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Many web design trends and technologies have come and gone since I started building websites in the dark ages of 1996. But one crucial issue hasn’t changed much since day one:

“Web design” is not really about “design” at all.

If you’ve spoken to many business owners, you’ve probably heard some of them say something like this:

“Our website sucks, so we need to get it redesigned” 

The first part might be true, but it’s not necessarily design that’s going to fix the problem.

A website is a manifestation of your marketing strategy.

It’s like a marketing avatar of your business, that is online 24/7, answering questions, guiding potential clients who are a good fit to your services. For professional services firms the primary function is always marketing.

The problem occurs when you consider your website as something that needs to be “designed”. Design is an important part of the process, but it is far from the entire process.

If the website is a manifestation of your marketing strategy, then it can only be as good as your marketing strategy.

If you don’t have a strong, clear marketing strategy, then your website simply can’t be a good website no matter how good the “design” is.

It’s fundamentally flawed, because you’re building on unstable ground: the website can never be effective. This is why so many website projects fail.

What about web designers?

Web designers are usually very talented at turning a clear marketing strategy into a visually attractive, effective website. 

But quite often they don’t have the experience and skills to come up with that marketing strategy in the first place.  And if they don’t, then your website will only be as good as the marketing strategy that you bring to the table. 

There are 3 possible scenarios here:

  1. You bring a clear marketing strategy to the web designer
  2. You have some idea of your marketing strategy and want your web designer to help pull the strands together in building the website
  3. You have no idea of your marketing strategy, and are relying 100% on the web designer to create a website that will be effective despite this

Scenario 1 is the ideal case, where you’re able to discuss your strategy with the designers and ensure they are able to implement a design that fits.

Scenario 2 is the most common situation for established businesses. The more experienced the web designer, the better they will be at helping you articulate your marketing strategy. If they specialize in your industry, they probably have some knowledge from similar projects.

Scenario 3 is the worst case, and often happens with start-up businesses and low cost and inexperienced web designers. This happens when you don’t have a clear plan, and the web designer acts purely in a mechanical way, providing no strategy and simply doing what they are told. If you feel your designer has thrown in the towel and is just rotely doing what you demand without pushback, you may be in this situation.

Beautiful design can be remarkable and exciting

Some of these folks have superb graphics skills and are capable of creating  visually stunning, beautiful websites. But these often aren’t effective at marketing and generating leads or sales, because they’re missing that foundation of a good strategy.

These web design projects can turn into a nightmare for both parties.

The client is frustrated with the process, and feels that the web designer doesn’t really understand their needs. Because of that feeling of lack of control they start to micromanage the design process, which erodes the relationship further, often to breaking point.

This is why expensive web design agencies still exist despite the race to the bottom in web design pricing, and all the “easy to use” website builder tools available.

It’s not just about design, it’s about strategy

I want you to be more aware of what your specific marketing strategy is. There are numerous, obvious benefits to this – one is that there will be less frustration and redesigns in your next website project.

I’ll talk more in this series about creating and documenting your marketing strategy.

Have you had this kind of experience? Hit reply and let me know about it!

Alastair McDermott

I help independent consultants & specialized consulting firms to generate more leads consistently by auditing & upgrading their business development strategy so that they can eliminate their dependence on referrals. Join my email list to get my tips on business development.