I hate to break it to you.
But just like with dating, when it comes to designing (or redesigning) a website for your business, it’s about more than just good looks.
But if that site fails to convert any of your traffic into actual leads or sales, then it’s ultimately just a big waste of time and (cyber-)space.
Now, don’t get me wrong––looks are important. People have an innate bias toward beautiful things, perceiving them as “better” than less-beautiful or downright ugly alternatives.
They’re just not the most important thing to consider when it comes to a business’s website.
Customers don’t make buying decisions based on good looks alone. That’s why having a clear, strategic design is so important.
What Is Strategic Design?
According to Dmitry Fadeyev, writing for Smashing Magazine:
Strategic design is the fusion of your organizational goals with every aspect of your design process. You aren’t simply designing a user interfcae that looks good and is usable and accessible. You’re designing an interface that will help you accomplish your organization’s objectives.
In contrast to the “aesthetics-first” approach taken by so many designers, strategic design is all about identifying the primary goals of your business and then using those goals to inform the entire design process from soup to nuts.
It’s about understanding that, while things like color theory, typography, and image selection are all key ingredients in an effective website, they should always be treated as subordinate to an overarching strategic goal. They aren’t ends in themselves.
So with that in mind, here are five strategic design points you’ll want to use in your next website project.
How to Implement Strategic Design
1. Decide on your overall business goals
The first, and most important, step in planning an effective website strategy might also be the most obvious:
Determine both the short- and long-term goals of your business and what your website needs to do in order to help you fulfill those goals.
In other words, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with this new website or redesign?
Is it to completely overhaul my entire brand identity to attract new customers, or pivot into a new market?
Is it to increase sales of my new product?
Is it to book more sales calls through my website?
Let’s say, for example, that an important short-term goal for your business is to increase revenue by X% over the next quarter. Toward that end, some of your website’s goals could include:
Increasing traffic to a specific product (or sales) page,
Increasing the number of subscribers to your email newsletter, or
Increasing conversion rates on your Home page.
It’s also worth mentioning that your goals don’t need to be as numbers-driven as these.
Maybe you’ve been attracting the wrong sort of clients on your sales calls for the past couple of months––clients who either can’t afford your services or just aren’t (for whatever reason) a good fit for your program.
In that case, your goal might be to better align your business’s brand and positioning strategy with what your ideal client is looking for.
And your website would then serve to project this new brand to visitors, ensuring that the people who do eventually convert into paying customers are a perfect fit for what you have to offer them.
Without taking the time to seriously consider your business’s goals, you won’t have a clear sense of direction about what your site needs to accomplish––or how it ought to be designed. And you might then fall into the trap of spending weeks building something that looks good but fails to perform.
(Or worse, something that looks bad and also fails to perform.)
Understand Your Audience
Socrates’s famous maxim was “know thyself.”
But if he had been a businessman, Socrates might have instructed his followers to “know thy customer” instead.
Again, this might seem like an obvious step. But it’s also incredibly important and shouldn’t be overlooked, because your target audience will have a profound impact on determining both the overall design and function of your business’s website.
Much of this determination will be drawn from key demographical information like age, sex, occupation, income, and level of competence with technology.
For example, you (hopefully) wouldn’t approach designing a website for a children’s daycare center the same way you would approach designing for an investment bank––for the obvious reason that each of these businesses serves a different demographic and therefore has a different target audience.
So how to go about determining your target user––or what we, in the design world, call a “user persona?”
Start by writing down a description of who you want to serve. This might be based on a person you know in real life, or someone you just make up.
Really get into the nitty-gritty here. Ask yourself:
How old is she?
Where does she work?
What problem is she looking to solve?
What does she want to learn, or expect to see, on a website like mine?
The goal is to end up with a detailed description of the exact sort of person you’ll want to attract with your website. By going through this process, you’ll hopefully come away with a much deeper understanding of that person’s current frustrations, goals, and what information they’ll need to make a decision about whether your business is the right solution to help that person reach their goals.
