Creating and managing your online business requires you to follow the same basic principals of any business - relying on sound Business Strategies. There are however, a few practices that differ or that just are unique to an online business. Here we share our views and experience with you to help you develop a more effective and profitable online business.

How Good Web Design can Create Better Visitor Engagement

At the heart of all good websites is what we see in the design effort. All those brilliant websites you see that immediately impress you leaving their mark in your memory don't happen by accident and they invariably aren't the result of purchasing a template from ThemeForest. Good web design is s a highly valued skill that incorporates not only graphic design skills but a little psychology as well. So how does one actually go about creating a great web design?

What Makes a Great Website Design

Building a website involves a wide range of skills from different professional and in fact we have identified as many as 16 different skill sets that could go into your website from the artistic through to the technical. Not all are required for all sites but there is a core set of skills required to some degree in the construction of all websites. One of these skills is website graphic design.

The ability of your website designer to create an online experience that conveys visually what your business is about, who your market is while reinforcing your brand is at the heart of designing your website. The initial creativity starts out with ideas transferred to paper by pencil. The ideas are a manifestation of what the analyst has identified as being necessary to deliver a site meeting the client's objectives. In this early stage it is all about how the designer sees information flowing within pages, how the visitor is going to be directed to a desired set of outcomes and how easy it will be for visitors to navigate through all the pages in the site to find the information they are particularly looking for.

Incorporating the right imagery, using appropriate fonts with appropriate styling and the careful use of colour, are all essential aspects of a custom web design that your graphic designer brings to the table. Structure of page content and your overall site can make a big difference in how easily your visitors can get to the information they seek and not lose interest.

Design is largely driven by the nature of the client, their branding and their market. In ideal circumstances, all 3 aspects are perfectly aligned. Being as it is and all things not being perfect in the real world, your web designer may in fact need to redefine your branding for the website and may in fact talk to you about your corporate branding as a whole and this does not mean your logo. The style of website that suits one business may not always suit another. It is also important to note that copyright laws cover creative works such as website design so you cannot simply copy the design of another website for your own.

A great example of a rather unique website design can be found at Why does this work well? Simply because it totally reflects the business brand - it is outrageous, exciting, adventurous - everything that the business itself is about. In fact I strongly suggest you visit the site just for the experience!


Do Templates and Themes Have a Role To Play

Of course they do simply because not everyone can justify the fees for custom designing their website. Don't, however, be deceived by the low cost of templates and themes as this is only the base framework of what you web designer needs to work from. So what do you get with a template? Essentially a web designer or developer has made certain assumptions about the nature of the business that the template will apply to. Some are more specific than others but in most cases they are also general enough to include the broader needs of a business. Higher end templates will include a project profile, photo galleries and possibly an online shop over and above the standard mix of pages such as the Home page an About Us, Services, Our Team and Contact page.

Don't get me wrong... we use pre designed templates with our Business Catalyst websites for many of our clients because it suits their needs as well as their budgets. There are however a number of inherent drawbacks in the use of templates or themes being:

  • They are general by nature trying to be most things to most people
  • They still will invariably need to be re-branded to suit the individual client
  • Unless you want to spend a lot more money, customising these templates to suit your specific needs with some of the mcs platforms such as wordpress and joomla can end up costing you almost as much as starting out form a custom design
  • They are generally designed by web developers rather than graphic designers and as such lack the punch of quality design and attention to detail that you would get with a professional design
  • Our experience has shown that templates pay little to no attention to inclusion of Call To Action (CTA) elements which are crucial to any good website
  • Many start looking the same as one another because the developers are keen to get as many templates out as often as they can so as to maximise their opportunities for low price sales.

How Much Flexibility Do Templated Designs Provide

There are some templates available for WordPress sites that make use of addon products to enhance not only the development features, but also your ability to tailor the template themes but this still requires technical web skills not generally possessed by end clients. Many WordPress developers rely on their ability to simply install the WordPress theme into a WordPress website and then insert the content for the client as this does not require a great deal of technical skill. If you wish to change the theme layout or how certain features work within the theme then you need to be sure your web developer has the skills to edit the WordPress theme.

Other aspects of your solution by way of features and functionality are a consequence of the plugins inserted into the site. The quality of these plugins and related security may be something you need to pay attention to.

In the case of our web solutions with Business Catalyst, we only need access to HTML/CSS files that are the very foundation of any website and there is no reliance on third party plugins. Such sites will make use of Javascript code to manipulate information for presentation in your browser. As such, any changes or customisation required can be readily implemented with basic HTML coding skills.

So Is Custom Design the Right Answer

At the end of the day, the design approach you take should reflect your business and how you operate it. If you spend money designing and creating other marketing material then I would be saying that you should probably consider doing the same for your website.

A good starting point we recommend is to set yourself a budget based on how much you are prepared to spend in order to derive a certain value from business generated. Now this isn't exactly scientific as no specific results can be guaranteed however you can approach this as a staged rollout adding features to your website based on performance results. Also, consider that what you are prepared to spend does not have to equate to what you will actually spend.

Forget that this is the internet and all things associated with it. Instead, look at it simply as a business decision. You have to do something for which you need to allocate some budget funds in order that you derive an anticipated result. YOU can estimate the likelihood of achieving that result and thus this can help you decide what the budget should be.

Custom designs will cost an additional $2,500 plus just to create the Photoshop design files. From this the developers convert the images into HTML code, CSS styling code and images that all go together to create your web page. This is all before we have even written one word of content. It is highly likely that you would need to allow at least $4,000 for a custom website design and build. IS it worth the money? For some businesses it is not even worth considering the question - it is just a fact of life. For others it is something that needs to be considered within the context of your overall business branding and other marketing strategies.


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