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The Ultimate Web Design Guide for Tech Companies

Let’s say your boss drops by your desk and casually says, “Hey, let’s redesign our website!” What comes to mind?

Do thoughts of 60-hour work weeks and never-ending rounds of revisions immediately run through your head? Or are you giddy at the chance to restructure your sitemap, optimize content and implement new design trends?

Whatever your personality type, we know you’ll find value in this in-depth, step-by-step look at how tech companies should approach a web design project.

Planning for Success

Have you heard the saying “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”kiwi-webpillar-quote-failing That 100% applies to tech companies undertaking a website redesign or development project. It may sound more fun to open up Photoshop and start designing right away, but you’ve got a lot of prep work to ensure the project goes smoothly.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-big-01Understand Your Goals

Why do you want to redo your tech website? Because it looks outdated? That’s a good reason, but dig deeper…

Are you really just frustrated that your website doesn’t look as cool as newer sites? Or, do you think the content and design of your website is negatively affecting user experience, which in turn is hurting your sales pipeline?

Why are we asking? Because the websites that we build for tech companies generally fall into one of two categories

kiwi-webpillar-brochureware-vs-leadgeneration-01

Brochureware Websites

If you’re looking to develop a beautifully designed site to validate your business, that’s totally fine. We call these “brochureware” sites because they’re essentially an online version of your printed sales materials. Recognizing that this is what you’re looking for upfront will save you from wasting resources and money on something fancier than you need.

Lead Generation Websites

However, most technology companies these days want their website to be a 24/7 lead generating machine. And knowing that upfront will help you focus on building a website that will support your specific sales and marketing goals—whether that’s driving organic traffic to your blog or getting more people to register for a demo of your software.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-big-02Understand Your User

Odds are, you already have a formalized buyer persona, but does it address website-specific behavior during the buyer’s journey? If your current website only has one generic form on the contact page, then the answer is “no.”

Don’t feel bad, you’re definitely not alone: one study found that 70% of small business websites don’t even display a clear call-to-action on their homepage!

Here are some common ways you can help nurture website visitors down the sales funnel:

In the Awareness Stage

  • Links to relevant blog posts on service pages
  • A resource library of downloadable content
  • A lead flow pop-up to sign up for email updates

In the Consideration Stage

  • A podcast library
  • Live chat availability
  • Long-form content offers

In the Decision Stage

  • A CTA in the site nav to register for a demo
  • A self-service calendar to book a time to talk with a sales rep

Which of these would resonate with your specific buyer? Make sure those end up in the final version of your new website.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-big-03Evaluate Technology

There are seemingly endless options for a website CMS (content management system): WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, Concrete 5, Kentico, Umbraco, dotCMS, HubSpot…the list goes on and on.

So, how do you know which CMS you should go with?

Consider these questions when choosing a CMS
  • Do you want the freedom to host wherever you want?
  • Will your website require a particular type of server platform, like Windows or Linux?
  • Do you want an open source or closed source platform?
  • Do you want a popular CMS that most developers are familiar with developing in?
  • Are you okay with an agency's “home grown” proprietary solution?
  • Are you okay with paying yearly subscription charges?
  • Do you have time to keep up-to-date with security updates yourself?
  • Do you want a bunch of fancy functionality best achieved by using plugins?

In our experience, most small- to mid-sized tech companies fare best with WordPress. (That’s what we use to build most of our clients’ websites.) In fact, WordPress runs just over 29% of all sites that use a CMS.

Why do we like WordPress so much?

It’s easy to usekiwi-webpillar-diagram-wordpresssystems-01

With a bit of training, you’ll be able to navigate the CMS with ease.

It’s well-documented

Ever get stuck? There are hundreds of support sites that will give you the answer.

It’s affordable

You’ll never pay a monthly fee to WordPress. (But, yes...you’ll still pony up a small bit for add-ons like premium plugins and services like hosting, etc.).

