Did You Make This Beginner Web Design Mistake Too?

Author: Gab Goldenberg

When I created my first websites, I have to admit that I was pretty naive about the graphic/visual side of things. SEO ROI is a good example.

When I was creating the specs for the site, I wanted a few things in particular made custom:

– The ability to change the logo

– The ability to edit and add to the call to action area in the upper left

– The ability to hand edit the top, sidebar and footer navigation

– An option to opt-in posts to the homepage of the blog so everyone who hit the homepage would see my best posts. (That’s the SEO ROI Quality category.)

– Similar options for news and testimonials lower down on the homepage. (Latest News and Testimonials categories, respectively.)

– A fluid width layout that would adjust to screen sizes.

– Top navigation with the appearance of buttons, but that was actually text.

Within those specs, I more or less gave the graphic designers free reign to do as it pleased, and then I chose the design which looked the best to my then-girlfriend and I, and best repeated my corporate colours for brand-recall purposes). 

Not particularly business savvy, you’ll agree.

What did this amount to?

– I haven’t once changed the logo. So that was extra coding for nothing and money down the drain. I don’t even remember why this was important to me at the time.

– I’ve spent countless hours updating the call to action areas, with mixed results. Since I was working with basic html and a limited space, I could only do so much…

– Likewise my experiments with the navigation have shown some improvements but also some significant screwups.

– Opting in posts was a worthwhile idea – except it made me overlook initially that I lacked a general blog page where all posts would be seen.

– I doubt very much that anyone cares about the news or testimonials sections, and anyways the way they appear and are updated isn’t really practical. (What RSS or email subscriber wants to see a new testimonial as a ‘blog post’ – accordingly I’ve had to backdate the testimonial posts so they wouldn’t be noticed when I add them.)

– Hassles with IE7 and my navigation buttons in terms of the fluid width layout messing stuff up on narrower screens (there’s no minimum range at which the site stops adjusting to window size).

More importantly, what did it NOT amount to?

1. Effective use of my homepage to drive interest in my SEO and usability services.

2. Lines that are too wide on most screens for optimally comfortable reading.

3. Poor monetization of my blog posts that is basically limited to the sidebar, which most people ignore.

As my high school science teacher, Mrs. Sadaka, taught us: “Form is related to function!” What she meant is true in just about every walk of life – function must define form or else you’ll get nowhere.

The story has a happy ending though. I’m currently working with a client on redesigning one of their sites with conversion and usability top of mind. Since many of their goals for the site align with many of mine for this site, I get to test-run my ideas (and some of yours!) for redesigning this site before finally (after much, much delay) going into production on my own redesign (coming sometime before 2099…).

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  1. Awesome blog dude. Some serious content here. You've given me some great ideas to blog about. And as far as website design. I'm a decent designer but honestly I get a lot of mileage out of Thesis. I just can't be bothered with fancy designs that pull away from goal of getting customers, clients, readers or whatever. Nice clean and functional designs are fine. People are fine with it. They are not there to stare at your amazing designs all day long. As long as your blog is good content they will read it and come back for more.

    Comment by Wynne - March 19, 2010 @ 6:49am
  2. Good stuff, I am a designer so its cool to see another perspective. I am a big fan of Brian Cray (briancray.com) and his articles on how simple design influences user action.

    Comment by Montana Flynn - March 23, 2010 @ 1:46pm
  3. It can be really hard to get an objective point of view on the web design that you have. Designers themselves tend to be very opinionated, but who is to say if their sensibility agrees with your clientele? Working in design, we have recognized many websites that could use a helping hand; this is why we are holding this event, "what not to web" on May 20th in Cambridge, MA. Submit your website via the URL and we'll critique your site for free and give you a few pointers. http://www.whatnottoweb.com/ Thanks for bringing up this issue, Gab! Always eager to hear what you have to say.

    Comment by alex - April 5, 2010 @ 4:47pm
  4. I disagree with the last line. You need to make it obvious that you have lots of good content. One post won't do it. That's why I like designs that show off best post sections.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - April 5, 2010 @ 5:09pm
  5. Good luck with the event Alex. Regarding being opinionated, that's where testing comes in to disprove (or support) silly internal views w/ how users really behave. cheers Gab

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - April 5, 2010 @ 5:10pm

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