I had mixed feelings about writing this blog because it's a bit tricky to offer a one size fits all approach to creating a website. What convinced me is seeing so many early-stage impact projects who spend a lot of energy and resources bootstrapping websites which end up looking too complex or not professional enough to convert investors or prospects.
So I thought I would share some basic universal principles learnt after working on dozens of website designs and build projects from £500 000 to £500.
Research your website user personas
Think about who is going to come to your website, what their needs are and which tasks they will perform using your website. Brainstorm with your team - if you have one - and come up with three to five user profiles. Think broadly and include different types of prospects but also investors, potential partners, influencers or recruits.
Make sure you have a story and a place to go for each persona, especially the two or three which are most important to start or grow your business.
Nail down your value proposition
Website visitors will likely spend a few seconds on your home page and leave right away if they don't clearly understand the what's in it for me?
That’s why articulating your value proposition simply for your priority personas is essential. The challenge is to agree internally on your value proposition statement (See example below) and boil it down to an impactful external facing strap line you can stick on your home page.
Articulate your mission statement
This is even more important for purpose-led businesses. We always get our clients to do a Golden Circle workshop at the beginning of a project to define their “why, how, what”. This is a complex but indispensable collaborative exercise to align your team on a mission statement. The output will be a super useful piece of messaging to put on your Home page, About and in your pitch decks.
Start your website design with a clear information architecture (sitemap)
When you're building a brand new house, it's very tempting to start dreaming about the interior design, the colours and the furniture. What you really need to start with is the floor plans.
Similarly, when building a website, UX (user experience) activities should come before UI (user interface). The foundation of your website UX is going to be your information architecture -also called sitemap. Think about it as an organisation chart with different levels of content and design it as such in a PowerPoint.
Two principles should guide you through that process;
Persona based user journeys.
Make sure there are clear sections, contents and journeys for each of your priority personas. You want them to quickly find the information they need and do whatever they need to do on your website.
A simple top navigation menu with a maximum of 6 categories
Usually you can't go wrong with the following categories in your top navigation menu
1- Home page
This is where you are going to have a universal recap with all the main information and a hub with sign posting and calls to action to the other pages.
Talk about youe story, detail your mission statement, why you are special and introduce your team.
3- Services / products / technology
This is where the persona-based structure should be super visible. For instance, if you have services for HR managers and Sustainability managers, you should create a subcategory for each persona.
You can also add a subcategory explaining your technology into more details. Just keep in mind that the technology story is often not enough, you really need potential clients need to quickly understand your technology’s use cases and the benefits they will get from them.
4- Clients' testimonials
This is the area where you want to reassure prospects with endorsements, testimonials, reviews from initial clients and / or - if you don't have any yet- some use cases bringing to life your solution.
5- News and blog
Create a category for your company’s news, announcement and all the amazing articles / thought leadership pieces you're going to produce. This category is a nice to have to raise your profile an create some fresh content that will help with SEO. Add it later if you don’t have the resources to produce content yet. In the mean time, use your social channels to share news end content.
6 - Contact
This is a super important area where a lot of calls to action from other pages should lead visitors. Make it easy for all your personas to contact you and for you to respond. To that extent, it might be useful to have different email addresses for different needs and to create a form to profile and pre-qualify visitors.
Save time and hassle by using a website builder
Website builders such as Wix -which we are using for our own website- Squarespace or Webflow do not require any technical skills and will save you a lot of time and hassle. They are super affordable with all inclusive plans and support from £10/month. They have a lot of customizable templates to choose from, which will keep your site UX neat while saving you a lot of visual design headaches. Their integrated tools for SEO, content creation and digital marketing are also super handy for future marketing activities.
A lot of entrepreneurs think about WordPress as a free open source CMS, but I find it really is too complex and risky for people who haven't got previous experience with it. The back end is super complex compared to website builders, not to mention you have to pay and manage your own hosting, domains and maintenance - such as plugins updates.
Design with a mobile first approach
Design and build your pages starting with the mobile version. This will force you to streamline each page and identify the must have contents. It will also allow to check whether your pictures and copy work on a mobile screen.
Invest in a professional-looking branding
Once you have done the strategic thinking around your brand mission and your website structure, you’ll need to bring it all to life visually. It is worth hiring a brand designer - we have some good ones at the C Collective ;) - to create branding assets and style guides. In a few days of work, you can have a sleek logo, colour palette, iconography and typography guidelines which will make your branding work harder for you across your website, social media and presentations.
Test your design with real users
Try to show your website at different stages - Information architecture, wireframes, visual design- to normal people outside your team. The idea is to get people to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and get as much spontaneous feedback as possible, as early as possible. Using DIY A/B testing is a good way to make a quick decision between several copy styles or design routes.