Choosing style over substance could doom your business website
If you’re considering building a business website, you might have wondered what style you should use. Should you go with bright colors and animated graphics that give a feeling of fun and freshness? Or abstain from unnecessary distractions, using somber tones of blue and grey to denote a serious, professional appearance?
Do a Google search on the subject and you’ll quickly discover that everyone has an opinion on the matter. As a website designer who’s spoken with many clients and has built my fair share of websites over the years, here’s my advice: the “style” you choose ultimately matters far less than its speed and ease of use. Read on and I’ll explain why, as well as provide a couple examples and exceptions to the rule.
Do You Want A Trophy or A Partner?
First, let me ask you this: What REALLY matters when it comes to your website? Do you want to make your visitors happy and your business more productive? Or do you want a “pretty” website you can show off to people that mostly won’t care like your peers, friends and family? If so, go ahead and pay extra for custom artwork that most visitors will only look at once and never give a second thought to. Then shoehorn in a bunch of flashy animated garbage and unneeded code to make it look “trendy” and “modern”. In the process, you’ll slow things down to a crawl and confuse all the people just trying to navigate your website, leading to lost visitors and sales.
Making your website stand out is a good thing, but not if your website’s style causes lost sales due to a slow or a confusing-to-navigate website.
Watch out for Website Weight Gain
Keep in mind that every picture, background or other graphical bit of content you add to your website slows it down. How much depends on filesize. The more pictures/backgrounds you add, the more they’ll slow down your website. You can help counter this slowdown by adding things like lazy-loading code and optimization libraries, but the catch is every bit of extra code added to your website also slows it down a little more. In effect, this means that less is always better in terms of websites. Obviously I’m not suggesting you stop adding content, but understand the impact your desired website style might have on loading speed, and make the effort to optimize your images. Your visitors, especially those on mobile devices, will thank you.
The Mobile Majority
When contemplating the best style for your website, you’re probably thinking of what it will look like on a big 4K monitor like the one you always see in stock photos of web designers. In reality, only a small percentage of your traffic will ever see it that way; the other 70-80% of them will be visiting via their mobile phones. Where did I pull that number out of? My analytics. It’s the average I see when looking over the stats of all the websites we manage in all their varied industries.
So that big, beautiful picture, background or layout you love so much, the one you think really defines your brand and makes you stand out from the crowd, is not going to work in most cases. Only a few people will ever see it, and it’s going to slow down your entire website considerably. So if I’m your website manager, I’m gonna chop it, crop it and compress it until it screams, or just not load it in mobile mode at all. If I don’t, the vast majority of your visitors will have bounced off your page to find what they were looking for somewhere else before your precious picture ever finishes loading.
We here at Castlewood design all of our websites with a “mobile-first” methodology, and we encourage you to do the same whenever possible.
How A Good Website Goes Bad
When determining what website style you’ll ultimately embrace, avoid getting cute. Don’t reinvent the wheel by dreaming up some groundbreaking new navigation system; it’s just going to confuse and frustrate most people. No, the icons on your list of services don’t need to giggle and dance whenever you pass by them– it’s only amusing the first few times, if at all. Don’t hide information behind special effects that only work if you hover over or swipe them; you might think it looks neat, but your visitors aren’t here for a Easter egg hunt. Rent a toddler and point them at your homepage, and if they’re entertained by the bright colors and moving shapes for 5 minutes or longer, simplify your web design and immediately return the baby; we’re designing for adults here.
One other thing: never, EVER use audio or video that automatically starts playing without the user’s consent! First, it’s annoying. Maybe not everybody likes harpsichord music and seizure-inducing flashing lights, and now your visitors have a splitting headache and definitely don’t want to buy anything from you. Second, maybe you’re revealing their browsing habits to everyone in earshot, and now the surprise gift they were trying to find their spouse is no longer much of a surprise. Third, once again, it can slow down your website. If a visitor has no intention of watching your video, loading it anyway takes more resources and makes your page take longer to load while providing nothing of value to your visitor.
Follow in the Footsteps of Giants
Websites with both style and functionality, like Amazon, Ebay, Google, and Ford.com, not only look great and represent their brands well, but they are also easily navigated, work well on mobile devices, and don’t use loud noises, flashy graphics or unnecessary audio/video content to grab your attention. Obviously these companies have the budgets for fancier websites and loads of beautiful custom artwork, but they’ve learned that keeping things to-the-point and easy to use is better. Rather than learn the same lessons the hard way for yourself, walk in the footprints of those having already paid the price for such valuable knowledge and keep things simple.
You might’ve caught on by now, but my web design philosophy is similar to that of a race car driver – tear out the extra seats, insulation, radio, non-paying passengers, and any other dead weight that impacts top speed. The website style I’m going for above all else is “really fast”. Sure, a Cadillac covered in chrome and rolling on 24″ spinner rims might elicit a few admiring glances, but nobody wants to wait six hours for it to show up with their pizza. I’d much prefer the Toyota flying down the highway at breathtaking speed because there’s a hot cheesy pie destined for my doorway in 30 minutes or less. In other words, no matter what website style you choose, failing to give your visitors what they want quickly and efficiently is a great way to lose them forever, and all the flashy nonsense in the world won’t bring them back.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Now for a possible exception to the rule: Artists. Walt at the hardware store, who sells 2×4’s and window caulk, doesn’t require any exotic style for his web design. On the other hand, a punk band or fantasy artist might. Since the product they’re marketing has to do mainly with their own creativity and inner vision, having a place online to showcase their unique perspective on things makes sense. Such a website style for Walt, however, would probably just scare away or confuse people looking for a quick, easy transaction so they can get back to work. Even here, such creative types should exercise caution and keep the speed and utility of their website at the forefront of their concerns.