Most web designers and developers do their share of complaining about not being paid what they’re worth. I should know, I used to be one of them. I would work for months on a web project, taking great care to give my clients exactly what they asked for. No wonder I wasn’t making much.

It wasn’t until I underwent a bit of a mindshift that I began to provide clients with the kind of work that actually moved the needle for their business. Naturally, this resulted in higher pay. Pay that I could justify to my clients based on the value I was providing them. In this article, I want to show you what I know now, and the three simple rules I use to make every single web project a success.

Rule 1: Don’t Take Stated Needs as Gospel


When you meet with a new web design client, do you ask them what they want to see on their site? Most designers think this is a great starting place. After all, the goal is for the client to get what they want, right? Actually, not really.

There is an innate problem with asking clients what they want on their website — it implies that what they want is what they actually need. Nine times out of ten, it isn’t. Let me explain. Most clients aren’t experts in internet marketing. That should be our job; to not only design a nice looking website, but one that is goal-oriented, and designed to funnel users towards a goal.

When you ask a client what they want on their website, you are essentially passing the buck to them. All they are likely to answer you with are their stated needs, not their actual needs. Stated needs are what your clients think they want, based on their limited understanding of what a website can actually do for their business. I’m reminded of a quote from Henry Ford:

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

In other words, people can only approach a problem from their limited point of view. Your clients aren’t likely to know how their website can benefit them. They only know about certain features and design styles that they have seen on other websites. So when you ask what they want, those superficial elements are what they will likely bring to the table. They’re thinking faster horses, but it’s your job to introduce them to the automobile they never knew existed.

How do you do that? It’s simple really — instead of asking them questions relating to the website itself, keep the questions to their business. How do they work? Who are their competitors? And most importantly, what are their goals? Once you know all of that, it’s your job to tailor a website that helps them achieve those goals. Those are the true needs of the site, and are much more important that what your clients think they want.

Rule 2: Design Around a Single Goal


Once you know your client’s overall business goals, ask yourself:

What is the single most important action site visitors can take to help my client reach their goals?

Let’s say you’re designing a website for a local Italian restaurant. The goal is simple: the owner wants more customers to come into his restaurant. So how do you use the website to help his cause

There are a few options here:

  • Option 1: Encourage site visitors to book a reservation through the website
  • Option 2: Build an email list that the owner can use to market to later through an email and/or Facebook campaign

Both are viable options, and you can certainly provide a website that does both. But in order for a website to be truly successful, you have to throw most of your weight behind one goal that you can funnel everyone toward. To split it down the middle will result in a weaker pitch that isn’t as likely to land in either direction.

When presented multiple possible goals like this, do your research. Which of the options is most likely to pack the biggest punch for your client?

Through research, you might find that most people who visit a restaurant’s website once aren’t that likely to actually book a reservation.

You might also find that by offering some sort of incentive in exchange for an email address, (such as a free dessert,) they are actually more likely to come for dinner. And even if they don’t, your client now has their email address, enabling them to keep in contact with that potential customer. A month later, they might run a targeted Facebook campaign that brings them in.

So in this case, email capture is the more lucrative goal. Therefore, the single goal of the website is to collect email addresses.

There can still be a secondary option allowing people to book a reservation online, but it should be treated as secondary, and the site should be designed accordingly.

This is just one example of how you can help a client reach their goals, but you can see the overall process. A website has the power to help just about any business if you do your research.

Rule 3: Guide Them to the Goal


Now that you have the ultimate goal of the site in mind, you need to think about how you’re going to entice site visitors to take the desired action. Don’t leave it to chance, and don’t let them wander aimlessly on their own. You need to lead them by the hand and say:

“Here’s what you should do, and here’s why you should do it!”

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Use landing pages. Ideally speaking, your site visitors should be properly enticed to take the desired action without having to go to multiple pages on the site.
  • Use persuasive headlines and copy. What will the end user get out of the deal? Don’t push features, but rather benefits. Give them a good reason to convert.
  • Prioritize Navigation. If you can’t condense all of your content to a landing page, then you still want to offer a limited set of primary navigation options. Pick two or three absolutely relevant pages to keep in the main navigation, then put all other options in a secondary navigation bar in a less prominent position. The idea is to not distract users with too many options, or you risk losing them.
  • Place CTA (call to action) button in a prominent, always visible position. You will most likely want to place your CTA within the body of the page, but I recommend also placing it in a sticky header bar for easy access.

Final Thoughts

As web professionals, it’s important to keep track of why we do what we do. What makes us valuable is our ability to make a positive impact on our clients’ business. When we only design what our clients ask for at face value, or only focus on aesthetics and functionalities, we are really selling clients, (and ourselves) short. By designing with these guiding principles in mind, we can truly enhance our clients’ investment, and maximize the one of the most valuable marketing tools they have — their website.

Only by providing true value to our clients, and acting as a partner in their success can we hope to make the kind of money that will make a positive impact on our business.


Wes McDowell is the creative director and usability specialist at Chicago Web Design agency, The Deep End. When not working with clients, Wes can be found blogging about web design, user experience, and internet marketing.