The magical wand to better web design performance

James Chartrand – a friend of mine who does small business web design- and myself were having a chat today about a mutual acquaintance of ours. We were both “done” with him because his site sucks and he keeps complaining he’s getting no clients. The literal quote he gave is the beginning of a guest post I inivited James to write. It’s a rant, but it’s also very, very true in my opinion. We’d love to hear yours in the comments!

magic wand

“I know I need a better web design to get more clients… but until I get more clients, it’ll have to wait.”

I know. It’s circular, right? Someone want more clients, and then they say until they get more clients they’ll wait to get more clients.

Let’s all say it together: Huh?

It’s nonsensical. It’s puzzling. It’s sadly self-defeating and a little ridiculous too. It’s putting the cart before the horse and expecting to get somewhere.

In fact, saying you want more clients but that you won’t take the steps to actually get more clients is exactly the same as saying you don’t want more clients.

So if that’s the case… what do you want?

Most people faced with this question sort of stumble around. They mumble they were really looking for some “tweaks” to their poorly-designed site. Or some “ideas” for their terrible usability. Or a few “suggestions” for something that has no hope in hell.

What these people really mean is, “Could you please hand me the magic wand to sudden profitability and success without my spending a penny?”

The cold, hard truth is that there is no magic wand. Most business websites out there aren’t converting well because they’re simply downright ugly and completely ineffective. It isn’t the SEO. It isn’t the business idea. It isn’t the traffic or product or service.

It’s the damned ugly design. And the only magic wand that’ll help turn things around is a major overhaul and rebuilding that website from scratch.

I know a new web design is a big investment, and it takes money. I also know that it’s a risk – it’s scary to spend money on something that isn’t making a penny right now. What if it doesn’t work? What if the investment doesn’t pay off?

Here’s a thought: What if it does?

Take a deep breath and give up on that old, cheap, ugly website that isn’t making you money. You know it’s not working. Why limp along? Put that horse in front of your cart so that you can finally get moving. Hire people who can give you a credible, professional website that gets you results.

In fact, most web experts refuse to tweak a bad website. They know tweaking is far more expensive than starting over. It’s costly. It never ends. It’s a money pit that sucks in every bit of available cash. And these people will tell you exactly what’s wrong with your website:

The whole thing.

So if you’ve ever thought, “I know I need a better web design… but until I get more clients, it’ll have to wait,” then think about this:

If you want more clients, you need a site that’s client-worthy. If you want more sales, you need a site that makes people want to give you money. If you want better results, performance and success, you need to invest in creating it.

And if you want to succeed, you need to stop wishing for a magic wand.

Image from Shutterstock.

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43 Responses

  1. André ScholtenBy André Scholten on 7 January, 2011

    Yeah, yeah, rub it in… :(

    • Cherie YoungBy Cherie Young on 22 January, 2011

      We love great web design and when done right, makes money. It’s equivalent to having a store with items inside. The windows are dirty, you can’t see in. You dare to walk in and it’s such a mess that you can’t decide to run screaming or actually stay for a sec to see if there are deals. The store next door is beautiful, clean and arranged nicely. A beautiful clean and intuitive design is your signature in business. It tells the world that you care about your products (we know that you do). Marketing and perception is everything. You can’t get them passed the door if you don’t invite them in.

  2. Naomi NilesBy Naomi Niles on 7 January, 2011

    Totally agree with you on this. I think it’s also a case of people wanting to dip their toes in the water without diving in. It’s a big commitment that scares a lot of people to death. I mean, what if it succeeds?!!

  3. GraceBy Grace on 7 January, 2011

    Oh, thank you so much for this!

    It’s not just design, though. You can have utterly brilliant design, AND you need good content to support it. The two go hand-in-hand. The website design and the website content are equally important, supporting each other in achieving the site’s goal.

    Thank you!

  4. benjaminBy benjamin on 8 January, 2011

    Unfortunately, it’s not all that easy. The web is saturated with revolting websites. Even the businesses that make a ton of money have ugly sites. I think several major problems are:

    1. Scores of popular misconceptions about best practices (Flash, scrolling, table-based layout, etc.)
    2. People with NO web knowledge calling all the shots
    3. Shady (so called) web designers/developers
    4. Web strategies that are no more than “just get a site online.”
    5. And the nonexistence of one well know place to go to get a stellar website at an affordable price. INTUIT is not the solution either.

    I agree that there is a ton of magical thinking. Yet their isn’t a great solution that everyone knows about.

  5. John GarrettBy John Garrett on 8 January, 2011

    YES. This is happening at my 9-5 job RIGHT NOW. They don’t want to put the money/time into a total overhaul so they’re limping along with the site.

    We haven’t had a single job come from that site for YEARS. It’s all referral, word-of-mouth type stuff.

