Designing & Branding a Website You (& Everyone Else) Will Love

Without wasting time on things that don't matter
Last updated December 12, 2018
Posted by Luke      2 Comments

If you’ve read the previous lessons in my successful website blueprint and now you’ve arrived here, you’ll be aware that I generally believe in keeping things simple.

If you haven’t read those, well…now you know.

This mindset of mine is no more true than when it comes to branding.

In fact, the two main things I believe in when it comes to branding are:

  • Keep it simple
  • Branding is overrated

As I said in my $200,000 success story, I do think branding is important…

…I just think that too many people place such emphasis on it that they often end up constantly delaying their start — and their progress — to the point where things never even get off the ground.

Sometimes, the right product without good branding might not succeed.

I totally get that, but…

I’d rather have the right product with weak branding, than no product with great branding.

Ya feel me?

I believe you need a good product, or service, or whatever it is you’re offering, much more than you need a nice name or logo.

Sure, a bad product or service with great branding can sell really well…

…I just don’t believe in releasing absolute shite and expecting people to pay for it. That’s why all my content is free.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at branding your website efficiently; making sure everything looks and feels as good as it can whilst still ensuring you can put time into the bread and butter (i.e. your content, your products or your service). 

I don’t think anyone else will say the same things that I do on this subject, and many people will fundamentally disagree with me, so it should be a fun one!

We’ll start with two things that apply to those that don’t have a website yet (domains & logos). If you want to skip my opinions on those subjects — though I recommend reading the logo section as it contains some more general advice within it — use the navigation below.

Picking a Domain Name

The most important thing when picking a name for your website and business is ensuring that the domain names are available.

You can check if the domain for your potential new website is available on sites like 123-reg.

Ironically, 123-reg is a terrible domain name. 

A general tip for finding a domain that is available: 

If it’s a simple name and you like it, someone else will probably have already registered it.

Seriously, just try and come up with some short domain name ideas that you like and then give it a search to see if it’s available.

Spoiler: It’s almost certainly not. 

So…you have to think outside the box a little.

One of the most simple ways to come up with an available name is to try and combine two words, either as their whole words or as a mish-mash of them both.

As a live example, I’ll try the world’s most overused tactic and see if the domains are available.

This is a genuine one-attempt experiment, so if they’re taken, I’ll show that.

The first step is to come up with a random word related to our chosen niche; let’s say that niche is fitness supplements. That word could be…protein.

I now need to pick a random animal, because that’s such a unique and creative and totally quirky thing to do.

I’m going with zebra because I don’t know why.

Nice!

The example worked. 

ZebraProtein.com is not taken and available for purchase. So is the .co.uk domain. 

It’s official (though don’t quote me on it):

Random word related to your chosen niche + animal name = available domain. 

Just remember, these types of names are so cliché.

…And still sometimes taken.

Of course, this stupid animal formula doesn’t guarantee you a name that you’ll love (or perhaps you do love it, in which case you may be good to go), so you’ll need to try a range of stuff — but remember to make a note of the good domain opportunities that weren’t taken.

Other overused tactics for finding domains can be to add things like ‘io’ or ‘er’ to the end of regular words from your niche, if you want to give that a try. 

Proteinio…Proteiner…

Not great examples, but I’m sure you get the gist.

You want to make sure you can get the .com and .co.uk versions of your chosen domain for a basic level of protection.

I bought a range of cliche-related domains that were similar to this one that I’m using.

Doing this isn’t too necessary — especially if you’re just starting up a small site — but some additional protection doesn’t hurt, depending on your budget and goals.

You also want to be careful that other people don’t own and run businesses from really similar domains as you may infringe on trademarks.

Maybe someone already owns zebra-protein.com for some reason (they don’t at the time of writing this) and they own the trademark for the brand (again, no-one appears to at the time of writing this).

If there was a company out there that already registered ‘zebraprotein.com’ as a trademark and then you registered zebra-protein.com, well, I’m not a lawyer…but that seems like a black and white case to me hahahahIhatemylife.

You really want to avoid hyphens (or dashes or whatever you call them where you’re from) if possible, in general, within your domain names.

