Guess what. You are wrong. No sales pitch here.
I love people that have amazing ideas that they are passionate about. I love it even more when they jump in head first and go for it. Instead of waiting for funding or to find the perfect way to build it, they just go.
So, if you bootstrapped your site, high five to you!
It would have cost you beaucoup bucks to hire someone like me. But let’s get real. You’d rather spend that money on essential startup things like images, plugins, advertising, or tools like Convert Kit for growing your email list.
When starting an online business, building your own website is a right of passage. Unless you have a huge financial backing (if you do, contact me) or a rather large budget (standing by for your call), you need to find ways to cut costs.
And one of them is by building your own website.
The only problem with this: you are not a designer.
You don’t know what looks good. Do these colors go together? Is that layout right for my content?
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
You know how important a captivating site is to your online business success. You don’t want to mess this up.
Here is my advice:
Good artists steal, great artists copy. (Ok, I stole this one. Get it? Ba dum tshh…)
Seriously though. Live by this mantra when you are bootstrapping your own website.
Use what works
There is a reason that a lot of today’s websites have the same layouts… they work! Large companies pay high-end designers to create these designs. Unless we’re talking about Shady McShaderson’s Design Firm, they are putting time and effort into finding designs that are aesthetically pleasing.
Copy them. Don’t try to think outside the box. Don’t try to be too different. Use what others are doing, but put your own personality into it.
Keep it simple
Overly complex designs, when done incorrectly, are a damn shame. They are confusing, and they just don’t work. Unless you know what you are doing, keep your design as simple as possible.
Stick with one or two fonts (one for headlines and one for body text) and one or two colors. This makes it simple and easy to keep things consistent.
A great place to find color templates is ColourLovers. Here you can find colors that work harmoniously together. Think Sonny and Cher, Hall and Oates, Beavis and Butthead.
Fonts that pair nicely add a little extra flair. Google fonts are free and many folks use them on their sites. Here is a great site that shows you different ways to pair google fonts: http://fontpair.co/
Never let design get in the way of your message. This can be achieved by keeping your design simple. Making things complex just gets in the way.
Use a grid
If you’re taking on this website single-handedly, chances are you are using a WordPress template and not coding it from scratch. If that is the case, the layout will already be setup, so it really isn’t something you will have to worry about.
If you’re not and you want to add columns to a page (such as a sales page) you should use a grid. It is ok to break the grid, sometimes, but knowing when it is ok takes a trained eye. Staying within the grid never looks bad. Stick within the grid.
If you are using the Genesis framework for your themes (which I recommend because, seriously, these themes keep it super simple and are a great starting point) they have a column layout built in. This tutorial is also helpful: http://www.wpbeginner.com/plugins/how-to-create-grid-column-content-in-wordpress-the-right-way/
Keep elements simple
Having a million different calls to action, images, and menu items will only serve to confuse your visitors. Keep your site as simple as possible. Think of things from their perspective.
If you are not sure, talk to your audience.
Send out an email to a few people on your list and find out what they think about using your site. Focus on how they feel, how the site makes them feel. Does it give them the warm fuzzies? Do you want it to give them the warm fuzzies?
Your navigation should be simple as well. Throwing a link in the navigation for every page on your site is simply not optimal. People will have too many choices and will often make the wrong one. Heck, they may even leave your site all together.
Don’t add features just to add them. Make sure every plugin, every text area, every widget is there for a reason.
Make it yours
It is important to let your personality show in everything you do. It doesn’t matter how simple the design of your website is, if it has personality people will remember you.
Keep it consistent
Use your color scheme. If you copy an idea from another site, be sure you adjust it to match your color scheme. Same goes for fonts – make sure the fonts on your site are consistent.
Pay attention to these two things and your site will be consistent. Your site will look planned. Your site will look like it has purpose.
Stick with design conventions
If I asked you what a stop sign looks like, you might describe it in two words: red octagon. In fact, if we were to remove the word STOP from it, I bet most people would still stop (well, at least the ones that would have stopped originally).
Now, what if I was to create a sign with the same octagon shape, same S-T-O-P in bold letters, but I made it blue. Chances are most people would be confused. I imagine a lot of accidents would happen near my blue stop sign.
Think of all the damaged cars I just caused. All because I wanted to be creative and make my stop sign blue.
The same goes for your website. Stick with conventions. Don’t change them unless you are doing it for a very specific reason. Don’t make your stop sign blue.
