Build­ing a bet­ter web­site

Your site is your front door for many of your cus­tomers. If old-school web de­sign is hold­ing yours back, fol­low these tips to make it invit­ing again


the Los An­ge­les restau­rant Neigh­bor, had a web­site for his busi­ness. But he re­al­ized it wasn’t enough. He wanted some­thing unique, some­thing that bet­ter mim­icked his care­fully thought-out brick-and­mor­tar op­er­a­tion and of­fered more free­dom to show­case images. So he hired de­sign firm Orig­i­nal Thought to come up with a new one. “We built the brand, the restau­rant, the in­te­rior, the kitchen, the staff,” Rubin says. “We had to build an orig­i­nal site, too.”

His ex­pe­ri­ence is fa­mil­iar to many founders. By now, if you have a busi­ness, you have a web­site. But as your com­pany grows, you may find that the do-it-your­self site that you built for lit­tle or no cost on a plat­form like Wix or Squares­pace no longer meets your needs. Maybe you’re in the mar­ket for a sig­na­ture look that stands out from your com­peti­tors’, or maybe you need more than you once did—a more so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem of cat­a­loging prod­ucts, or the abil­ity to process si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­ac­tions, or an in­ven­to­ry­track­ing sys­tem that can scale. If so, it may be time to hire a de­vel­oper, a de­signer, or a con­sul­tant— or some com­bi­na­tion of the three.

First, says Me­lanie Spring, founder of the mar­ket­ing strat­egy firm Branded Con­fi­dence, de­cide what you’ll need from a new site. Do you need a cal­en­dar that com­mu­ni­cates with a back­of­fice reser­va­tion sys­tem, or an on­line cat­a­log of prod­ucts that’s tied to a back-of­fice ware­house? Both re­quire an API—an ap­pli­ca­tion pro­to­col in­ter­face, which is how web-based sys­tems talk to one an­other—and typ­i­cally a de­vel­oper who can en­able that com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Be pre­pared to take a hard look at your bud­get. Brent Light­ner, founder of the dig­i­tal agency Taoti Cre­ative, has a sim­ple rule: “If you have less than $10,000 to in­vest in your web­site, fig­ure out how to make Squares­pace or Wix work. When your bud­get is closer to $25,000, think about hir­ing a de­vel­oper to build a more cus­tom­ized site.” A con­sul­tant, while an ad­di­tional ex­pense, can help you sort through the op­tions if you have com­plex needs. Mukesh Vidyasagar, a founder of Capp­sure It, which sells soft­ware that al­lows land­scap­ers to track field crews’ ac­tiv­i­ties in real time, hired a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant with on­line de­sign ex­pe­ri­ence to map out an up­graded ver­sion of his com­pany’s site, which had been built with Wix. “He laid it all out us­ing Ele­men­tor,” says Vidyasagar, re­fer­ring to a web­site build­ing tool that works with the pop­u­lar Word­Press plat­form. The new ver­sion “is way more so­phis­ti­cated” than his orig­i­nal site, which had lim­i­ta­tions with load speeds and in­te­grat­ing other kinds of mar­ket­ing soft­ware.

You should also keep in mind that more users now ac­cess web­sites from mo­bile de­vices than from com­put­ers. That means your new site should be de­signed to shine on smart­phones. “Don’t worry so much about the desk­top ver­sion of the site,” says Spring. “De­sign back­ward. Think about the mo­bile users and what they can see.”

Orig­i­nal­ity is key, but avoid the temp­ta­tion to layer on too many bells and whis­tles. What can you do with­out? Video with sound and “too many mov­ing things,” Spring says, can put off po­ten­tial cus­tomers and make web­sites take longer to load. And re­mem­ber that Flash, Adobe’s soft­ware for view­ing mul­ti­me­dia, may have been all the rage in the aughts, but now it’s out. “Kill it,” says Spring. “Your phone doesn’t process Flash,” which, given cur­rent web-brows­ing trends, makes it all but ir­rel­e­vant. If no one sees your beau­ti­ful new site, does it ex­ist at all?

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