

 

Visuals are important because they communicate quicker than words do. Showing me a picture of the food on a menu is going to tell me more about whether or not I want it than a list of ingredients would.

Step 6 – RESEARCH designs with similar goals
This step involves looking at other websites for two purposes:

  1. Sites you want to emulate
  2. Sites you want to stand out against

I appreciate it when a client sends me websites that they like, especially in their particular industry, because it quickly narrows down the look and feel that the client wants, so I don’t have to try and read the client’s mind (which is time-consuming and frustrating on both sides). And hey, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, right? I can take a look you like and customize it to your company.

Additionally, I always research what my client’s competitors are doing with their websites. My goal here is to see what they are doing well that we can emulate, and also to look for opportunities to do a better job.

People will judge your site based on what they’ve seen at competitor’s sites, so those sites are a good starting point to know what kind of baseline expectations people will have (do all of your competitors have online ordering with free shipping?), and to see where their site is frustrating visitors (difficult to navigate, key info is hard to find, etc.).

You can look at what they are doing in terms of technology, design, and messaging, and come up with strategies to make yours just as good and better.

Is their website slow to load? Make yours the fastest.

Is their shopping cart very user friendly? Make sure yours is too.

Is their homepage cluttered with too much content? Focus your home page copy on one clear message and call to action, with big eye-catching photos in a slider.

Whatever your particular message and audience, there are likely other businesses with similar goals and offerings. Rather than starting from scratch with your website design, take an hour or two now to survey the online landscape you operate in for ideas to emulate and to stand out against.

Get the website design template
That should be enough to keep you moving forward for now… If you’d like to receive my free website design process template that walks you through this process, subscribe here.

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The One Thing That Can Set Your Website Apart

Today I’m going to reveal how to choose the message that will make your website stand out from the competition… it’s so simple, and yet very few companies take the time to do it (or even know they should).

This is Part 3 of my 7-part series on how to create the website you really want, on time and on budget. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.
  • Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE. Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, the customer you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.

And now, on to the next step two steps…

Step 3 – State your MESSAGE

People usually want to include as much information as possible on their website. Big mistake. This creates clutter and confusion.

It’s better to communicate one thing that is remembered than to say five things and have them all forgotten. In other words, your website makes a better billboard than a novel.

The message is not a headline, but rather a singular statement or concept that you want to make sure gets across to people.

Your message is the one crystal-clear idea that speaks to what your visitors want, and that comes from your goal. That way the customer gets what they want and you get what you want – that’s the sweet spot.

It’s critical to think this through before you start creating your website because people are busy, they will only give your website a few seconds and if they don’t find what they’re looking for they’re going to leave… and probably go to your competitor’s website instead.

You need to hook them right away with a message that appeals to their needs, and drives them to take the action you want.

Here’s an exercise you can use to come up with your message:

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience – your very best type of customer. What is the most urgent problem, question, or desire they will most likely have when they come to your website? Write it down.
  2. What can you provide or direct them to that will solve their problem, answer their question, or satisfy their desire – or at least get them on the path to what they want? Write down the answer, or brainstorm a list of possibilities.
  3. Think about what you want them to do to get them into your sales funnel. Do you want them to buy an entry-level product? Sign up for a free consult? Download your mailing list lead magnet? Sign up for your weekly specials email?
  4. Compare your answers from steps 2 and 3. Look for an overlap – something you want them to do that will get them on the path to a solution to their most urgent need or desire. Stay focused. You don’t have to sell everything you have during the first interaction.
  5. Now create a message statement that quickly points them to the solution and call to action.

Here’s a practical example of this process in action. Let’s imagine that our company is a restaurant that’s trying to attract more lunchtime customers from the nearby business park.

  1. Audience is bored with the usual lunch options, looking for something new, preferably close by and affordable.
  2. You can provide lunch specials that have been affordably priced and can be ordered online in advance for quick pickup.
  3. You want them to try out your lunch specials.
  4. Call to action: Sign up for email list to get a 50% discount on first lunch order.
  5. Message: Tasty, affordable lunch options nearby

Here are some other examples:

Audience: DIY robotics makers looking for their next fun project.
You provide: Microchips and technology kits.
You want: Them to go onto your mailing list so you can sell them the supplies to make the projects.
CTA: Sign up for the newsletter.
Message: Creative DIY robotic project ideas delivered to you monthly – Sign up now

Audience: Homeowners searching for unique furniture to fit a special need or style.

