Questions You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask about Website Development

In this back-and-forth conversation, we decode “web designer–speak” so you’ll be able to understand the ideas driving modern website development.

Here’s the situation: You just got out of a meeting with a website designer who was telling you all the reasons why you need a new website. Sure, you know that yours is a little dated, but you didn’t understand some of the terms the designer was throwing around, and you just want it straight. So, you came to us.

You: I have some questions.
Hawthorn Creative: Let’s hear them.

So I was talking with this web designer, let’s call him Mark – his name’s not Mark, but we’ll call him Mark – he was throwing around a bunch of terms, and I have to tell you, I had no idea what he was talking about. UX, PSD, CTA…
Slow down!

…IA, SEO. So many acronyms. I kept nodding but I was checked out.
All right, let’s go through them one by one.

UX means user experience. It’s not just how something looks, it’s how something works, and it basically encompasses the whole experience someone has on your website.

PSD is just a file format – Photoshop’s, to be specific. When an image is in PSD format, it can be manipulated by designers in Photoshop.

A CTA is a crucial element for any business’s website. It means call-to-action. It’s the main thing you’re trying to direct people to do on your website. It could be booking an appointment, subscribing to your newsletter, sending you an inquiry, whatever. It’s the thing you want them to do.

IA, or information architecture, is basically how people get around your website. Think of the menus you see at the top of the page when you go to your favorite websites. You want yours to be clearly visible and well organized so people can get to where they need to go.

And finally, SEO. There are a bunch of ways to get people to your website, but the biggest driver of traffic for many hospitality websites is through search. SEO, or search engine optimization, is basically a set of tactics to improve your chances at coming up in people’s searches.

I keep hearing that my website needs to be “responsive.” Is that a fad I can ignore?
Noooo. When a website is responsive, that means that it easily scales in size, regardless of the screen – it could be a computer with a big monitor, a smartphone, or even an iPad. As more and more of our “computer” time shifts to the phone, it’s important that your website works well and look good not only on the desktop, but everywhere. Responsive does that.

So how can I tell if the website I have is responsive?
Here’s an easy trick: Open up your website on a desktop browser. Drag the window (doesn’t matter whether you use Safari, Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer) from the corner and make it smaller. Does the content neatly rearrange to fit the smaller window? If so, it’s responsive.

Cool, I can try that. Another thing Mark the designer kept saying is “white space.” White space, white space, white space. I think Mark is in love with white space. Why does it matter?
White space is basically the absence of content or any other elements. It’s the parts of the page that are blank or empty. Designers love it because it gives the important components room to, well, be important, and it makes things much more digestible for the reader.

But I have a bunch of information I want to include – details, FAQs, pricing, a couple paragraphs of background about our business, customer testimonials, that sort of thing. If I have a bunch of white space, I probably won’t be able to fit it all on the home page.
That’s a good thing. If all that stuff was on a single page, it wouldn’t be read. This is where both white space and navigation come into play. Everything should have its place where it can be seen, read, and appreciated. A good website design agency doesn’t just make things look good, but really thinks through your customers’ needs and builds around that.

What about the photos? Mark said I need high-resolution photos. I get that for print, but why on a website?
Modern websites are designed for super high-resolution (think: big and fancy) screens, so graphics that may technically be “web-friendly” often won’t cut it if you’re displaying them as large-scale images. You’re in a very visual industry – you want to make sure you nail those images and have an impact on visitors.

iPhone cameras get more sophisticated every year, though. Can I snap the photos myself?
Even if you have a camera that can technically capture the sort of images we’re talking about, there’s more to it than the photo’s technical quality. You want professionally composed, artfully crafted images that will really do your services justice.

This is a lot to consider. If someone is already on my website, and all the information they need is there, what does it matter if it’s pretty or not? I’ve already got them.
Well, you may have them in the sense that they’re on your site, but chances are they’ll leave soon, without taking the action you want them to take. If something isn’t easy to find, people don’t stick around and comb through every page – they leave. They hit one of the other tabs they have open, or open up a different app on their phone, etc. There are too many other things screaming for their attention.

So it’s about putting content in the spots that people see?
Yes, but there’s more to it in your case. Because the hospitality industry is so visually oriented, websites in your field don’t just have to be functional, they also need to look good, and have that aspirational Pinterest-worthy feel. Does that make sense?

I think so. OK, last thing: domain, website, host. What’s the difference?
Here’s how to think about it: A domain is a website’s address. The domain for this website is hawthorncreative.com. You can have a domain without having a website – it’d sort of be like calling someone who has a phone number, but no phone. A website is a collection of all the content (often spread across multiple pages) accessible on a domain. A host refers to the server (or hosting company) that stores your website and serves it up to everyone trying to access it.