About That Small Business Website Of Yours

Chris Coyier //

Here's a (lightly edited) real email exchange I just had with someone in my family. I thought it would be worth sharing.

Hi Chris,

I understand that you have been talking with [another family member] about our website. I expressed to him that I would like to have the ability to change, expand, and improve it occasionally. He said that you would be willing to help me learn to do this. My concern with our web page is that, while it is pretty, doesn't entice people to buy our services as well as I would like.

The site is www.adcreate.com. Let me know what you think. I would really appreciate any advice you can share to point me in the right direction.

- Family Member of Chris'

Hey [Family Member],

This is my advice I give to everybody in your position: get off the setup where you have a "web designer person" and they are in control of everything and you have to go through them for all changes. I can't even count the number of times I've seen that go south.

The web has grown up a bit and there are services that allow you to build your own site that do a very good job at it. Then not only are you in control, but:

  • The site will look great. The templates they provide are usually quite good and easy to customize.
  • They typically use what is called "responsive design" meaning the design will look good and work on things like the web browser on your phone, or an iPad. Not that "zoomed out" thing that can be a pain in the butt to use.
  • It's inexpensive. Around the $20/month level.
  • You do it yourself in a matter of hours. Especially with pre-existing content like you have. I've seen non-webby friends do it many times and do a great job. Here's an example.

The sites I typically think of are:

http://virb.com/

and

http://www.squarespace.com/

But there are plenty more. I don't have any particular favorites, but if you find yourself looking around for site-building sites like these and find one you like, feel free to send it to me for vetting.

A lot of their "demo" sites are pretty art-y, but remember those are just demos and you can generally customize a theme very much to your liking, including choosing all your own photos, backgrounds, colors, and of course the content on each page. Here's an example of a printer website that I think does a good job.

The sites I mentioned both also have eCommerce stuff built in, so perhaps that might work for you for actually taking sales if that is a direction you want to go.

It feels a little weird to say all that as a "web designer person" myself. Like I'm shooting myself in the foot somehow, but I don't think that's the case. People like me work on websites that need to be very custom or are much bigger and need a dedicated team.

There is also a middle of the road decision you could make here. You could keep your "web designer person" but insist that they help you getting your site onto a platform that empowers you to do all these things you want to do.

Remember that a website is just a communication tool. The most effective sites aren't just piles of loose content, but are dead-clear in their message and have carefully curated content that is a reflection of what you want to say and what visitors want to see. You don't have any special web skills for that.