Know thy customer, and save yourself a lot of potential headache in the long-run.
Map Out Your Sales Process
The prettiest, most high-tech, business website would be completely useless if it failed to actually move its visitors through the sales process.
So before you get too far in the weeds of designing and developing your site, it’d be a really good idea to map out just what that process looks (or should look) like.
You’ll want to create a complete visual representation of your potential customers' buying journey––one that includes everything from how your customers will initially learn about you (whether organically through content marketing and social media, or via Facebook ads), what they should do after landing on your Home page, and how they’ll eventually make a purchase from you.
One useful framework to keep in mind during this process is the famous AIDA Model.
The name is an acronym, and it stands for: attention (or awareness), interest, desire, and action. These four steps represent the four primary stages that buyers typically pass through when making purchasing decisions.
Consider which stage of the process your potential customers will have likely reached by the time they stumble onto your website, and you’ll have a clear understanding to what exactly they need to know in order to move forward and hopefully do business with you.
Understand Your Users' Barriers to Buying
This step follows pretty closely from the last one.
As you map out your sales process in the previous step, take a moment to brainstorm all of the possible concerns that your users might have along the way––concerns that might keep him from ever making a purchase.
These could include everything from the price of your product or service, concerns about your expertise, or worry about whether your offer is truly the best thing for him at this point in his life or career.
Stuck? Here’s a useful exercise in uncovering some of your potential customers' objections:
Comb through all of your social media pages, email correspondences, and sales call logs in order to determine the few most commonly-asked questions from past leads.
Are they asking about your experience? Your competency? Why you charge so much for what you do? The specifics of your offer?
This will help you decide which questions and objections you’ll want to clearly address on your website.
For example: If one of your ideal customer’s biggest concerns is the price of your service, you’ll definitely want to take some space to explain in detail every single thing that your clients will stand to gain from doing business with you, and why the value you deliver far outweighs the price of admission.
If their main concern is your past experience, then you’ll want to make sure that your work history, case studies, portfolio, and testimonials are all prominently displayed on your website––perhaps with previews on your Home page, so they won’t be missed.
Know What Your Competitors Are Doing
You can really learn a lot from the other people operating within your niche.
If you haven’t done an in-depth analysis of your primary competitors in a while, then you might be surprised at what you find.
Put together a list of three to five key competitors (any more than this will become overwhelming). Take a look around their websites, and try to step into the shoes of your ideal customer while evaluating them.
Does this website focus on a single business objective? What is it?
Is it meant to attract the same (or similar) customers as my website?
How effective is this website at guiding users through the sales process?
Does this website give me a clear understanding of what this business offers and who it helps?
If I were a potential client, would I want to do business with this person based on their website? Why, or why not?
After you’ve done a few of these, you’ll start to get a feel of what it’s like to be a user on your own website. And you’ll understand what other users will want to see (and perhaps more importantly, what they don’t want to see) when they come to your website.
This can be a very powerful exercise for gaining clarity on your website’s needs, as well as what your users' expectations.
That’s why every single one of my design projects begins with a comprehensive competitive analysis, which we use to develop a clear strategy for building upon my clients' unique strengths and positioning while also capitalizing on shortcomings in the market.
Without a strategy like this in place, it becomes far too easy to lose track of your goals and simply mimic aspects of competitors' websites just because they look good or appeal to you––rather than taking the time to consider how (or whether) they actually fit into the overall purpose of the project.
Some Final Thoughts
Creating, or redesigning, a website for your business involves so much more than just building something that looks good––although that’s certainly one piece of the puzzle.
To get the most out of your website design, you’ll want to take a holistic approach that encompasses your entire business strategy, including both short- and long-term goals.
By taking a step back and assessing these goals, the behavior patterns of your ideal customers, as well as the strengths (and weaknesses) of your competition, you’ll be able to much more effectively align your website and business for success.
It may seem like a pretty big undertaking, but I promise it’ll be well worth it in the end.