If you’re preparing to build a business website, you might have asked yourself what style is best for your industry or brand. Some want to go with bright colors and unique artwork, thinking it gives the impression of freshness. Others choose simple, somber colors like dark blue, green and grey in hopes of appearing more professional and trustworthy. As with anything else, opinions vary in regard to the best style of website for any particular business. During my years as a website designer for Castlewood Studios, I have created sites in multiple industries for various brands, and have seen first-hand that worrying about what style of website to choose rather than ensuring your site is fast and usable is a path to failure. Let me explain why.
The .PNG that Broke the Website’s Back
First, something most people never think about, but we have to deal with constantly: Every picture, image or other graphical bit of content you add to your website slows it down; how much depends mostly on file size. Also, the more pictures you add, the more your site is slowed down. You can help counter this by adding things like lazy-loading code or auto-optimization modules, but adding extra code also slows down websites. This means we have to balance the art assets we choose to use against the impact they’ll have on the website’s speed, especially in mobile mode. I’m not suggesting you stop adding content to your site, but you should consider the impact stylistic choices like images and backgrounds will have on loading speed, and make sure to optimize your images.
It’s the Little Things that Count
Another thing non-web designers might not realize is that only a small percent of your traffic will ever see your site on a large monitor, or even a laptop. In fact, a whopping 70-80% of them will be using their phones to view your site. At least, that’s what I see when looking over the analytics of all the websites we manage in various industries. Forgetting this leads to another common problem: Putting too much content like text and pictures on any single page. Doing so means your visitors have to scroll endlessly on their phones just to find the section they’re looking for, which can get entirely overlooked if you’re not careful. That’s why Castlewood designs all of our sites with a “mobile-first” mentality, coding things so large images are only loaded on screens suited for them, and only those images and content truly needed are displayed. Anything else is a waste of bandwidth, leading to longer load times and lost visitors and sales.
Good Looks at Great Cost
There are a few things you should stay away from when deciding on your website’s style. When we ask new clients to provide examples of what they like, we are often presented with sites that use huge, unoptimized images, auto-playing audio and video, lots of animated effects and insistent pop-ups and “special offers”. We hate these sites because they’re often generic looking, and always slow to load, overly complicated, and probably scare off more customers than they bring in.
Often, these sites are built by amateur web or graphic designers who use their website as a combination portfolio/sales tool, meaning they feel required to show off every bell, whistle, gizmo and doodad at their disposal. When I test these sites for speed and mobile compatibility, they almost invariably score horrendously, and are practically unusable on a phone.
These so-called designers get away with it because they’re not trying to sell you on the mobile version of their website (despite its critical importance), but rather how it looks on a hi-resolution monitor. By doing so, they’re able to routinely bilk people out of thousands of dollars with little more than what amounts to eye candy, all the while patting themselves on the back for creating a slow, unoptimized mess of a website that might harm their client’s business more than it helps.
A Right Way and A Wrong Way
Let’s talk about some “do’s” rather than “do not’s”. For examples of websites with both style and functionality, look at Amazon, Ebay, Google, and Ford.com. They look great and represent their brands well. They are also simple to navigate, don’t use flashy garbage to attract your attention, and the sites are responsive on mobile devices. These companies could certainly afford flashier websites and loads of beautiful custom artwork, but they know keeping things to-the-point is more important, and that failing to give your visitors what they want quickly and efficiently is a great way to lose them forever, no matter your website’s style.
Obviously it’s important to think about how your site looks and what message it tells people about your brand. But if you’re more worried about style than substance, you’ll reap what you sow in the form of lost visitors and sales. Focus on the mobile side of your site first and foremost. Do everything possible to make your site load quickly, even on slow wireless networks. Optimize your images and code. Ensure your site is easy for visitors to navigate and operate. Once you’ve done all that, feel free to focus on the more artistic aspects of your website’s style.
Eric Streeter is a website designer at Castlewood Studios in Lebanon Missouri. If you have any questions, contact him or the Castlewood team at (417)532-2329
Need help deciding on the colors, menu and other stylistic aspects of your new site? Click Here for ideas.