    Frankly it’s embarrassing, and I’m worried about the business-decision-making ability of people who refuse to take steps to improve their business. Sheesh.

  6. Adam G. KatzBy Adam G. Katz on 8 January, 2011

    At the same time: A small business doesn’t need to invest a lot of money to get a site that sells. Good salescopy is at least as important as the seo part of the game. I’m still seeing a lot of small businesses try to use the “image advertising” approach instead of direct response copy… and then wonder why they don’t get any results or contact from prospects?

  7. Patrick VuletaBy Patrick Vuleta on 8 January, 2011

    I was having this exact conversation with James a couple of weeks ago. Thought I just needed tweaks, he said no I needed a revamped design. So I got the design (well, the concept so far), and it’s such a big improvement.

    The problem often comes from website designs that aren’t designed with your clients’ needs or your USP in mind. If your design doesn’t take that into account, it just won’t work. That’s my biggest problem with cheap templates and designers that don’t take a business approach. Art is great, but it doesn’t sell anything alone.

  8. Derek HalpernBy Derek Halpern on 8 January, 2011

    The internet—and especially blogging—ruined people. For some reason, people now feel they’re entitled to a profitable business with little to no monetary investment, and quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

    But now I have a rant…

    If you’re hard-up for cash, I don’t think you need to spend 7,000, 4,000, or even 1,500 dollars on hiring a top-of-the-line designer, either.

    And while I barely know MenWithPens, I doubt she wants a client who goes into major, life-threatening debt for a new web design.

    So what should these newer, cash-strapped people spend their money on?

    While that answer isn’t clear, getting the necessary services in place that allow you to conduct business would probably help. For example, you could spend money on reliable email delivery, shopping cart software, membership site software, and fast website hosting.

    However, let’s say you already have clients, earn revenue and profit, and are looking to take your business from four figures per month to five figures per month. Or even, from three figures to four figures. That’s where top-of-the-line designers shine. Let me explain.

    A design won’t build you your business—no magic wands,remember. However, a professional web design can enhance your existing business, assuming you have a business… not just a website.

    • James Chartrand - Men with PensBy James Chartrand - Men with Pens on 8 January, 2011

      Good comment, Derek, and I agree with you. Some businesses – usually operated by solo freelancers, newly self-employed or “testing the waters” – don’t need an expensive design. They need a good, solid, appealing starter design that lets them at least have proper footing.

      THEN they need better design. Starter design only gets you so far. Eventually, you outgrow it. That is, if you have a good business going.

      So yes: YOU NEED A BUSINESS FIRST.

      Then you need great design :)

    • Patrick VuletaBy Patrick Vuleta on 8 January, 2011

      You could always take a second job.

      If your business isn’t making enough to afford a $1,500-$5,000 outlay it’s not much of a business.

      Before the internet was invented, people had to save up $10,000 + before going into business for themselves, and that hasn’t changed. There’s been some exceptions, but now the sheer volume and number of scams on the internet are working against bootstrapping.

      If you want to establish yourself as a legitimate business people trust to give their hard-earned money to, you do things right, period.

  9. Dave from The Longest Way HomeBy Dave from The Longest Way Home on 8 January, 2011

    So the next big question is where to find a good designer that will look at you end users needs?

    Every other person claim to be a web designer these days. Few take your own needs plus end users together. Many are focused only on what the person/company paying them wants, and not on what the general public sees.

    • James Chartrand - Men with PensBy James Chartrand - Men with Pens on 8 January, 2011

      Yes, and every other person and his uncle can sell cars. But you KNOW how to find the good car dealers from the bad, don’t you?

      Sure you do. You know the brand names. You look at what other people on the road are driving. You do some research on the net. You visit lots. You listen to the salespeople. You DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

      There’s no way that you can end up saddled with an amateur web designer if you’ve done your homework properly. Ask other people for referrals. Review portfolios. Ask questions. LOTS of them. Shop around. Not for price, but for expertise.

      And you’ll find those designers (like Men with Pens) who’ll give you what you need and what your end user needs.

  10. MarkBy Mark on 8 January, 2011

    Can you make a post on how to insert a facebook share and twitter tweet button just like yours? thanks. Sorry for the Topic Hijacking :P

  11. James Chartrand - Men with PensBy James Chartrand - Men with Pens on 8 January, 2011

    This is one of the problems with a business who gets clients or sales from other marketing means. They feel they don’t *need* a better website. What they have is fine. After all, they’re making money, aren’t they?

    Sure. And what if they DID overhaul their website? How many MORE clients would they get?

    And this too: How much LESS would they work? A good website can scoop off half (or more ) of the work and expenses of actually getting a client in the door.