Word of mouth marketing is still a thing, and you don’t want any confusion to arise in the situation where someone is saying:

“Oh yeah, I found this great website you’d love, it’s cliche-website.com. Cliche dash website dot com. No not the word dash, like…a hyphen. The symbol. Cliche, hyphen symbol, website, dot com. Cliche, c-l-i-c-h-e. No, without the accent on the ‘e’. You can’t register accents in domai-oh forget it the guy’s a fuckin’ weirdo anyway.”

You also want to try to avoid spelling words incorrectly, or strangely, just to get an available domain.

As I’m writing this, I’ve just invented the name for the next big protein powder for the buffest gym guys just like me.

Sticking with the same animal, I’m gonna call it Zebbruh.

For bros only. 10/10 Photoshop, excellent work Luke.

The issue with these types of names, even if it is clever — I appreciate that this example is absolutely not — you need money to put into the marketing just to teach people how to spell.

If you have this money to invest then sure, but there are probably better places for you to spend it than teaching people about your shitty name.

This doesn’t have to be a big deal, but many people fumble around over it.

You don’t need to come up with the smartest of designs that subtly shows your vibrant personality, core values and ethical beliefs, and it really doesn’t matter too much if it’s not creative.

If you think your logo is going to turn people away because it doesn’t quite convey the meaning you wanted it to, I need to assure you:

The only people judging your logo are logo designers.

Most people aren’t logo designers. 

Here are some great tips for ensuring you have a suitable logo:

  • Don’t make it in Microsoft Paint

And there you have it, everything you need to know about making a logo that is adequate.

This is not me saying that your logo couldn’t be better if you put thought and time into it.

You could probably come up with a great logo if you had enough time, or if you had some money to invest in getting a professional to handle it all, but I just want to drill into you my simple theory:

You shouldn’t let a brand name or logo prevent you from getting your website or business up and running.

For this website, after my original logo attempt that I shared in lesson 1 of my blueprint, I hired a designer with the brief to create something intentionally bad. As you can see, I went with a variant of the first design.

Around the age of 18, I was working for a company that was selling cheap products from China at a huge mark-up online. 

The way the huge mark-up was generated — in a strategy a lot of big-name companies use — was by simply adding a brand name and logo to the previously generic products.

Myself and four or five other guys had the task of coming up with names and logos for these products.

I originally made a deadly serious comment joke here about the fact this was just one of many tasks that we were severely underpaid for, but then I realised we were talking about generic products that cost us around $0.10 and were all made in Chinese sweatshops — probably by newborn babies that are already working more hours in a week than I ever have. I therefore thought it was a bit petty so I removed it.

And then I put it back in, because fuck those guys, make sure you treat people fairly otherwise in 10 years time they might just indirectly blog about you to their 7 readers.

So here’s the thing:

None of us had worked in marketing before.

None of us were designers. 

And yet still…almost every ‘brand’ we invented ended up turning huge profits, even though we were coming up with the names with almost no thought and the logo would simply be the name of the brand we’d invented in a simple Photoshop font.

How could this be?

It’s easy.

The product is by far the most important thing you’re offering.

Does the branding or marketing surrounding that product matter? Yes, it does.

But having any reasonable brand or name associated to a product (or service) makes a massive difference compared to not having one. 

Imagine it was a pencil.

We could buy 1,000 unbranded pencils for $0.05 each (I’m making all of this up, I can’t reveal the exact products or brands).

Do you want to buy this pencil? It’s called: pencil. It’s $1.

Or do you want to buy this pencil? It’s called: Graphite HD. It’s $4.99.

You don’t want the Graphite HD? Well, that’s fine, but we’re the only place selling it. If we wanted to sell ‘pencil’, we’d have to compete with thousands of other stores for your custom. And if you trust our product description and reviews — which you shouldn’t — the Graphite HD is the highest quality pencil this side of the place that’s known for really high quality pencils.

We’d change the low-res manufacturer-provided image that other resellers were using to a high-definition one that we’d taken ourselves (again, with no training or experience), so that our image looked far more professional and worthy of a high price tag.

We’d then add an extremely simple logo alongside it.

I’ll make one now using the free online tool Pixlr:

Brand name logo

I timed myself making it, it took exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds, including loading up the site and saving the image.

It’s just two different fonts stuck together, with one bolded.

I know it’s not the best thing in the world…

…But it would help to sell more goddamn pencils.

Would Apple have sold as many iPhones if they didn’t have the ‘Apple’ brand?

