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There are over a billion websites on the internet. In the chaos of everyone scrambling to be noticed online, instant-website solutions with trendy templates have become incredibly popular.

The result is an overwhelming number of websites that look exactly the same. It can be truly difficult to set yourself apart online without investing a lot of time or money.

You have to be creative when it comes to your website, and not just in the way it looks. Engaging with your audience is more than the colors of your website. It’s about how it works, the way it functions, and how it speaks to your visitors.

In this episode, we’ll be talking about how to look at your website with fresh eyes and craft a meaningful, memorable, and engaging experience for your users.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Your website is the central hub of your business.
  • Your website is an expression of how you’re going to treat people when they come in the door.
  • Think through your goals.
  • Make sure your messaging is clear.
  • Efficient communication is better than over-communication.
  • Create hierarchy—a visual or systematic approach to presenting information to people in a certain order.
  • Make complex things simple if you want to win.
  • Analyze your own behavior, what you like and what you don’t like on a website.
  • Think mobile first.
  • Hire a web designer or a developer if you can’t make a good website yourself.
  • Don’t sacrifice speed for an interesting-looking presentation.
  • Focus on your niche and your audience, not on what’s popular.
  • Remember that people around the world will be visiting your website.
Show Notes
  • 03:23 Cory: These are some points we thought of for creating a good website experience that goes beyond, “Oh, this is a really nice website,” but actually achieves goals. We talk a lot about achieving goals on this podcast because it’s really important. If you’re trying to accomplish something as a brand, you need to make sure that you have specific goals and that all of your actions are designed to accomplish those goals. When it comes to your website, that’s where most, if not all, of your audience is going to connect with you, especially if you’re global.
  • 04:13 If you’re running an online business or brand, pretty much everyone is going to interact with you digitally. They’re going to be going to your website, sending you emails, and connecting with you on social media. Even if you have a physical location, a brick and mortar or a store, the primary way that people are going to connect with your brand is online. That’s the way the world is right now. That’s the way the world is going. Whether or not they end up in your store, if you have a physical location, you have to think through what you want your website to accomplish and how you’re going about designing it or having someone else design it to accomplish those goals.

Why a Good Website Matters

  • 05:03 Kyle: A website is so important. Over time, they’ve grown and evolved to become the place that most people go first and foremost. I still remember a time when websites weren’t that predominant, and it was a rare and interesting novelty for businesses to have a website. More and more, having a website is very important.

Your website is the central hub of your business.

  • 05:44 So many places are starting to do business solely online instead of having a brick and mortar store, and so many brands rely on a website as their “brick and mortar” location. Way too often, I see that overlooked. A website doesn’t feel as tangible. It doesn’t feel like a place that people walk into, where they should be able to smell the air, see the products, and experience anything. It’s this disconnect between the digital and the physical. I’m excited about this episode, because we’re bridging some of those gaps. We’re connecting the digital world to how you would actually experience things if you went to a store or a place of business that had a physical location.
  • 06:47 Cory: The last time I went to get my hair cut, I went to Google and I typed in something like “hair cutting places.” There was this barber shop that I knew of, that was actually fairly close to me, and I wondered what their times were. It had a website, but there weren’t any times—just a phone number. Maybe this goes to show how lazy I am, but I thought, “Why should I call and get the hours when I could just swipe and go to the next one and see if there’s someone else that has open hours?” That’s the mindset of the internet.
  • 07:33 I want to be able to pull out my phone and get the information that I need. When we were younger, you would pull out the yellow pages, the phone directory, find a company or a business that you wanted, make a phone call, and get your information. It’s all about how you’re distributing the kind of information you want your customers to have so they can help you accomplish your goals, whether it’s getting a sale, getting them through the front door, getting a survey filled out, or getting their email address. There is information and content you have to produce to get them to that end goal. Just like Kyle said, that’s where the world is now and it’s heading more and more in that direction.

It’s important to have an engaging and goal-achieving website experience so you can convert the right people in the right way.

