Millions of homes are built or renovated each year.
Not all those projects go as planned but millions of families move into their property and find it welcoming and functional.
Millions of new websites are constructed around the world, too.
According to Siteefy, around a quarter of a million new websites are created every day.
How many of those do visitors find welcoming and functional?
Yeah. It’s a rhetorical question.
Importantly, where does your company’s website rank on the welcoming and functional scale?
If you’re building a new site or renovating your existing property, we can draw some lessons from the homebuilding sector that will help you deliver something in the welcoming and functional quadrant.
Here are eight lessons for you to consider.
Are you in the market for a ranch, a townhome, or a craftsman?
Is this a white-washed villa with high ceilings or a cozy cottage with snug rooms?
Do you need lots of social areas, crafting spaces, gym, and a mud room, or just a simple one-bed, one-bath, with an open plan living area?
In other words, what sort of website will your visitors find most appealing and useful?
Check out your neighbors’ property—i.e., your competitors’ websites—to see what they’ve built. Put yourself in a prospect’s shoes and assess how functional their sites seem to be.
While replicating what everyone else is doing sounds like a recipe for undifferentiated blah, it will help visitors feel at home by giving them a sense of familiarity.
Going completely off the reservation can make visitors feel uncomfortable and lost.
Where you land on the spectrum between copycat and unique will depend on how differentiated your brand is from its competitors, your brand personality, and how confident you are in visitors sticking with you when you do things differently.
In the modern era, houses aren’t built as a series of incremental projects.
We plan the whole thing before breaking ground, rather than building a bit and then deciding what to build next and where.
This helps ensure a coherent whole—rather than a Franken-house—and simplifies the construction process by standardizing materials and aligning structures.
Build your website in a way that caters for future additions
Do the same for your website—even if some pages won’t get built right away.
Much as a homebuilder might install some extra plumbing with a future extension in mind, you should build your website in a way that caters for future additions.
Draw a detailed website plan before you start to code.
This will be helpful when you apply Lesson #3 and will let you take a virtual walk through the design before you commit to building it.
Unless you’re an expert in a wide range of homebuilding trades—earthworks, concrete, framing, bricklaying, plumbing, electrical, tile, drywall, and so on—you have no business building a house by yourself.
In truth, you have no business managing the building of a house, either.
This is the role of a GC, who knows enough about each of the contributing trades to specify, hire, and supervise their services.
Unless you’re an expert in cutting-edge website coding, do not be tempted to build the site yourself
Similarly, unless you’re an expert in cutting-edge website coding, do not be tempted to build the site yourself.
For better or worse, most of us who’ve grown up in the age of personal computers have learned to code at some point—even if it was just a few lines of BASIC.
And with a plethora of “no-code” and “low-code” toolkits hitting the market, it’s tempting to think, “any fool can do that” and, “let me save the company some money—how hard can it be?”
Not a bad ploy if you’re knocking up a one-page site for a simple, lifestyle business.
But a potential disaster if you want to produce a slick, fast-loading, responsive, engaging site for a discerning B2B audience.
Great websites aren’t built for free. Pay to hire designers and developers who know what they’re doing, and you’ll save yourself a lot of stress, time, and embarrassment.
The detailed plans you’ve created following Lesson #2 will serve you well as you engage the GC and inculcate them in what you’re trying to build.
Homes that stand the test of time—including everything that nature will throw at them over the decades—are built on solid foundations.
It’s the first thing that a building crew works on, and it can take a seemingly disproportionate amount of project time.
(If you’ve ever waited on a foundation slab to dry, wondering whether your house will ever get built, and then watched the frame go up in a matter of days, you know what I mean.)
Pay the same care and attention to laying the foundations for your website and web content.
Start with your business’ purpose, mission, vision, and differentiation. These should anchor all of your company’s content as I discuss here.
Then, think about your brand—both its visual elements and its personality—and how it will be applied consistently and effectively throughout your site.
Homes that have been constructed over generations sometimes sport additions that differ greatly from the original building. This can look great but more often it’s jarring.
It’s much more common to see additions designed to blend in with the original, even if the materials and functionality are significantly updated.
Get the foundations for your website right and you’ll have no difficulty preserving the look and feel while adding to it later.
Living in a cave or an underground bunker isn’t most people’s cup of tea.
We like to see what’s going on, both within and beyond our spaces.
Windows let us see what lies beyond our immediate confines—usually outside the house but occasionally between rooms.
Imagery is a powerful way of augmenting your text and helping your visitors to navigate, ingest, and understand it
Images serve a similar purpose on your site, giving visitors visual clues as to what they will find if they visit a particular section or page.