It’s open source

You can host wherever you like, the code isn’t top-secret and you may even find free source code to implement cool features or functionality.

The only real WordPress objection we’ve heard from companies is concern about security. However, these same companies usually admit that they’re hosting on a cheap server and haven’t kept their plugins up-to-date. So, with just a bit of monthly maintenance to keep things updated, WordPress is no more or less secure than other CMS platforms.

Beyond your CMS, you’ll also want to determine what outside technology platforms your website should integrate with. For example, are you going to use an all-in-one marketing automation software, like HubSpot? Or should data push through to other platforms, like MailChimp or Salesforce? Some of these integrations are simple, but others can be pretty complex. Make sure you’ve allotted appropriate time and budget to make everything work like a seamless, well-oiled machine.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-big-04Evaluate Skills + Resource Availability

Your tech company has a dozen software engineers—they should be able to code a website…right?

Don't count on it. Making a website technically function and making it a lead generating marketing machine are two very different things.

As you’ll see below, building a website is a multi-step process that requires many different skill sets. Unless this is your only priority and you have a robust internal marketing team, you’ll probably want to outsource part (or all) of your website design project.

You have options if your internal skills and/or capacity is lacking

kiwi-webpillar-icons-small-01Buy an off-the-shelf theme

There are plenty of websites out there where you can buy a nice looking, off-the-shelf website template. If your budget is tight and you need a brochureware website, this could be a good fix. But beware of bloated code and plugin incompatibilities behind the scenes that could cause your website to run slow or even break in the future.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-small-02Hire a freelancer

Freelancers are an affordable way to get a semi-customized website. Since many freelancers specialize in a single skill (UI/UX vs. development vs. business intelligence), you need to be okay with managing multiple resources. Plus, freelancer oftentimes have “day jobs.” So, be prepared to be patient since they might respond on a delayed timeline and during off hours.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-small-03Hire an offshore company

>You probably already get daily spam emails from SEO gurus on the other side of the world or offshore development companies offering to fix your website. Pros: cheap. Cons: language barriers, quality of work, time difference…the list goes on and on.

Hire an agency

A full-service agency will employ all of the experts you need to build a lead generating website under one roof. But, just because they’re doing the bulk of the work doesn’t mean you can check out of the process. Client feedback is crucial in an agency relationship. Though an agency might be the costliest of all options, you also get what you pay for.

kiwi-webpillar-icons-big-05Determine Budget and Timeline

Once you’ve figured out all of the above, it’s time to get serious about two difficult conversations that occur for every website project: budget and timeline.

In general, a traditional tech website could cost between $25-55K+ and take 3-6+ months to build if you're working with an agency. If that’s inline with your expectations, agencies will be more than happy to develop a unique plan and price quote for your project. But if that gives you a small heart attack, consider one of the other options above or start budgeting to work with an agency in the future.

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The Website Process

Whew...with the prep work completed, it’s finally time to get started!

As a side note, we’re going to assume you’re working with an agency to build a WordPress website in these following examples. Because, well...it’s what we do on a daily basis.

Sitemap

Is your current site 12 pages? Or 1,893 pages? In general, today’s websites are trending smaller, but the answer for “How large should my website be?” is literally “Whatever it takes to be valuable for your user!”

Look to Google Analytics for Page Performance

Are people reading every press release that you diligently post online? No? Remove and redirect in your new site. (And, spend your time and energy on what they do read.)

Speaking of what they do read...are visitors spending huge amounts of time on your blog? That’s a keeper, even if it is a time-consuming task to write new content every month.

Site Architecture and Hierarchy

Once you have a general idea of the pages that will be on your new website, it’s time to arrange them into a proper sitemap, which usually looks like a family tree. Top level pages will be in your header navigation (keep it to 4-7 short items), children pages will live below those, and so on.