  • 08:39 Kyle: There are so many upsides to this. Even restaurants, where you have to go to them to get your food, they have to deliver it to you, or in some physical way they have to interact with you to get food to you, are increasing the quality of the experience on their website. They don’t do it because they need to to get sales or because they can digitally deliver food, but because people are searching for that. People want to go to the place that appears to give them the best experience. A lot of companies, especially those that are mostly reliant on their storefront, their physical location, miss out on this. Your website is an expression of how you’re going to treat people when they come in the door.
  • 09:40 In Cory’s example of, “You don’t have your hours on your website, so why should I have to call,” what’s happening is that Cory has to jump through hoops to get this information that other people are providing right there online. They’ve taken the extra time to put their hours online, to make sure people know what their business is, what they’re about, and what their hours are. The perception is that this company doesn’t care that much, even though they may be the best in town. They don’t have this information available to me, and these other companies do.
  • 10:23 Cory: We’re in a fast-paced world. You have to keep up.

Know Your Goals

  • 10:30 Cory: Before you begin any sort of web design or you start talking with a developer, think through your goals. What do you want your visitors to do? When someone goes to your website, what do you want them to do? Where do you want them to go? What do you want their final action to be? What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want the person visiting your website to accomplish? You have to think through your goals. What is it that you’re trying to get done through your website?
  • 11:02 Kyle: Think through why you want people to do these things. Go beyond what it is that you’re offering and think about why you’re offering that. I’ve thought a lot lately about my “why”. On my website, currently, it talks about quality icons, etc. Most people aren’t that excited about quality icons. Someone who’s not a designer doesn’t necessarily see that and think, “Let me look at their icons and see how high quality they are.” They want something that achieves goals, that moves them forward.
  • 11:50 I’m still thinking through a lot of this, but I’ve thought a lot lately about what my “why” is. Why do I want to do this? That brings people into your website with an understanding of why you’re doing anything you’re doing there. You’ll see this at physical retail locations. Maybe they’re outside offering free samples, and they basically say why they’re offering these samples or why they make the best food in town. They lure you into an experience.

Consider why, how, and what you want people to experience.

Communicate Clearly

  • e035 Why Your Messaging Is Chasing Away Leads and How to Fix It”>12:46 Cory: Make sure that you have clear messaging. We went through messaging in a recent episode, so we won’t spend too much time on it (Related: e035 Why Your Messaging Is Chasing Away Leads and How to Fix It). Make sure that when people are going to your website, they can actually understand what you’re saying. It doesn’t make any sense for you to come up with hip and trendy slang that only you can understand or words that only experts in your field can understand if the person you’re trying to convert doesn’t understand it and ends up leaving. Make sure that your messaging is clear.
  • 13:20 Kyle: A great example of this is Apple. I think this applies in multiple areas of this list, but this one probably makes the most sense. Let’s say that you have an iPhone and you go to Settings. Instead of saying Global Functionality Settings, it just says General. Maybe for them, on the technical side, it’s called something specific, but you’re making it easy for people to read. You’re making it very clear for them, and you’re not making them jump through hoops. In the last episode, we talked about not making customers jump through hoops to give really good service.
  • 14:11 Part of that is being clear with what you’re talking about. I think we’ve all experienced this to some degree. I know I’ve experienced this. I start interacting with a company—car dealerships are a great example—and they use a term you don’t understand. It’s expected that you understand it, and it makes you feel inadequate in some way, even if they go back and explain it. It’s another barrier between you and them and feeling like they want to take care of you and can speak at your level.
  • 14:51 Cory: That’s all a power play. If you can assert yourself as the one in charge, the one who knows everything, you might make a sale because the customer thinks, “Oh, they must know what they’re talking about.” There are better ways to make yourself known as the expert, and part of that is knowing how to have clarity in your messaging so you can actually have conversations with people who are going to be your customers, who are in your audience.

Don’t Communicate Too Much

  • 15:39 Cory: Too much information is actually a turn off. I have to be careful about saying this, because there are a lot of websites where there isn’t enough information. There are also too many companies who are putting everything about themselves online with huge amounts of text. They say, “Here, go to our About page,” and it’s massive, with no visual hierarchy, it’s all just a block text that I copied over from Microsoft Word… There’s an overbearing level of terrible quality pictures and this over-communication.

You need to have the right amount of information.

Efficient communication is better than over-communication.

  • 16:43 Just because you have everything about your company ever doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to help people. You have to put the right information in the right context so that people accomplish the goals you want them to accomplish.
  • 17:00 Kyle: There is value in having those things available. I think of it in layers, and this applied to our next point.

Create Hierarchy

  • 17:12 Kyle: This means that you create a visual or systematic approach to presenting information to people in a certain order. That’s how I’m going to describe it. Even with information on your site, you can still put all of the information up that you want to have there, but present it in a way that’s optional for people. Maybe they go to your About page and they see generally who you are and what you’re about. It’s a decently sized About page, but there are links to learn more about specific things. That’s fine. If they want to go do that, they can.
  • 17:58 If they don’t, they’ve learned everything they want or need to, and they can move on with their day. It’s the same as with blog posts and other content that you create. Those are optional reads. You don’t have to go through and read every blog post on a site. You can pick and choose the information, even though there’s a lot of information there. Information is a good thing, but the way you present it is really key.

Analyze Your Own Behavior on Websites

  • 18:41 Cory: Figure out what you like experiencing and, specifically, what you don’t like. For instance, there are a lot of news websites that I go to that have auto-playing videos for whatever reason. Kyle, do you have a calendar app on your phone? Could you open that up and, right there at the top, it should let you know what year it is. What year is it?
  • 19:10 Kyle: It says 2016.
  • 19:12 Cory: It’s not 2005 anymore? So auto-playing video and audio isn’t cool anymore? It’s super lame when I go onto a webpage and some video takes over and starts playing sound that I didn’t ask for. That’s not okay.
  • 19:39 Kyle: The worst violators are pop-up things. There is this one website I have to go to sometimes for the back end web development stuff for my site. I have to go there for documentation stuff. They have such a lag on their pop-up. You scroll, you’re reading, and you’re halfway down the page of this article when this pop-up doesn’t just show up, but it flies in, swings, and does this weird animation. It flies in out of nowhere. I don’t read it, so I don’t know what it says even though I’ve seen it fly in front of my face 20 times. I don’t care about whatever they share. I don’t even want to go to that site unless I absolutely have to.
  • 20:44 Cory: Kyle’s talking about pop-ups. We’ve determined that it’s not 2005 anymore, so is this AOL?
  • 20:54 Kyle: This is a GeoCities. I typically see them most when I’m on Netscape and I’m going to GeoCities, but occasionally, I go on Internet Explorer and there isn’t a pop-up, but there is the little shoveler guy. It’s the under construction guy, remember him? That’s also a terrible experience, by the way. Don’t put your site under construction. Please don’t include the highway workman that says, “This site is under construction.”
  • 21:36 Cory: Let’s be real. This is what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about conversion rates. Everyone says, “But I have a pop-up and I have 6,000% conversion,” or, “I have an auto-playing video, so I get 6 million more views per video!” At what cost? What perception? If people are going to your website every day and they’re getting a pop-up, what if they’re on your list already? That’s one I hate—when I’m on someone’s list and I go to their website, and it says, “Hey, sign up for my list!”
  • 22:12 I think, “I’m going to block your website and I’m going to unsubscribe from your list.” Stop! All of that being said, if you like it and you think it’s beneficial for your audience, then go for it.

If you don’t like it, don’t subject your audience to it.

  • 22:35 These are things that Kyle and I don’t like. Some other people might really love them. Maybe they love the fade effects, the zooming in, the making-it-look-like-it’s exploding effects… You know those buttons where it says, “Yes, I love learning new things,” or, “No, I hate kittens and I want them to die.” That’s the worst. I hate your website and I want your website to die. I know we’re being a little bit facetious, but I want you to consider this.
  • 23:21 Analyze your own behavior, what you like and what you don’t like on a website, and with the things you don’t like, don’t subject your website visitors to those things just because you read a blog somewhere and some guy told you that you would get 1,000 more newsletter subscribers from bots because you have a landing mat on your website. You know how sometimes you go to a website and it scrolls down to this big, full screen thing where you can sign up for the newsletter? Guess what? I’m leaving. I don’t know anything about this website, and it’s asking something of me already.
  • e014 The Numbers Don’t Matter”>24:03 Kyle: Be careful of numbers. I know we’ve talked about how numbers don’t matter (Related: e014 The Numbers Don’t Matter). They don’t really matter, and you don’t want to be blinded by statistics and analytics. Let’s say that someone goes to your site, it auto-scrolls to the bottom and takes over their entire screen, and they can sign up for your email newsletter. Let’s say that more people do it than would if you didn’t force them there. Most people will notice something you put in front of them more than they notice something they have to come across themselves.
  • 24:48 That’s just logical. Of the people that sign up for it, do they really care about your brand? Do they care about your newsletter? Did they sign up because they thought they had to to get into your website? Are they going to unsubscribe later? Do they care at all about anything you share? Are you paying for the amount of subscribers you’re sending your newsletter to just for the numbers’ sake and because it looks good? There are so many oversights from these things that give you better conversion rates. If I stand in the middle of the food court in the mall and yell about how everyone should try my hot dogs before they move on through the mall, I’ll get more people trying my hot dogs, but are they ever going to come back to my restaurant?