From icons to photos to infographics, imagery is a powerful way of augmenting your text and helping your visitors to navigate, ingest, and understand it.
Curb appeal matters, too.
Houses with mismatched windows are generally less attractive than those with coordinated panes.
Websites with mismatched images look messy and low quality.
Invest the time to intentionally design and produce (or purchase) all the images that will appear on your site, making sure they are coordinated across types and pages.
Think about the view that each image creates. What is it showing your visitor? Where is it leading them?
I’ve already used the word consistency several times in this post, and for good reason: Consistency has a powerful effect on your visitors.
For starters, it helps them find their way around.
If the light switch in each room is always just inside the door, at chest height, on the right-hand side, they will have no difficulty finding their way around in the dark.
If the rooms are organized in a conventional fashion, they’ll easily figure out which door leads to the bathroom and where to hunt for extra pillows.
Be equally considerate to your website visitors, using consistent navigation and layout elements from page to page.
Secondly, it helps them to feel comfortable.
Houses that are consistently decorated and furnished reinforce a sense of intentional design, consideration for the occupant, and overall quality.
Some people will hate the whole thing, of course. Your house simply wasn’t for them.
Ditto your website.
Speaking of furniture, let’s spend a moment thinking about the important role fittings, fabrics, and furnishings play in turning a building into a functional home.
Imagine your house without the handles, knobs, switches, pullouts, and other bits-and-bobs that turn mundane home elements into functional wizardry.
No fun. And certainly not functional.
For an even more twisted nightmare, imagine if none of those things matched, leaving you to guess where to find each element and how it worked. Ugh.
And all that before we even get to the aesthetic side of things or talk about the furniture.
Your website needs these elements, too.
Helpful links, calls to action, and dynamic components that bring relevant information into view (e.g., accordions, sliders, drop-downs) all increase functionality and visitor appeal.
However, as with home furnishings, there’s a balance to be struck between form and function.
Don’t let the snazzy components distract too much from your overall design.
If you’ve ever bought a newbuild home, you’ll remember the last few weeks feeling like an eternity.
With construction complete and the final finishes applied, a seemingly endless punch list of minor items becomes the bane of your life—waiting on materials, skilled labor, or both.
Finally, the time comes for your “blue tape” walk through.
The earlier you catch and correct something that doesn’t quite work when translated from design into reality, the better
This is where you accompany the GC on a top-to-bottom inspection of your new house, looking for anything that needs to be corrected before the purchase is finalized and you take ownership—marking each item with a piece of ubiquitous blue painter’s tape.
It’s amazing how many things go unnoticed until that inspection.
(Speaking from experience, it’s amazing how many still only get noticed a few weeks later, after you’ve moved in!)
This isn’t the only walk through you’ll make with your GC, of course. There will be several at different stages of construction.
Each one provides an opportunity to check for form and functionality—and to make course corrections if something doesn’t seem right.
The earlier you catch and correct something that doesn’t quite work when translated from design into reality, the better.
Can you see the parallels when building a website?
Walking through the half-built site with your developer is a great way to get a feel for how the design is translating into code and what is and isn’t working as you’d hoped.
And walking through the site before it goes live is an essential step in catching any last-minute glitches and typos before you open it to critical visitors.
I’m sure you can think of a dozen more analogies between homebuilding and website construction (especially if you let your mind wander into home renovations!), but this post should give you a solid place from which to start.
Begin by agreeing an overarching design aesthetic that aligns with your brand, deciding where you want to aim on the spectrum from copycat-to-unique.
Draw up detailed plans, so that you can see the entirety of what’s to be built. This will also help you explain it to others and refine it based on their feedback.
Hire a qualified website designer/developer to turn your plans into reality. This will ensure your site takes advantage of the latest coding techniques.
Before you build, lay strong foundations to anchor your website design and content. This will require defining your purpose, mission, vision, differentiation, visual brand elements, and brand personality.
Use images—including icons, photos, drawings, and infographics—to show your visitors what each section of the website contains and to help them navigate, ingest, and understand your content.
Be intentional and consistent in everything that you do, so that visitors feel comfortable navigating around your site.
Use links, calls to action, and dynamic components to bring relevant information into view but pay attention to the balance between form and function. Don’t let snazzy components distract from your overall design.
And finally, walk through the site regularly with your developer during construction to see what is and isn’t working as you’d hoped. Perform a final walk through before the site goes live to catch any last-minute glitches and typos.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock