We are all too familiar with certain clients that have a serious “vision” of their website that somehow deviates from the norms or universal standards. We want to be honest with them, but a direct approach may put them off, especially if they have invested a lot of time, effort, energy and money into their ideas. Maybe they already have a website and they want to fix a few details or add some extra modules, but you can already see that the whole thing is perhaps a bit too creative, to put it gently.
In web development, sometimes you cannot just scoop the flies out of the ointment. If something is broken, but their website is 1000 years old (ie. 4 years old), or they want to add complicated extras to a website built in basic html, it's time to break out the bad news. Often a complete website overhaul or redesign is required. It's very likely that your client won’t exactly welcome this information with sheer joy and open arms, but once they understand the ROI of a up-to-date, conversion optimized CMS-driven website, the opportunity will be too good to pass.
Does your opinion even matter?
Before saying anything, determine whether the client even cares about online marketing, sales, conversions, and any positive external outcome from his or her website. More importantly, find out if they care about what you have to say about their whole online venture.
If they specify exactly what they want without any requests for your input, “I want a twitter feed, a hamster feed, scrolling announcements.. and of course the navigation buttons have to explode into a 20 minute intro with fireworks.. I want a website that pops!” is it best to keep your mouth shut and just program their requests like a web design robot? Such clients are heavily invested in their ideas and usually get defensive when faced with criticism. They are paying you to just do the technical work and stay out of their business. If this is the case, it is best to just make it clear beforehand that you cannot guarantee positive results in any subsequent marketing efforts because the website does not meet certain criteria. In fact, some websites are so visibly doomed on the marketability scale, it could be unethical to perform web marketing services knowing that the client will get zero results.
Fortunately, more often than not, a client will treat you as a web consultant and welcome your input graciously. Such clients want to know the truth, and are keen on allowing web experts to point them in the right direction. If something that they suggest is detrimental to their website, they want to know now and not after you have already programmed the component and billed them for it. This approach will generate more value from the website long-term and a client will be more than happy to pay for maintenance and marketing plans for a website that “works.”
Start with the good news
Even if the website looks like a collage from the 90’s or you feel like it may need a warning label for potentially causing seizures, there must be something good about it. Start with emphasizing the good points: perhaps they are already using a great CMS, or they have a nice logo, professional color scheme, solid content, nice images and so forth.
If the website is an absolute disaster, and you don’t see anything nice or salvageable, sometimes it’s best to turn down a project than to work on something you really don’t believe in. Would you install a $6000 sound system on an old rusty car that you know is dangerous to drive?
Be objective and focus on the numbers
Let’s face it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or beer-holder. But assuming most users are surfing the Internet sober and clear-minded, there are some universal standards that increase conversion rates. Simple items like professional logos, fonts, images, trust symbols, professional content and easily accessible contact information are tried and proven to generate more conversions. If the client is open minded, it’s a good idea to point out the issues that affect their bottom line and offer suggestions that will give them a better return on investment.
“Your flash animation is truly a work of art, but the trend right now is towards technologies that are more compatible with all devices.. You have an excellent navigation hierarchy, but it’s the universal standard to put “contact us” last because that is where most users will look for your contact page.. Sometimes having too much going on will detract from the focal point..” Sometimes constructive criticism and helpful suggestions can go a long way. It’s difficult to stay impersonal; requesting a second opinion from a third party often helps ease the tension.
Bring out the big guns
Citing research, market trends, examples of successful companies, and focusing on the facts is quite effective. Most business people tend to be rational minded and logical, so let them know the stats: your site is getting only xx hits per day, you are getting only 1 sale per 300 views, your bounce rate is 70%, and 60% of your pages take more than 6 seconds to load. Sticking to reason and logic instead of subjective tastes keeps everything from becoming personal.
Emphasize the website’s potential how you can turn their situation around. Replace criticisms with better “opportunities.” Tell the client that if they complete a, b, and c, they can triple their conversion rate. Often it’s not what you say, but how you say it. The focus should not really be on web design directly; the focus should be on their business and bottom line.