You provide: Custom wood furniture and carpentry services.
You want: Them to call and so you can sell them custom furniture.
CTA: Call now for a free estimate.
Message: Quality custom furniture crafted just for your home. Call for your free estimate.

 

Once you feel that you’ve nailed your message, share it with everyone on your website development team – this message will be communicated through headlines, images and content throughout your site. Consistency is key.

With that laser focus in mind, the next step in the process is to list the necessary elements for your website.

Step 4 – List the necessary ELEMENTS

An element is any single thing that is included on your website. It’s wise to list everything – even the obvious stuff like navigation and contact info, to be sure that no important detail is missed.

Listing these items will give you and your website developer a better sense of what type of website you need. It’s a good idea at this stage to revisit the question, “What do users need from my website?”

Here’s a list of some of the elements that might make up your website:

  • Logo
  • Images
  • Header
  • Navigation
  • Footer
  • Buttons
  • Forms
  • Map
  • Product pages
  • About page with bios
  • Blog
  • Social media connections
  • Contact info
  • Search function
  • Slider
  • Text
  • Videos
  • FAQ
  • Testimonials

 

Once you have a preliminary list, segment the list into necessary and optional elements.

A necessary element is one that will make your website incomplete if it’s not there. Having too many elements can create a distraction from your message. Not having the necessary ones will anger users who come to your website and can’t find what they need.

Optional elements are those that you’d like to have, but aren’t absolutely critical. This gives you some flexibility in the event of time or budget constraints, and indicates where you can cut back if the site starts to look too cluttered.

Get the website design template

That should be enough to keep you moving forward for now… If you’d like to receive my free website design process template that walks you through this process, subscribe here.

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Attract More Customers with Your Website

Welcome to Part 2 of my 7-part series on how to create the website you really want, on time and on budget. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.

 

And now, on to the next step…

Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE

In order to get the results you want from your website, it’s critical to build your website for the people you want as customers.

Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, who you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.

How to identify your target audience

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who are your best customers?
  • Who uses the types of products and services you offer?
  • Who is not purchasing from you that should be?

 

If you don’t already have one, create a profile of your ideal customer. What are the characteristics your best customers have in common?

Take into consideration demographics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Profession
  • Location
  • Income level
  • Level of education

 

And because you need to connect emotionally with your website visitors, your audience profile should also include psychographic characteristics (“psycho” as in psychology, not psychopathic). What are their:

  • Desires
  • Fears
  • Frustrations
  • Values
  • Technological savvy
  • Sources of influence

 

The most important psychographic characteristic to consider is this:

What do they urgently need that you have a solution for?

With both demographic and psychographic characteristics, focus on the things that set your best customers apart from everyone else. In other words, you don’t have to specify where they’re located or their technological sophistication if those factors are irrelevant to what sets them apart from non-customers.

Take a look at other websites that meet the needs of the same type of person you’re targeting. Consider what colors, verbiage, features, CTAs (calls to action), etc. they use to connect with the same audience.

Using your audience profile to design your website

Once you know who your ideal user is, you can design a website that turns those users into customers.

The understanding you have of your audience will influence such decisions as:

  • What headlines will be most effective
  • What the main call to action is
  • Text to visuals ratio
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • The tone of the copy
  • How much information to give them before you ask them to take action
  • What information to give them
  • Preferred contact methods

 

Just as you’ve built your business around the needs of your customers, you want to create a website around the needs of your users.

Not considering your audience will turn people away from your site, attract unwanted “problem child” customers, and be ineffective in meeting the goals that you want to accomplish with your website.

Get the website design template

Ready to get a real website? Subscribe here to receive my free website design process template that you can implement as part of your own website development plan.

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The #1 Way to Prevent Website Development Disaster

You’ve heard the horror stories of website development, and maybe even suffered through one yourself in the past – development processes that drag out forever, go way over budget, and/or don’t yield the desired results.

I have a tried-and-true process to avoid those nightmares and instead deliver to clients the website they really want, on time and on budget.

This is the first in a 7-part series where I’ll give you an insiders view of how I do that… so that you can apply these same best practices to your website development process.

Step 1 – State your GOAL

The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. Some possibilities include:

  • Get subscribers to sign up
  • Have people email a request for your services
  • Sell your product or service
  • Share your phone number
  • Showcase your work
  • Direct people to your storefront
  • Educate customers and prospects
  • Showcase your brand
  • Entertain

 

You may have multiple goals, and that’s fine, just make sure you identify one of them as your most important goal. This will allow your website to clearly point people to the most important destination. Without a clear singular direction, website visitors may be confused and take no action at all.