Don’t forget to include “footer” pages, like a sitemap, terms and conditions, privacy policy or “header” pages, like a link to tech support or to login to a client portal.

Wireframes

Once your sitemap is complete, it’s time to assign each page to a set of templates that will get designed then developed in WordPress. Tech websites generally use 8-12 templates which represent unique page layout options.

Sure, you could get away with fewer templates, but if all of your inside pages have you entering content into a big free-for-all area, styling and consistency throughout your site become a huge issue, not to mention boring visual interest and even confusion for your user.

Popular page layout templates for technology websites
  • Homepage: your main page on your site
  • Top Level: everything in the header nav
  • Second Level: children pages of top level pages
  • Standard Sub: generic interior page
  • Contact: special space for a contact form, map
  • Team Landing: headshots of all team members
  • Team Listing: individual bios for each team member
  • Blog Landing: excerpts from all blog posts
  • Blog Listing: full individual blog posts
  • Career Landing: listing of all open job titles
  • Career Listing: full individual job description, form to apply
  • Clients/Partners/Awards: logo grid
  • Full Width: no sidebar/breadcrumb nav for sitemap, terms/conditions, etc.
  • Landing Page: marketing-specific squeeze page that includes a form to collect email addresses in exchange for content offers or other assets

Creating your Wireframes

Once you know which template each page in your sitemap will use, it’s time to get sketching! A whiteboard is a good place to start, but a marketing agency will use online software, like Balsamiq or Slickplan, which, in the design phase, make wireframes easy to translate.

It’s important to note that these wireframes will not look like a finished design: they’ll use boxes as image placeholders and ugly “Lorem Ipsum” text for copy placeholders. Don’t focus on the aesthetics, because that’s all going to change in the design phase. But, do focus on how the content for the page will meet the goals you defined way back in the planning stage.

For example, if your sitemap goes several levels deep, consider adding breadcrumb navigation to your wireframes. If you’re trying to drive people to sign up for a free demo, leave space in your wireframes for a sidebar graphic.

Remember: if it doesn’t show up on the wireframes, it’s not going to be in your final website!

Technical Requirements

To make sure your website functions exactly as promised, writing up a “technical requirements” document (or tech specs) for the designer and developer is a don't-miss step in the website design process. What areas of your website will be editable vs. static? What categories should be used for your blog? What should happen when users hover on a button? A good technical requirements doc will answer all of these questions, and more.

Let’s use the infamous contact form as an example. While it seems simple enough, there are actually many options to consider! So, to make sure there are no surprises at launch, answer questionslike these before development starts:

  • What form fields should be included?
  • Which form fields are required vs. optional?
  • What should the submission button say…“submit”or something more compelling?
  • After submission, should the form be replaced with an inline thank you message? What should that say?
  • Should the user get an email confirmation that their message has been received?
  • Which staff members need to get notified that someone has filled out a form?
  • Should the form data also push data to a CRM?

In fairness, a well-written technical requirements doc might be slightly above the head of a non-technical person, but your agency should explain anything that doesn’t make sense.

Website Design

Now’s the time to worry about the “pretty” stuff, like colors, fonts and photography. Did your wireframes feature rectangular CTA buttons? In the final design, they may actually have rounded corners. Maybe your main navigation bar was mocked up in all caps, but the designer decides that initial caps is a better aesthetic decision that more closely suit your brand.

In other words, a talented graphic designer will always follow the spirit of the wireframes, but also insert their own creative flair to make sure the website looks appealing and on-brand.

On that note, it takes innate talent and years of training to be a truly excellent UX/UI designer who improves website experiences through design…like, way more so than we can explain in one page on our website. But, because 88% of online consumers often don’t return to a site after a bad experience, here are a handful of top UX tips we always keep in mind when designing websites:

Make navigation logicalkiwi-webpillar-quote-76percent-01

76% of consumers say the most important factor in a website's design is "the website makes it easy for me to find what I want." Intuitive site navigation should guide users directly to the information they expect to see.

