Day in and day out, I see a bunch of websites, I analyze them, I’m mesmerized by some folks’ bravery, but also sad when I notice how hard people focus on getting the visual elements just right while neglecting the importance of providing clarity with each new element and paragraph.
I’m not saying that the visual doesn’t matter. It can play a big role, and we know this since most of our customers say that we sell beautiful designs. However, the implications weigh only when they are helping you achieve certain goals on your website. And the best way to uncover your goals is by asking the right questions before creating your website.
We often have internal debates before writing an article about covering a specific topic within the website creation playground. It’s easy to throw all kinds of 12 steps to, but as marketers, we’re well aware that the value does not lie in lists but context and in-depth information. At the same time, we can’t mime a full-service agency. We’re a product company; they’re a service organization.
If you succeed in walking through all of this and take action before jumping into building your website blindly, we guarantee that you already went further than most.
Usually, independent creators (primarily one-person companies working in photography, ceramics, design, illustration, copywriting, etc.) want to speed up the process by using cookie-cutter strategies and miss the essential areas of creating a relevant and performant website in the long haul.
Prepare your notebook, and let’s do some serious work to smooth your way in the digital world.
- Business goals first, aesthetics second
- Questions to ask before creating your website
- Find a route that works for you
Business goals first, aesthetics second
As mentioned earlier, one misstep is focusing on the aesthetics that catch people’s eyes and forgetting about having a clear statement that answers why someone should do business with you. It’s commonly known as a value proposition, and the main goal is to make it crystal clear what’s in it for your visitors.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s proven that people first focus on the visual aspects of your website—it’s human nature to interpret images faster than text. But after the first 2.6 seconds, people’s attention will be on the key elements to quickly understand what you do and decide if you can help them or not.
Let’s take a few home page examples so you can better understand my point. First, take a look at the website below and try to guess what they’re doing.
If you are not familiar with the brand, at first glance, it seems like they are promoting a design class, so that must be it, right? Or maybe a community of creatives? It can be anything and something at the same time.
Oh well, the company is creating pencils and all other kinds of writing and drawing instruments. And they are quite successful at it with a business with a history of more than 100 years.
I’ll give them credit to the fact that their brand is probably big enough that they can play around on their website, but for most businesses out there, that’s not the case. On top of that, no matter how big or small, clarity is a value in itself. Don’t underestimate it.
Now let’s take another example. Take a look at the video below:
Once you read the headline, you’ll see that you don’t need to invest much effort to understand what their website is all about—helping you with the hassle of time tracking.
At the same time, they didn’t take shortcuts when it comes to visuals; instead, they used them to draw people’s attention and make them stay while completing the puzzle with a value proposition that clears the air and sets the right expectations for visitors.
If I were to go a step further, I would suggest being even clearer in the main headline by swapping the headline with the subtitle. That would look something like this:
As you can see, although visuals are important to get visitors to stay in the first few seconds, the text should be the one enticing them to stick around and browse other areas of the website.
Don’t go for catchy and fancy wording that raises more questions. Clarity first, creativity second.
The next thing you need to keep in mind is how your website answers the possible questions of your audience. If you want people to choose you and what you have to offer, you must provide and unravel those answers with each scroll of the page.
Take, for example, the presentation page for Rosa2, our WordPress theme. In it, we aim to showcase our product while alleviating fears by answering questions like:
- What can I build with this product?
- How can I customize it?
- Can it help me sell my products online?
- Do I get customer support?
- Can I translate it into my language?
- Will my website be performant if I use your product?
- Is it optimized for search engines?
- What websites have others built with this product?
- What do past customers say about this product?
- Are there any hidden costs that I should know about?
- Can I get my money back if I don’t find it a good fit after the purchase?
I know that getting to that place of clarity and providing answers to your audience’s biggest questions is no easy feat. That’s why it’s important to get your priorities straight while building a website.
Next, I’m going to walk you through some of the things that can help you come up with a value proposition that speaks to your audience’s needs.
Questions to ask before creating your website
As I mentioned earlier, the look and feel of your website needs to be followed by a clear message that explains why people should choose you.
Now it’s time to discover your goals and your visitor’s needs and wants so you can address them with each page you create. To do that, you must ask yourself and your audience the right questions before you even start creating your website.
1. Questions to discover your needs
If you want to build a website that speaks to who you are and helps you make something of it, you must first spend time thinking about your objectives.
This process is not a walk in the park, but the following list of questions can help you create a website on solid ground and uncover the core needs behind your business. From our experience of working with many creative entrepreneurs across the globe, we learned that it’s essential to make sure you don’t offer superficial answers. They will go against you.
1. What kind of website do you want to build?
Is it one where you showcase your portfolio? Or maybe you want to sell some of the products you make? Or perhaps writing is your core passion and what it to take center stage. Whatever it is, you must be clear about its purpose.
2. What business need do you want to cover with the website?
Do you want more customers for your photography business? Are you looking to generate more online sales or maybe build a personal brand around your writing?
No matter what it is, make sure you have it written down because your entire website should revolve around this objective and help you achieve it. With every page you build, section you add, or blog post you write, you must think about how it can get you closer to your goal. Only with this in mind can you turn your website into something alive and working for your dreams.
3. What is your target market?
Think about who are the people who will visit your website and are looking to get something from you. This is key, especially when you get down to write the content on your website. You must speak your audience’s language and make sure you meet their expectations.