This is a critical first step in website development because it allows your designer to create the optimal site structure for that purpose. For example, if your goal is to have someone sign up for your newsletter, you wouldn’t want to have the same website as someone who is offering a product.

Get crystal-clear on your goals and share them with your developer

I can’t stress enough how important it is to share your goals with your website developer so they don’t create something that doesn’t help your business. No matter how great they are at their job, they can’t read your mind.

Which leads me to point out something that may seem obvious but still needs to be said: Make sure you are clear on what your goals are before you talk to a developer. If you haven’t yet nailed down what your basic goals are, hold off on creating a website until you are sure.

The goal for your website will come out of your larger overall marketing goals. A website is not a miracle solution – it can’t solve problems that stem from lack of clarity on marketing strategy.

However, when you are clear on your overall marketing goal, a website is a great tool to help you achieve that goal and is an essential part of most modern marketing plans.

What is the problem you need to solve?

It’s good to think of a website as a solution to a problem. If you can figure out what your problem is, then you are on your way to discovering what type of website will solve your problem.

What do you need more of?

Do you need more leads coming into your marketing/sales funnel? Do you want those leads to be calls, emails, or subscribers?

Are people coming to your website ready to buy and you just need to direct them to the right product? Or will they need to learn more about you and what they do before they’re ready to make a purchase decision?

Do you need better brand awareness? If so, how are you positioning yourself against the competition? Will your website be the landing place for a strong social media push?

Do you need prospects who are more qualified/educated? If so then you should direct them to an FAQ or other informative content before sending them to your contact information to request a quote.

Always start with the end in mind

Failing to consider your goals from the start will leave you with wasted time, energy and money, and lead to frustration for everyone involved in the project.

Knowing the number one thing you want visitors to do when they come to your site will set you on the path to getting the website you really want.

Get the website design template

Ready to get a real website? Subscribe here to receive my free website design process template that you can use to implement this process for your own website development plan.

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All I Want for Christmas is a New Website

Do you ever look at your website, painfully aware of its shortcomings, and wish that Santa could bring you a new website for Christmas?

If Santa were a website designer, here’s the list of what you’d ask him for:

  1. Great images. Forget those poorly used stock images. Santa would only use photos that create a real connection between you and your customers.

  2. A beautiful slider. Slides lead users through your content, and although people don’t always wait for the next slide to come around before they click on the link they are looking for, it’s a simple way to showcase what is available on your site.

  3. Negative space. Don’t crowd every page with as much information as possible. Books have margins and so should websites. The more space there is around something the more important it looks to the viewer, so if there are one or two main things that you want to get across, make sure there is plenty of space around those elements.

  4. Well-written text. Copy on a website should be brief and powerful, not long and clunky. It should flow easily and inform and direct users.

  5. Compelling headlines. Websites make better billboards than magazines. The headlines for each page or slide should make it very clear what the content is and entice people to read further. If it’s a simple About Us page or Contact Us page, they can just be informative and simple, just make sure it’s easily visible.

  6. Modern fonts. There are a ton of internet fonts out there that have been created primarily for use on the web. It’s subtle, but people will be turned off if there are poor font choices or the fonts that are chosen aren’t what they associate with modern websites.

  7. Products/Services. Make it clear what you’re selling. That shouldn’t be an afterthought.

  8. Benefits. Once you’ve identified what your products or services are, make sure you make it clear what the benefits are.

  9. Trust builders. These could be news publications that have featured your company or product, logos of businesses you’ve worked with or testimonials from customers. After people determine that you have what they want, they’re going to look to see if they feel you are trustworthy before they purchase your products or services.

  10. Calls to action. Each page should have a main call to action, with a button that is easier to click than any other. It could be to download a product, contact you, sign up for your newsletter, etc. A page can also include secondary calls to action.

  11. Multiple ways to contact. Make it easy for potential clients to reach out to you using the method they prefer… Social media channels, phone numbers, email addresses, even snail mail.

  12. An About Us page. People are often going to your website just to find out more about you or your company. Make that an easy step. Your About Us page should just have a couple of paragraphs about who your company is and how you do business. Make it easy for people to know if you are who they’re looking for.

  13. Simple navigation. Navigation should be easy to spot but not in the way. Make it clear and as simple as possible – you want people who come to your site to be thinking about your products and services, not how to find what they’re looking for.

  14. Search function. If your site is more than five pages or if you have a blog, a simple search function will help reduce frustration with your site. A lot of times that’s the first thing people look for because that’s how they are used to finding things on the internet.

