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20 June 2006

Websites: the right and wrong way to start up

By Andrew Clifford

If you want a website for your young company, do not waste money on elaborate design. A simple design will be more effective. And cheaper.

We started Metrici a few months ago. We needed an effective website. How could we get one?

We could buy an off-the-peg website. There are companies offering cheap template-based designs for small companies. Or we could spend some serious money and hire specialists to design and build a custom website for us.

Neither of these options met our needs. The template-based approach would give us a "me too" site. It would not be easy to integrate with our application. It would not be easy to change and grow with the business.

Specialists could build us an excellent site. But we would have had to tell them what message we wanted the site to give – which we couldn’t do. When we started out, we were not sure what we wanted to say. We could have thrown away thousands of pounds on a site that would not say the right thing.

We decided to build the website ourselves. We looked for examples of good websites: there are very few. Some websites are all style and no substance. Some have so much in them that they are difficult to use. Many are laughably inept.

But there is excellent advice out there. We read Gerry McGovern avidly. Some sites impressed us. I was particularly impressed by Skype because they managed to persuade me to give them money within five minutes of my first visit to their site.

We adopted some web design principles.

  • Be simple, direct and focused.
  • Have a clear call to action.
  • Have a clear path through the website.
  • Avoid non-core content altogether.
  • Avoid unnecessary images.
  • Avoid "bells and whistles" such as visitor counters.
  • Monitor how readers use the site.
  • Be open to change – reflect the evolving message and reader feedback.

Over the months, we have picked up a lot of web design best practice. We have put this best practice into our Metrici Advisor tool. With this we can easily check the quality of our own site. You are welcome to try our website assessment tool for free to review your own website.

Our website is not perfect. We could make the site more visually appealing. We could improve the wording. We could improve usability. However, we do understand our website intimately. It accurately reflects our marketing message. We know where it is effective. We can change it ourselves, simply and cheaply.

At the start, web specialists would not have given us much value. Our website might have looked more professional but it would not have given the right message. It would have been all style and no substance. Now we know what we are trying to achieve with our website. Now we know where we could get value from specialists.

We could have spent a lot more money up front. I am glad we did not. Our website works well for us. We are in control. By spending less, we have achieved much more.

Next: Web accessibility is free

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