Think Mobile First

  • 26:19 Cory: A lot of web designers and developers talk about designing mobile first, and that means that you create the experience for what people are going to be viewing on mobile before you start designing what it’s going to look like on desktop. When responsive design first started coming out and people started using the internet on their phones more, it was all about, “How do we make what’s there already fit on a phone?” It’s not even just about thinking mobile first, it’s about thinking mobile. Everybody’s on their phone. If I want to get a haircut over at Woody’s, I’m going to go on my phone to check for the hours and the phone number.
  • 27:05 Everyone is on their phone. Don’t just make a website and hope it looks good on a cellphone. You need to make a website for people who are quickly browsing on the road. You also need to make a website for people who are quickly browsing. This is the whole issue of what they’re seeing the first five seconds of being on your website. If it’s terrible and it doesn’t work on mobile, they’re going to swipe back.

You have to think mobile because that’s the way the world is right now and the way the world is going.

  • 27:34 Kyle: I wouldn’t recommend browsing on the road.
  • 27:38 Cory: Please don’t do that! Only if you’re not driving—if you’re in the side seat, you can browse while you’re on the road.
  • 27:49 Kyle: That’s an oversight by a large majority. Another compelling reason to think mobile is that Google ranks sites higher and gives them priority in search results if they are accessible on mobile, that are responsive or able to be viewed on a mobile device in a clear way. There is actually an incentive on top of the fact that your customers or clients will have a better experience. This incentive is the aspect of being found, of getting attention for your brand.
  • 28:48 Cory: Hire a web designer/developer. If you’re not a web designer or developer and you need to make an investment because you want to create a great experience and you don’t have the knowledge to do that, you may need to hire a web designer or a developer. That’s just a tip. If you don’t have the ability to create a great website experience and you want to get on, don’t do that. Build up some money. Get some capital, and hire a web designer or a developer.
  • 29:35 Kyle: If you don’t know who to hire, send me an email.

Don’t Make People Think

  • 29:57 Kyle: This is very similar to making sure your messaging is clear, so I’m curious what Cory’s differentiation is.
  • 30:04 Cory: The more that people think when they’re on your website, the more time is going to pass. The more time passes, the less likely people are to actually do something on your website. Don’t make them sit there trying to figure out this hip and trendy phrase you wrote. I went to a website two years ago that was super artsy, where you had to hover your mouse on the screen to try and find some hidden button, and then it had some big design and you could click there to go to the next page. It was so miserable.
  • 30:59 I couldn’t figure out if it was a joke or a statement, but I hated it so much. A lot of people look at this and think, “Maybe if I install all these really cool plugins…” Don’t make people think. They need to know exactly where to look, exactly what you want them to do, and be able to accomplish that. I like to say, “Can a child use your website and buy your product with their parents’ credit card?” That’s a great question to ask. Can a child do it? If not, what can you do to ease the process for the child thief?
  • 31:46 Kyle: It’s not saying that people are unintelligent or can’t use something that’s complex, but why would you want them to? Why would you want to make someone work harder to figure out who you are? Look at the big picture here. I don’t know how many websites there are on the internet, but there are a lot, and there are a lot of websites in your field. For one person to land on your site and see your content and your sales pitch is a very rare thing. As you grow, it will be less rare, but the point is that someone is coming to your site. They’re there, they’re ready to know who you are, and then you’re going to throw this massive amount of information at them. There’s no need for that.

Simple doesn’t have to mean dumbed down.

If you can make the most complex things simple, you’ve won.

  • 33:06 Cory: Then a simple person can understand. I hesitate saying this, but I’m going to say it, because this is my show. I say this to people who are trying to work on their copy, their website, or their newsletter, and they say, “I don’t understand why this is so complicated and I can’t seem to make it work.” I say, “Write for stupid people.” You need to write so that it’s easy for somebody with less than average intelligence or somebody who doesn’t follow your industry.
  • 34:29 Kyle: We mentioned this earlier when we talked about clear messaging. You could dive deeper into the hierarchy of information. Keeping it simple means that somebody could go to your site, see what you do, understand what it is, get through it quickly, and have at least a decent level of understanding in a fairly short amount of time. Peoples’ attention spans online are so short.
  • 34:58 There are other things they can do. There’s social media stuff going on. There are all these other things people could have their attention focused on. If you can bring people in in a short amount of time and help them understand what you do and what you want them to do, they’re much more likely to get on board and start learning more about your brand over time.