  15. Mobile friendliness. Over half of all the web searches are on mobile devices. If your website is not formatted for mobile devices then you’ll miss out on half of your audience.

If Santa does not bestow a new website on your business this Christmas, no worries – you can reach out to me, his humble elf, to give you everything on this list! Call or email me with your personalized wish list.

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How to Make Sure You Get the Right Website

A myth that a lot of people have about the creative process is that it’s mysterious and unpredictable. They hire a creative professional, give them a vague sense of what they want, then cross their fingers and hope that the artist’s creative whims result in something they like.

In reality, the creative process can be a professional endeavor focused on your business needs. While the creative process isn’t always as straight-forward as, say, a math problem, there are still certain best practices that can be employed to make sure that you get the results you want.

A great website developer wants to build a site YOU like. In this post, I’ll share steps you can take to ensure that you are happy with your new website when it’s done.

1. Start with a plan that details the goals, audience and message you want to convey. 

The more clear and specific you are in your plan, the less guess work the designer has to do, and the closer your website will match your expectations. Writing down exactly what you want will also help you get clear on anything you haven’t fully thought through yet.

2. Do market research to find out what others in your industry are doing right (and wrong).

Examples of other sites you like (and don’t like) can save a lot of time in the design phase because it narrows down the possibilities from “my website can be anything” to “my website needs to be like this but not like that.”

You might like the layout and color scheme of one website, but prefer the way information is organized on another site. A third site might have the best shopping cart experience.

And knowing what sites your customers will be comparing your site to is very helpful in making sure that your design trumps the rest. After all, your site isn’t competing against every site on the internet, just those of your competitors.

3. Think through the user experience. 

What’s the first thing you want a prospect to notice when they come to your site? What information must be on the home page? What links do you want them to click on?

Map out all the information you want to deliver to your audience, and in what order.

4. Share your goals with your website designer and keep them focused on your customer.

Beware of decisions that make sense from a convenience or aesthetics standpoint but which inadvertently make the site harder for the customer to use.

5. Keep the design aligned with your brand.

There are a lot of really cool, beautiful designs out there, but not all of them are a good fit for your brand. Be honest with yourself here.

Give your designer copies of other marketing materials you use so he can get a sense of your brand.

And keep in mind that your goal is a modern website – not from the 90’s and not futuristic.

6. Make sure the website design and structure works well for your content. 

You may love a certain design, but if your content feels shoehorned into it, it just won’t have the same affect, and you’ll end up disappointed.

Tell your designer what aspects of the design you are really drawn to, and ask if there is a way to modify that to fit with your content and user experience needs.

7. Keep your content short and make your images compelling

Website visitors have short attention spans, so when creating copy think of it like a billboard. Focus only on key ideas on the main pages and then let click through to other pages (like an FAQ) for more in-depth details.

Images are really powerful, especially in today’s modern designs, so use great photography & images to get your ideas across. Quality images combined with powerful copy can make even simple designs feel sophisticated.

8. Review and approve the design before you go into development. 

It’s a lot less costly to make changes before development begins. Making sure you’re happy with the design before production starts also helps keep the project on schedule.

Here are some tips to constantly keep in mind as you go:

  • Keep it simple
  • Consider what you want users to do
  • Use great photography and copy to get ideas across
  • Make the navigation as easy as possible
  • Don’t make people think too much
  • Keep your goals in mind

 

Web design is a professional process that entails considering your goals, audience, and message, then creating a design that leads people through the information you want to deliver.

A well thought out plan from you
+
A website designer who wants to turn your vision into reality
=
A website you love!

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Authentic graphic design

Graphic design is a “tricky” business. The specific goal is to visually communicate with an audience using a combination of imagery and language. Pretty straight-forward.
But based on what we see in the market, it appears as though the main goal of a designer or advertiser is to mis-inform, trick or appear to be something that they are not. A pristine stock photo here, ambiguous buzz-words there and pretty soon you have an ad that no one can say “no” to.

Unfortunately for them as advertisers (and us as viewers) that’s not what people are looking for. You may trick some of the people some of the time but what people really want is the truth about whatever you are offering. And the truth is beautiful.

That’s where we come to authentic graphic design. Authentic graphic design uses imagery and a message that connects us with the actual products or services offered.

Authentic graphic design relies on the strength and uniqueness of the whatever is being advertised rather than what is the most popular or most shiniest.

It’s more difficult, requires more thought and less shiny stock photos but in the end everyone gets what they want.

What would you consider to be in-authentic graphic design?

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