Does your site look like it belongs on the 99 cent value menu?

We’ve been doing an awful lot of web design and redesign lately. Seems in everyone’s rush to get the cheapest and fastest web site up and running, they’ve chosen graphic designers (and I use that term loosely) who just don’t understand layout, voice and calls-to-action. Frankly, we’re both pleased at finding a niche in copy writing and web site layout improvement as well as mystified that such horrid pieces of branding and communication were somehow approved as perfect.

Today, we’re going to talk about the first of three issues we see wrong in most down-and-dirty, quick-as-you-can web site design. This article is about a web site’s layout, visual presentation and how it is used to communicate with current and prospective customers or clients.

Too often we see client web sites that were simply a cheap template where a logo was plopped in, a few bad stock photos (or, worse, tired 1990′s-era headshots of the company owners or salespeople) dropped here and there and some completely unconversational copy is pasted in without regard to how it appears or reads on the screen.

This isn’t your web site, is it?

We understand that most new companies just starting out are hesitant to spend a lot of money on their web site. After all, they’ve probably already spent a small fortune on their business cards and stationery, signage for their storefront, office furniture and computers, cost associated with incorporating and bookkeeping and some snazzy newspaper ads or maybe a trifold brochure.

There are indeed some nice web site templates available online at reasonable costs. But think of how you — as a consumer — feel when eating a simple McDonald’s Value Meal (do you really remember what the hamburger tasted like?) versus a more expensive steak dinner at a fine restaurant. Yes, the cost is more at the restaurant. But you probably remember the meal in detail and look forward to returning again. Can the same be said about the barely-warm, mass-produced hamburger, overly-salted french fries and bland soft drink?

It’s the same way with your web site. Hiring an experienced and creative graphic designer to create your web site is like putting your dinner choice in the hands of a culinary chef. It’s something your customers will remember. They’ll enjoy their time on your web site. It will be easy to find what they are looking for. And they’ll remember it above a competitor’s.

A web site’s layout — or design — should reflect the character of your company or organization. Are you contemporary or traditional? Straightforward or rich in history and with a story to tell? Do you have rich visuals, either in your products, people or location? Is your logo professional and something you’re proud of? Are your current — and prospective — customers use to an expected interaction with you?

There are three main reasons why templated web sites are a bad idea:

Poorly represent your business

Template designers design their template web sites to appeal to business owners, not the specific and identifiable needs of your customers. A web site not only has to look good, it has to look unique. If your potential customer, in their online search for your product or service, has seen your template at a competitor’s web site, what’s to differentiate your company from theirs?

Designed to be appealing to YOU

Most web site templates are packed with Flash movies, sounds, snazzy and often outdated graphics, icons, bullets and a dizzying array of fonts in all sizes, colors and types. What you need is something that immediately brings to mind your company, its culture and brand. Most of the time, all of that other junk should be left to your poor, unknowing competitor’s web site.

Highlight your logo above all else

We know you like your logo and want it screamingly huge. We get it. But a better designed piece of visual communication has the logo integrated into the design in a simple and distinct manner. Most templates look like the logo was dropped in as an afterthought.

All of these questions and issues can help a graphic designer to determine your unique online personality. Without these answers, your web site is no better than the 99 cent value menu McDouble (sorry, McDonald’s).

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