Speed Is More Important Than You Think

  • 35:40 Cory: You need to have a fast-loading website. I see people adding plugins, or you start on one platform and it links you to another platform or another thing that has to load, you have these crazy Javascript and Parallax effects, but people want to get in and get out. They don’t want to be sitting there, loading your custom scroll bar, because you thought it was cool. They care about accomplishing what they set out to accomplish. You don’t need to have all this fancy stuff. You can, as long as it amplifies and accelerates what you’re trying to get them to do.
  • 36:22 They don’t care about all of that stuff as much as you do. I promise you. You’re the only person who cares about all of the cool effects on your website. Make it simple. Make it fast. Make sure that people who are on a 3G connection or an older connection on their cellphones while they’re out on the go can load it, and it doesn’t take two minutes to load your website. Speed is important.
  • 37:08 Kyle: There are certain things I think you have to provide, though. Retina, high-definition images are pretty necessary nowadays. There are ways you can speed that up and make that a better experience, and I’m guilty of not doing that everywhere. I should. It’s important to make sure your presentation is on par.

Don’t sacrifice speed for an interesting-looking presentation.

  • 37:43 Cory: If you don’t know how to do retina images, learn how to do it right. There are plenty of tools out there to help you with that.

Focus on Your Niche & Audience, Not on What’s Popular

  • 38:13 Cory: Don’t try and make a website that everyone will love. Make a website that’s efficient for your audience.
  • 38:22 Kyle: Everybody has a different audience, so what works for somebody isn’t going to work for another. Maybe the site we talked about that was annoying to navigate has a target audience that finds some sort of interesting messaging in that. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s a complete waste of time. Prioritize the things that give people a good experience in your audience. I can’t think of a reason, but let’s say that your audience likes to see Parallax effects on your site. If that’s part of your goals, make it a priority and cut something else out that’s going to be a reduction of the experience.

People Around the World Will Be Visiting Your Website

  • 39:36 Cory: The internet is global. This may not be necessarily 100% relevant to your personal situation, but you have to remember that people from all over the world are going to be visiting your website. Depending on your audience, you may have a global audience, people from different cultures, backgrounds, lives, and perspectives on things. Remember that. Some of that goes into what kind of imagery you use, what words you use, whether you provide translations, and what you’re doing to cater to the people who are going to be visiting your website.
  • 40:20 Kyle is probably the biggest proponent of this for obvious reasons, but that’s why iconography and illustrations are so important. Imagery can cross language barriers. Kyle and I have talked about various airports I’ve been to around the world that don’t only have the word you need. Let’s say you are heading for Terminal B or you’re trying to find the bathroom—all I have to do is look up and find the image, the icon for the toilet, and I know that’s where I need to go. Iconography is universal. There is a language of imagery that you can use in addition to your words, so keep that in mind.
  • 41:26 Kyle: That’s the thing that fascinates me so much with icons. In a way, they are their own language. Certain cultures and people in certain lifestyles may perceive things differently, but across the board, in general, icons are pretty universal. If I show an envelope, most people will associate that with email, mailing, sending a message, or contacting someone. There are all these things that you can associate it with. Part of the beauty of icons and illustrations is they take on their own meaning. They become whatever word you would like to describe them as or whatever action they represent.
  • 42:20 Like the sharing icon, for example. For me, it might be a sharing icon. For you, it might be a send-this-to-somebody icon. Most people don’t verbalize these things, but we have certain attachments to certain icons. We call them something in our head or we consider them something, and it might be different than someone else, but at the end of the day, everything leads to the same path.

Use restraint with how much you’re using icons and illustrations, because too many icons on an interface can make it difficult and confusing to navigate.

  • 43:12 Cory: Ultimately, that goes back to point number one. Before you get started, think through your goals. What are the goals of the icon? What are the goals of the copy? What are the goals of the website as a whole? Think through those things, and as you start to pick and choose what you want to write and the type of imagery you’re going to use, you can filter it through that perspective. Filter it through the goals so that you have the right outcome.