Manage focus

Use visual contrast (like CTA buttons of contrasting color or captions of smaller, lighter font) to guide users to focus on the most important elements of your page. Make sure your design is responsive and uses scrolling and swiping functionality, mobile “hamburger” menus, and content large enough so pinching and zooming isn’t necessary.

Think mobile

Make sure your design is responsive and uses scrolling and swiping functionality, mobile “hamburger” menus, and content large enough so pinching and zooming isn’t necessary.

Design for skimmability

Visitors scroll through only about 50% of an article page, and read less than 20% of the text. Break up page text with elements like highlighted words, short blocks of copy and relevant, attention-grabbing headlines.

Use relevant graphics

Whether photos, icons or CTAs, graphics should convey meaning for the content they’re supporting—and should NOT look like ads.

White space is your friend

The relationship between UI elements is defined the space that either separates them or indicates that they’re directly related.

Copywriting

While one study found that 94% of website first impressions are related to design, users won’t stay very long on your page if the copy isn’t equally as compelling. So, how exactly do you encourage online engagement through copywriting? Here are a few of our favorite pointers for tech companies:

  • Use subheads, bullet points and sidebars: The earlier a visitor is in the buyer’s journey, the less likely they are to read long-form copy
  • Talk about how you solve problems: People don’t buy products, they buy solutions
  • Use compelling verbs: A button that says “submit” is boring; a button that says “get in touch” or “start the conversation” is unique
  • Limit technical jargon: Users might not know all of your industry lingo, especially acronyms
  • Show, don’t tell: Client testimonials and case studies give credibility
  • Have a personality: Don’t be afraid to let your unique brand voice show through your copy

Website Development

Now it’s time for the technical stuff: website development. At the risk of oversimplifying the process, this involves setting up a sandbox server, installing WordPress, building page layouts from the wireframes, styling the layouts to match the design mockups and…the list of development tasks is extensive and as unique as each client. (That’s why this it’s the longest and priciest phase of a website design project.)

Yes, building a website from scratch takes mad tech skills. And, unfortunately, we can’t teach you to code in one web page either. But, one of the best perks of WordPress is the abundance of free or low-cost plugins available that can expand the functionality of your website.

Most popular plugins we recommend for tech websites:
  • SEO: Yoast
  • Multi-Lingual: WPML
  • eCommerce: WooCommerce
  • Security: WordFence
  • Maintenance: UpDraft Plus and WP Optimize
  • Performance: W3 Total Cache
  • Forms: Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms
  • Image Optimization: WP Smush
  • Development: Advanced Custom Fields

While the above plugins are robust, well-supported and secure, that’s not always the case. Be sure the plugins you choose have an abundance of positive reviews and release frequent updates. And use them sparingly: the more plugins you install, the more likely they are to affect site performance or conflict with each other down the road.

Content Migration

Assuming the agency is writing copy and coding the site simultaneously (a common time-saving process), your developer will use a lot of placeholder text on dev site. Before launch, you’ll obviously want to replace this with “real” copy as well as “real” photography or graphics. But who will be assigned to do this admittedly tedious work? Be clear as to whether you plan to take on this responsibility—or if you plan to assign to the agency—especially if you’re handling the copywriting yourself.

The good news? Since you probably won’t be rewriting all of your old blog posts, many platforms will let you export existing posts to a .csv file, which can then be uploaded straight to WordPress…with one caveat, of course. Often times, featured images can’t be pulled over. Decide upfront if it’s worth the effort to find a workaround, if you can live without them, or if you’ll manually re-upload as you have time.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Back in the day, SEO was a shady practice involving keyword stuffing and other “black hat” ways to trick Google. Nowadays, Google is too smart to fall for those tricks. (In fact, they’ll penalize you for old school tactics, like duplicate content or buying backlinks.)