    • Sherice JacobBy Sherice Jacob on 26 January, 2011

      You can shout this from the rooftops! If more people (with websites that are getting them NOWHERE) understood how much more they could be making with an intuitive, user-friendly, customer-focused website, an outlay of $3-5,000 for a site would be a drop in the bucket compared to how many more sales they’d make!

  12. James Chartrand - Men with PensBy James Chartrand - Men with Pens on 8 January, 2011

    That’s exactly it – I knew right from the start that if you “tweaked” it, you’d be emptying your budget fast and never truly satisfied. Not good, that.

    The new design looks aces, though :) That’ll get clients going, “Ooooh!”

  13. Kathy MorelliBy Kathy Morelli on 8 January, 2011

    I’m still following you around, James (LOL). Thinking about
    what to do. As a person in the shoes of your friend (with whom you
    are disgusted! LOL) I am thinking of investing in a new website
    design. I do have clients and I’m developing a business, and it is
    difficult to turn over a sum of money that I’ve worked hard to save
    up. But it’s not just the money, it’s that there are ALOT of ppl
    who do web design and I am trying to find the time to do research
    on the various companies offering the design, and then to develop a
    comfort level with well, is this the correct technology? All at the
    same time of running a business and not being such a techie….so I
    have been roaming the web becoming more knowledgeable abt technical
    platforms, but the answer is not yet obvious to me…but I think it
    will become obvious soon, as I become more knowledgeable… so alot
    feeds into this decision.. thanks for letting me rant a
    bit!

  14. AlexisBy Alexis on 8 January, 2011

    Hey Joost ,
    Yet another great post from you.
    Thanks!!
    Alexis

  15. JohnyBy Johny on 8 January, 2011

    Why don’t any body here read between the lines: What the guy really says is: I need more money…apparently, Joast and his friend have plenty of it ???

  16. Haroun KolaBy Haroun Kola on 8 January, 2011

    Tweaking only works if you have a design that’s appropriately aesthetically pleasing for your potential clients to respond too.

  17. ChuckBy Chuck on 8 January, 2011

    Hey Joost, I love the knowledge you drop on this site, but no offense isn’t it kind of hard for you to rag on someone else’s site design when the font on this site is 12 pt Tahoma? I mean I’ve always wondered what’s up with both the small size and lack of serif font on this site. Maybe web design wasn’t the point of your post but just saying… if you gave me a nice 14 pt serif or so I’d love this site a lot more :)

  18. Nick CerielloBy Nick Ceriello on 8 January, 2011

    Great post and totally true start to finish. When I first started on my own (several businesses ago) I made a lot of these mistakes and it always comes down to marketing.

    There’s only one check you can write as a business owner that’s going to MAKE YOU MONEY and that’s one that pays for marketing. If you want customers you have to go and get them and that’s almost always going to take an investment.

    Again, great article that dives a little deeper into business ownership. It’s not JUST a web site!

    Nick

  19. Rob McCanceBy Rob McCance on 8 January, 2011

    That’s pretty hilarious.

    Old crappy sites can not be fixed. I know from first hand experience. I’ve done the complete tear down and rebuild twice in the last 6 years or so.

    Basically, just get out the ‘ole .htaccess and write a huge 301 redirect list and put up a new modern site using WP (or whatever) and a solid framework (like Thesis or ??) or a complete template from like Woo.

    But before you do that, you’ve got two weeks of KW research and site design to think about.

    ha ha!

  20. Piotr KaminskiBy Piotr Kaminski on 10 January, 2011
  21. Ales RybarikBy Ales Rybarik on 10 January, 2011

    I absolutely agree with you on this. But it is not problem with design only. The same apply to content, SEO or backlinks. Some people just expecting magics to happend and don’t understand that there is no magic. It is sometimes hard job and investment that cost money and sometimes can be unsuccessful too. The webdesign, content and SEO are equally important to achieve the site’s goal.

  22. Wagga Web DesignBy Wagga Web Design on 11 January, 2011

    It literally only takes a week to create a new website. Install WordPress, get a great theme from places like ThemeForest. Copy the text to the new pages. Do a few 301 redirects and Bob’s Your Uncle as they say in England.

  23. Maven JonesBy Maven Jones on 12 January, 2011

    It may not be the making of a new site that is the problem, but clearing old content from the last three overhauls, especially when the old sites were outsourced due to lack of web savvy by the company. There may be dozens of backlinks to be redirected, not just a whole new site, and you may not have access to LAMP or even WIMP to work with, due to local hosting. I know. I was hired to do the revamp and have done the entire site twice in 2.5 years. It’s getting better, finally. I’m glad I have a job! ;-)

  24. AnnaBy Anna on 12 January, 2011

    So true! You either have to be willing to shell out the money or take the time to make it beautiful yourself.