Here are some conventions you can use to make your site look like it was created by a pro:
- Keep logos on the left.
- Put your menu to the right of your logo. Most modern WordPress themes allow you to do this.
- Have a hero image (at the top) with a strong call to action.
- Stick with 1-2 colors on your site. And stick with colors that work.
For blog posts:
- Show a featured image at the top
- Have the title at the top and in a large font
- Show the date and author under the title
- Show comments at the bottom of the post
- Give people a way to easily share your content
- Have a sign-up box at the bottom of your posts
Pages to include:
- A contact page where people can get in touch
- An about page (it is one of the most visited on my site!)
- A resources page, if applicable
Of course, these are not to be taken as must-haves, but rather a list of conventions that are very common on websites. They will give your visitors the warm fuzzies. They’ll feel at home.
How do I stand out?
At this point you are probably thinking to yourself, “…but how do I stand out?”
It all comes back to showing your personality. Be you. No one else is.
Yes, a lot of sites have an image at the top with a call to action that has a giveaway. Make yours unique. Make it different. Make it…you.
Use an image that demonstrates your skills. Or use a picture you took. No one else will have these, so they will make you memorable.
Marie Forleo is a great example. She has a hero image with a strong call to action.
And that image is all her. It shows her personality, that she is fun and can laugh. It makes you smile. Her call to action is unique; it has personality.
You could take the same idea, but make it a picture of you. You could even have the call to action over to the left, but it would be your words, it would be unique. While the template behind it might be the same as Marie’s, it will be different and memorable because you injected your personality.
This is just a base
When creating your site it is important to remember that changes can be made. I repeat: Changes. Can. Be. Made. Nothing is set in stone.
Think of it like a house. There’s a good chance your house doesn’t currently look like it did last year, unless you’re like me and my wife – no interior decorating skills whatsoever. You’ve probably done some painting or decorating or maybe even some Feng Shui-ing. The point is you have the ability to change your mind if you don’t like it.
And the good news is this: adding onto or redesigning your site will be a lot easier and cheaper than a house!
Start with the foundation, the frame, the paint job of your web presence. You can adjust the landscaping later as you go.
Make one change to your website at a time
Once you have your base I strongly recommend installing Google Analytics (or some other tracking software).
Collect your data, but I suggest not making any changes for at least a month or until you reach 1,000 visitors.
Once you have a baseline of data, make just one change. Make it as simple as changing the color of your call to action button or adjust a font.
Make the change and check how it affects your analytics. Did your bounce rate come down? Did time on page go up? If you notice some seriously bad drops (or rises) in key metrics, you might want to reconsider your change.
When you make these changes though, make them for a reason. Don’t make a change to your websites design just to make a change.
Change the color of the button because you think it might help your conversions, not just because it is a prettier color. Yes, I said prettier. Make changes that you have a hypothesis about. Make changes for a reason.
Keep a simple spreadsheet that tracks your changes. Write what you expect to happen when you make the change and what the goal is. Check back after a specific time frame and see if your theory was accurate or just plain wrong. Make adjustments from there. Sounds an awful lot like the scientific method – 3rd grade science anyone?
Some people might suggest split testing. I say it all depends. If you are getting small amounts of traffic your time is better spent growing your community or creating content. Creating split tests won’t make that much of a difference.
Keeping it organized
As you grow your site you are going to come across other websites that have features you want to add.
This is great!
But only do it if you understand why they have that feature.
And when you do it, make it your own. Make it your own. Have I mentioned that enough yet?
Let’s say that you really like the design of Neil Patel’s sidebar on Quick Sprout. Awesome!
I bet it converts really well… for him.
But if you decide to copy his sidebar sign-up you better make damn sure you have something great to offer. Otherwise what’s the point?
You’ll also want to give it your personality and style. Use your fonts and colors in the design. If your color scheme is orange and gray, and you were to copy that very green sign-up area, it would look like an elephant at a mouse convention.
When something is out of place, people feel uncomfortable. They don’t believe in what they are seeing. They might even think less of your entire site because of one out-of-place element.
So yes, copy the idea behind something and know why that feature is on the other website, but… make it your own!
Yes, you are a designer!
Bootstrapping your own site can be extremely rewarding and some might even say fun! Just because you built it yourself, doesn’t mean it has to look bad. Stick to the principles laid out in this post and you will be creating web masterpieces in no time!
Help me spread the word about clean simple design. Share this post with your friends!
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