Regardless of what you offer and however posh your audience might be, don’t get trapped into creative writing that brings no clarity. It not only makes people raise their eyebrows because they don’t understand the basics, and it will also frustrate them, thinking that you are fooling around.
4. What should people be able to accomplish on your website?
This can take many shapes and forms but focus on getting closer to achieving your goal. Depending on what your website is all about, the actions people should achieve can be booking a call, browsing your portfolio, learning about the people behind the curtain, purchasing your products, etc.
There can only be one primary action tied to your main goal and several secondary actions that address your visitors’ concerns.
Let’s say you are an architecture studio that builds houses, and your primary goal is for people to book a call. Think of how each page can help you get there. It can mean adding a “Book a call” button in the top navigation, footer, or at the end of each blog post.
As for secondary actions, these are the tools and features you need to address your visitor’s concerns. Continuing the example above, think of things like offering examples of projects, case studies people can read or download, testimonials from past customers, a newsletter or blog where you can showcase your expertise to allow people to build trust.
Or, if people might wonder about your price ranges, you can go a step further and offer a simulation calculator where people can get a sense of what working with you might mean.
If you want to get an idea about the must-have pages your website needs, you can dive deeper by reading our blog post.
5. What are the other must-have features your website needs?
Certain features will allow you to publish the content the way you want and present yourself online on your terms. It’s better to figure out what those features are so you can start building your website with a bigger picture in mind.
For example, you might need integration with email services or payment providers, support for audio or video content, and so on.
2. Questions to discover the needs of your audience
Now that you have a better understanding of what you want your website to do and be, it’s time to figure out what people expect from it. By overlapping these two, you can create a website in tune with what you want to accomplish and create a consistent customer experience.
The best way to find out what people need is to talk with them. You can do that via interviews, calls, online surveys, or over-coffee chats if that’s where your audience is.
My recommendation is to start with your past customers if you already have them.
If that’s not the case, I suggest going to people who fit your target market—mainly folks who will potentially purchase (or read, get in touch, etc.) from you in the future. Avoid going to friends and family unless they are in the target demographic for what you have to offer. If not, they will most likely guide you on the wrong paths.
This action will help you find out the blind spots from your website and uncover ways to address some of their fears and concerns.
Let’s dive deeper. Here are a few questions to ask your past or potential customers before creating your website:
1. What are you hoping to accomplish by visiting our website?
With this question, you can discover your audience’s main goals when visiting a website like yours. These answers should allow you to see if their goals match yours and even provide hints into how you can help achieve them.
2. How do you expect to accomplish that (your specific goal)?
Depending on what you do and what you have to offer, there can be many ways people expect to accomplish their goals. It can be by filling a form, calling you, scheduling a face-to-face or online meeting.
These insights will allow you to see how they prefer to complete their journey. At the same time, it will give you hints into the features you need on your website that will allow people to move forward.
3. What information must you see and read before deciding to work, buy, or get in touch with someone?
If you want to understand their primary concerns before moving forward and doing business with you, this is the right question. It will give you hints regarding the pages or pieces of content you must have to move people towards achieving your goal. Find those missing pieces that are relevant to your audience and make sure they have the proper visibility.
4. What’s the biggest concern that would prevent you from moving forward with us?
There are certain blockers people experience that might turn them away from you and towards your competitors. Or that simply makes them postpone a decision.
It can be the lack of clarity around refunds, not seeing pictures with the people behind the scenes to put a face to the name, a lack of clear contact information, and so on. Find out what turns them away and figure out a way to alleviate those concerns.
Find a route that works for you
There are many blueprints and advice on the internet, but never forget that these are recommendations and not set in stone.
You might not get it right from the first try, or there might be things you learn along the way that will influence how your website looks and feels.
It’s always best to take everything with a grain of salt and think about what you enjoy doing most and which are the products or projects that fit your values and way of building your business.
For example, people might expect to call you instead of email, but if you don’t want to spend your days on the phone and if the answers they seek require thinking time, make sure you clarify that with your website visitors.
Although some needs of your potential customers are valid, so are your own; you are the one who gets to decide how you want to do business or showcase yourself online. It does come with potential risks, but it can also mark your personality and brand.
At the same time, your website is not like a printed piece of paper that stays the same once it is out. The great thing about the digital world is that you can easily change things up when needed. Start from somewhere and constantly adjust on the way. You might not get it right from the first try, or there might be things you learn along the way that will influence how your website looks and feels.
We at Pixelgrade evolved a lot in the last few years—we discovered our values and made adjustments in the way we build our products, talk with our customers, or write online so that it matches with who we’ve become. We tried different ways of packaging our products that proved not to fit our customer’s expectations. That meant going back to the drawing board, analyzing our needs again, talking with our customers, and coming up with a more straightforward message that explains why people should choose us.
The same can be true for your website. Don’t settle for less. Put your business goals first, listen to your customers, find ways to alleviate their fears on your terms, and go beyond the eye-candy regarding photos, visual gimmicks, and overall design.
Every piece of content or feature from your website needs to help you reach your business goals, regardless of their nature: raising awareness, selling products and services, booking events, contacting and asking for an offer, nurturing a community, etc.
In today’s world, where each of us spends so much time online, jumping from one www to another, most of your potential customers are well-informed and have developed a solid radar for bulls**t. If you’re not asking the right questions before creating your website, you won’t be able to be crystal clear and transparent right from the start, and people will just hit the little (x) in the corner of their browser.