Ranking higher in Google, or any SERP (search engine results page) for that matter, involves creating a quality experience for your user, not just for the search engine. And while there is no “magic formula” that guarantees you SEO success, here are a few of the items we prioritize when developing a website:

301 Redirects

Odds are, the pages on your old website won’t match up exactly to the pages on your new website. To avoid visitors stumbling across the dreaded 404 error page (which happens when they’ve clicked on a link to a page that doesn’t or no longer exists), be sure to use a tool like Screaming Frog to make sure you have redirects in place for any broken page links.

Metadata

The SEMrush Ranking Factors 2.0 study suggests that Google’s algorithms are getting so good at understanding context and synonyms that keywords are becoming less important as a ranking factor. That said, don’t get lazy and use the same meta description on each page. Even if your visitors pay little attention to the page title, meta description or url structure, follow the same rules that HubSpot recommends when writing on-page copy: think about humans first and search engines second.

Page Load Speed

Nearly half of web users expect a site to load in under two seconds, which is why Google likes pages that aren’t bogged down with bloated code. Assuming you’re already on a quality hosting server, be sure your images are optimized and your code is minified.

Technical SEO

There are a handful of technical SEO tasks that the end user may never notice, but are still important. Examples include submitting an XML sitemap to Google and setting up a Robots.txt file.

As a disclaimer, even if you follow all of the above best practices, you can’t launch a new website and expect it to be an overnight success. True SEO results come out of continual improvements to your website over time, both from adding relevant content and tweaking what’s already there.

Testing

Your developer should test your website in the most recent versions of web browsers on Mac, PC, Android and iOS devices to make sure it functions as expected.

What your developer won’t do, however, is guarantee that your site will look awesome in older versions or “retired” web browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape. And while that might negatively impact a small portion of your visitors, much of the technology used on modern sites simply isn’t compatible with outdated web browsers. And, as a technology company yourself, we bet you appreciate that fact.

Launch

Finally, it’s time to go live! At this stage, there are a lot of technical tasks that need to happen behind the scenes. Your web developer and your internal IT team should coordinate to make sure everything goes smoothly. Once the site is “live,” some users may see your new site instantly, while others may see your old site temporarily until their ISP flushes their DNS cache. Don’t worry...although not ideal, this is normal (and could possibly take up to 12 hours to resolve.)

Training

The beauty of WordPress, or any other CMS for that matter, is that it allows for easy updates to your website without having to know code. And while the core of your website is probably pretty similar to others (and thus has lots of great resource documentation online), customized training will be valuable for the areas of your website that were developed just for you.

Whether that’s reviewing how to post a new job or switching out a CTA in the sidebar, your developer should take an hour (if not two or three) to show you how to work the “behind the scenes” of your new WordPress website. Ask all the questions you want!

Measure and Tweak

Phew…you’ve finally relaunched your website. It’s time to sit back and watch the leads role in, right? Wrong. (Duh.)

As with all marketing, website design is part art and part science. So even if your site follows all of the industry best practices, your metrics will likely reveal that there are areas for improvement.

On that note, what are realistic metrics for a tech website anyway? As a standard disclaimer, you probably already know the answer is “it depends” and you should aim to simply improve on your own past performance. But in general, here are some stats that lead generation tech sites should shoot for:

  • Bounce rate between 30%-50% (HubSpot)
  • CTA CTR around 7% (Capterra)
  • Time on page over 40 seconds

Getting Started with Web Design

Ready to get started with a web design project? We can help.

Kiwi Creative is a HubSpot Gold Agency Partner that specializes in working with B2B software and technology customers. And, hopefully, after reading this web page, you can tell that we know our stuff.

We're a small, but talented, team of strategists, writers, designers, analysts, technologists and developers…all ready to help in-house marketing managers at tech companies with branding, inbound marketing, sales enablement and, of course, web design.

Want to chat about an upcoming project? Schedule a time that's convenient for you.

 

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