  25. Rebecca GillBy Rebecca Gill on 13 January, 2011

    Loved the article, but loved Grace’s comments even more. Right on Grace!

    Grace: The website design and the website content are equally important, supporting each other in achieving the site’s goal.

    If there was only a magic wand we could wave that would reinforce that statement in the minds of our design clients.

  26. Clyde JohnsonBy Clyde Johnson on 13 January, 2011

    This is so true, I also think it is a bit of ‘don’t make me think’ methodology i.e. what do you want your perspective clients to do once they visit your site, if it isn’t obvious in the first few seconds then don’t expect them to figure it out. I’ve spoken to so many business website owners who wonder why they haven’t received any opt-ins or sales only to find they’ve hidden it on some obscure page (I you’re lucky).

  27. Dave DoolinBy Dave Doolin on 13 January, 2011

    I’m in this exact position of having sites that just don’t quite convert, and not having the coin to spring for truly stupendous design.

    But I’m not whining about here or anywhere else. At the time, I thought design was a tactical issue. But it’s not. It’s strategic. Huge difference there. Ok, back after it, gotta make some coin.

    • Rob McCanceBy Rob McCance on 13 January, 2011

      I’m right there with you, as are many Thesis users. Awesome framework, great for SEO and all the important technical details, but extremely plain aesthetically.

      To spiff it up, you really need to know what you are doing.

      I’m working on it. First, I need to decide EXACTLY what I want to I can spec it out, then design it in code.

      • Dave DoolinBy Dave Doolin on 13 January, 2011

        You know, design isn’t *that* hard… it’s just that without loads of experience it takes a lot of time. A lot.

        If you can find a pad of 11×17 engineering graph paper, it’s super helpful. Layout the site on left, annotate on the right. Do everything with pencil first. In fact, make it fun: go get some fancy pencils too. I use Staedtler Mars-Lumograph; have a have dozen in different sizes and hardness.

        • Rob McCanceBy Rob McCance on 14 January, 2011

          Those pencils DO sound fancy..

  28. SwarezBy Swarez on 14 January, 2011

    As an artist (not a designer) I had to learn from scratch else nothing would get done. I do design work off the back of my two years of learning HTML, PHP and Photoshop as well as painting for a living. I run a business but can’t afford a designer so I have to do it myself.

    Nothing wrong with a good stable theme, WP and TIME invested in your own learning. If anyone with a business says they don’t have the time to start the ball rolling must have no concept of time management. You want the magic wand? It exists – it’s called a 20 hour day…

  29. WP SecurityBy WP Security on 17 January, 2011

    Tweaking a broken site is like going down the rabbit hole.

    What constantly amazes me is the number of business people who spend thousands of dollars on office furniture because they want good quality.

    Then they balk at paying a fair price for a high quality website done by a professional who’ll be there when they need something.

    We love telling cheapskates to just go ahead and use that $40/month template-based website service… then we start calling their competitors.

  30. Larry BrewerBy Larry Brewer on 17 January, 2011

    This is so true that I wish I had written it. I’m in the real estate industry, and most customers start looking for homes on the web. It makes sense that a good website will help your business, but most realtors don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that may not pay off. Oh well, that’s just more customers for me.

  31. DeanBy Dean on 17 January, 2011

    Nice article, it is true you got to pay for a quality designer or be good at developing/design yourself.

  32. ZudieBy Zudie on 18 January, 2011

    My problem is content, not design. Most of my customers are too much focussing on a beautiful website and forget about providing good contents. I would rather plead for customers hiring professional text writers than for improving the looks of their site.
    No matter how often I tell them to:
    1. Provide good static content
    2. Have a commercial writer go over it, so the text is catchy, sentences aren’t too long, and visitors are directed to actien (call/email/stop by)
    3. Provide regular updates and news
    4. Don’t use blurred pictures from their cell phones.
    It doesn’t have any effect.
    Because for beautifying their site they can hire someone, but provide content is their job. (and they don’t want to spend time & money on a professional writer)

  33. AnupBy Anup on 20 January, 2011

    Maybe a good future blog post idea would be a list of good designs that convert. Designing similar to something that already converts would be easier I guess. After all it seems that everyone here agrees that results matter. I’m currently devouring Sitepoint’s books for figuring out design and calls to action.

  34. GaryBy Gary on 22 January, 2011

    OMG! that is so true, Im a new person to the website. All positive people will tell think positive and positive things will come.

    Just the other day I was talking to a Herbalife distributor of mine, and this was said to me ” I cant afoord to buy the products, but I still want to do the business.

    I stated that; it would be difficult to be inspired by your results in order to inspire others with out the feeling the Products give you.

    I liked this post, ty for the positive guidance.

    Gary.

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