I’ve often heard it said that a company is either really unhappy with its website, or it finds it an indispensible part of the business; sometimes from companies in the same region, selling roughly the same things.

The perceived wisdom is that either the design is ‘better’ or there’s some hidden search engine optimisation magic in play.

Usually, neither of these is true. The success or failure of a website can often be tracked right back to the initiation of the project. To describe why this may be the case, I’d like to give you some examples of website success.

We recently launched a new website for a client. Within ten days, their enquiry rate had multiplied seven-fold – from the same amount of visitors. In this instance, the results couldn’t really be down to ‘doing better on Google’ since the website was new enough to not yet be fully indexed and ranked. Indeed, this is borne out by the number of visitors – roughly the same. What we happening was that more people were deciding to enquire, based on what they saw.

Another example would be our work with a charity, where a new website enabled events to be booked significantly faster than before.

In the case of both organisations, once the websites had been indexed by Google, they outperformed the previous sites measurably. This created more traffic, which added to the rate of enquiries or bookings.

So what’s the magic factor? Well, it’s not a question of getting one thing right, it’s a question of getting pretty much everything right.

And this is where many website design companies (especially smaller ones) come unstuck. They’re often just designers – definitely capable of creating attractive pages, but perhaps lacking in some key skills.

A website is far more than just a design project. It requires analysis of previous website traffic, an understanding of the company’s market/services/products, an awareness of online buyer behaviour, good copywriting skills, business development acumen – and much more.

Imagine a car created by a designer. It doesn’t matter how good it looks if it only does 4mpg and its 0-60pmh speed is 10 minutes. Cars are designed by teams – multiple skills are required, from engineering to electronics, from ergonomics to aerodynamics. A website is no different.

So, to come full circle, that’s usually the key difference: an unsuccessful websiteproject is oftenapproached as a design project. A designer isengaged – period. Not someone with marketing expertise; not someone who understands online visitors’ behaviour; often not even a copywriter.

So, the website looks great – yet actually fails. It’s difficult for the client to see why.

Websites have to be approached as a series of problems which need to be cracked methodically. What does the company sell? Where are its customers? How do they buy? What do their competitors do? There are a hundred questions which need answering before the design work starts – because the design should support the needs of the business; form following function and not vice versa.

In my two examples, the experienced increases in enquiries and bookings weren’t a fluke, nor the result of guesswork. They stemmed from discussion, research and analysis all informing a more focused design.

It goes without saying that working in this way costs a little more. But you know what? It may cost a little more, but it delivers a heck of a lot more too.