Pretty vs Performance : What to prioritize in your website’s design

Pretty vs performance in website design  | what to prioritize

Pretty vs Performance : What to prioritize in your website’s design

You’ve finally decided to launch a new website (after taking my free course, perhaps?) or that it's time to give you existing site a facelift. Exciting news, let's break out the bubbly!

But before your site can go live, you’ve got to take care of all the heavy lifting and actually build and design the website. It’s important to slow down and think critically about the website design process if you want to do it right the first time. Not everyone has time for a starter website!

As a web designer/developer, I work primarily with small professional business and creative entrepreneurs and I’ve noticed that my clients tend to fall into 1 of 2 camps. 

Group #1 has exactly zero interest in the look and feel of the website, they just want to hand over the reigns and have me come back with a website that isn’t heinous or totally out there. They will send me a few links to other websites that they like and instruct me to “do my thing” for their business and come back when I’m ready for the first round of revisions. 

Group #2 is the polar opposite - they love collecting visual inspiration and are excited to spend hours browsing and curating images online (Pinterest, I’m looking at you!). They have a very clear idea on branding, what colours, fonts and images they want to use, and often want to play around with new and trendy design features.

Both groups have their pros and cons. The first group is hands off, which can be a good thing because it allows me to make decisions and have creative freedom, but sometimes it can feel like all the pressure is on me to come up with a branded website vision with hardly any guidance. On the other hand, the second group is known to prioritize aesthetics over performance in the quest for a beautiful website. 

In both cases, that’s when I step in and refocus the conversation to the client’s website goals.

Related : How and why having a strong purpose leads to significant website growth

If you aren’t clear on your website’s goals, it’s nearly impossible to build a website that fits your brand, generates leads AND helps grow your business. When the focus of a website is purely on aesthetics and the design ignores the goals, the best case scenario is that you end up with an appealing website that doesn't perform how you want it to. The truth is, however, that often you’ve just wasted everyone’s time and a whole lot of money. Whomp whomppppp.

In my opinion, we can do better than that. 

Today we are going to take a look at what I prioritize in my custom website projects and look at the relationship between pretty and performance websites.

Back to goals

Depending on the type of business you have and the website you’re building, your goals may be totally different.

For example, my clients in professional services industries (think: lawyers, accountants, consultants) are primarily interested in lead generation. Their websites serve as an online place where they can preset their company’s information, outline their services and offerings, instruct people to get in touch and enquire about working together. 

Business that sell products through e-commerce, however, might be focused on driving and increasing sales and getting promotion and media coverage. 

In both cases, it’s nice for website visitors to be wow’d by neat features (parallax scrolling and video background headers come to mind) but the real ROI comes down to lead generation and sales. Back to goals, my friend!

With that in mind, website performance is more important than how it looks - performance trumps pretty. 

Obviously we still want websites that look good! I have zero interest in visitors arriving on your site and thinking “Times New Roman, eh? That’s a throwback.”. Instead, we want to make decisions that balance design and performance on your website. Get you a site that can do both.

Before you go ahead and build a purely “pretty” websites, ask yourself if that design style will be enough to make a potential client contact you or break out their credit card? Will a pretty website do enough to drive and grow your business?

When brands focus on pretty websites over performance, I’ve realized that this is a mistake and a missed business opportunity. Let’s take a look at several common mistakes that keep coming up come up when aesthetics come before functionality.

Mistake 1 : Designing a pleasant visual site instead of a lead generating platform

Let me start off by saying that I am not interested in working on websites that rely too heavily on spammy online marketing tactics or sneaky ways to collect visitor information. Instead, I want you to realize that it’s totally possible to design a website that looks good AND drives leads and helps grow your business.

Something I see a lot is when businesses want to show off their work visually, and they end up with a site that is basically a gorgeous but ineffective portfolio. The problem here is that these style sites look lovely but they totally forget to include a way to generate and collect leads.

This could be as simple as clearly displaying contact info, adding a newsletter opt-in or subscribe section (because your website has an email list, right?), or adding a form.

Mistake 2 : Forgetting CTAs

When websites focus on pretty over performance, they almost always forget to include a clear call-to-action (CTA). We've already established that the goal of your website might be to generate leads or drive sales, but ask yourself HOW do you plan to do that?

The answer to the HOW question is by getting those website visitors to take action. This could be by filling out a contact form, scheduling a discovery call, or joining your email newsletter so that you can nurture them with a funnel sequence. It could also be by adding clear “buy now” buttons to your site. No matter the goal, there should be obvious and clearly communicated CTAs highlighted throughout your website.

These CTAs should be prominently positioned and repeated, without distracting from the rest of the site or interfering with user experience.

Mistake 3 : Not customizing the template to serve your business

One of the great thing about Squarespace’s templates is that you can take one of their “out of the box” designs and tweak it, style it and customize it as much or as little as you’d like. Their templates are wonderful bases but there are so many ways you can really make it your own and get it to perform exactly how you want.

Some templates are already designed with certain business types in mind (for example, Motto for restaurants,  Harris for law firms, and Greenwich for interior designers), where as others are pretty general and can be used for a wide variety of business type (anything in the Brine family, PacificFive are good examples).  

But at the end of the day, one size fits all has no place in web design. An ecommerce shop has totally different requirements than a law firm or creative agency business. 

When it comes to working with Squarespace’s templates, you want to either pick a template that is designed with a business like yours in mind, OR customize a flexible template to suit your brand.

Design a website that is pretty and performance-driven

If you’re going to to have a website for the whole world to see, might as well put in the time and effort to build something that supports your business!

It’s totally possible to design a website that looks great AND drives leads and supports business growth - you can have it all!

Keep the common mistakes outlined above in mind when planning out your website’s design, and you’ll already be ahead of the curve. It might surprise you to see just how many of your competitors have a weak online strategy and ineffective websites. Use this to your advantage and stand out from the crowd!

Shameless plug : interested in a custom Squarespace website that balances pretty and performance? Check out my Design & Development package, that’s my sweet spot! I also offer consulting and strategy sessions so that you can get the most out of your website and grow your online business.

Once you have a website that is built to be pretty AND reach peak performance, you'll be in the next phase, which is the growth phase. Be sure to check out my (super popular) Website Growth Tracker Spreadsheets to see how you can grow your website, track and plan your income, and get better results in less time!

Now it’s your turn to tell me, what do you think about the pretty vs performance web design debate? How does your website stack up? Do you think it’s possible for a website to be both? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments below!


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