Almost certainly not. 

…But imagine if they never started a company at all, just because they couldn’t settle on a name or logo. 

It sounds stupid, but I have seen more people than you can imagine that have an idea but never even start it because they can’t come up with a name or logo that they like.

When you’re starting a website, unless you’re planning on buying and stocking physical goods, you don’t have to risk loads of money. 

If you start a site and put time into it, the only thing you’ve really lost after a year or two — if it doesn’t pick up — is the time you put into it. 

Trust me:

You aren’t going to look back in a year or two with a failed website and say “damn, losing that $200 investment sucked — if only I had a better logo then it all might have worked out.”

Notable exceptions: If your logo is a crude drawing of male body parts, or perhaps a big, bold swastika, then fair enough — perhaps that was the reason you failed after all.

My advice: pick a name that is simple enough to spell and create a logo that is basic, if required.

A clean, plain logo is totally fine in my opinion.

The rest of your branding can be built in more financially-rewarding ways, some of which I’m going to talk about below.

Website Design Tips

We’ve spoken a lot about your logo in this post, but there’s a lot more to the overall design of your brand than just how your name appears at the top of your site.

As stated numerous times, I’m not a branding expert.

I couldn’t be, because I don’t believe in it enough; I believe wholeheartedly in investing my time elsewhere as I think doing that is usually the best way for me to earn more money.

So when it comes to design, I focus on simplicity.

Fonts & Whitespace

The main thing with written content is making sure it’s displayed in a relatively large font and is well spaced out.

It’s a fine line between being easily readable and talking to your readers like they’ve accidentally hit the hotkey for helping the visually impaired. 

I’m aware this is the most boring tip of all time, but it’s something many sites still get wrong:

Keep all wording easy to read.

Bold things for emphasis (like I just did) and use italics to mix things up if required.

No-one wants to read a product description that is just a wall of text.

Whilst this isn’t possible on all sites, you should try to reserve colours for important aspects; places where you want users to be attracted to.

This doesn’t quite fall under the branding bracket — it’s more Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) — but colours should generally be used to gain attention, whilst also ensuring your site isn’t so boring that it turns everyone away.

I like to think that words alone can keep a reader engaged (if you’re reading this then I guess that proves my point), but things have to be laid out correctly, too. Colour should be used to draw attention away from writing and towards the shiny email opt-in that you’ll now want to subscribe via.

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Layout & Structure

Here’s the thing: 

I’ve had numerous comments from people that think the design of ClichéWebsite could be improved. 

They’re correct…

…But they just don’t get it. 

The reason it could be improved is because I’ve put the vast majority of my time into what I believe to be the most important thing on this type of site (a blog) — the written content. 

Time is precious, no-one has enough of it to do everything they want to do.

That’s why I actually really love the ‘half-finished’ design style of this website. No site is ever complete, so fuck it, I’m just making that fact more obvious than ever.

I have more time to work online than many of you reading will have, but I want to make sure things appear realistic to replicate. I can’t sink hundreds of hours into design because you and your small business probably can’t afford to do the same. 

My long-term goal is that I’d like to increase my subscriber count — but I ideally only want subscribers that really enjoy what I have to say. 

With that in mind, my short-term priority is just to keep readers reading my shit. 

People will have an idea pretty quickly about whether they like me or hate me. I don’t mind which way you lean.

You should consider your short and long-term goals when it comes to site design and layout. 

I don’t want traditional design features (like a sidebar, for example) taking eyes away from the only place I want them to be — these words right here.

Where do you want eyes to be on your site? 

Colour Scheme

Your brand should ideally have a colour palette, where you use exactly the same 4 or 5 main colours throughout almost all of your online presence.

Make a note of the HEX codes for each colour you use (which look a little something like #ffffff — that’s the HEX code for my skin tone) so that you can get an exact match whenever needed.

You can generate potential colour schemes and find the corresponding HEX codes using sites like Paletton.   

You don’t want your site to look like a rainbow threw up all over it, or have it ending up like (the admittedly genius design) Ling’s cars:

You can use variants of your colour palette with different shades for accents and for the purpose of keeping things different.

If you want to put more effort into the on-site design aspect of branding than I have — sometimes a great looking website is essential — then I recommend checking out this colour palette guide from The Branded Solopreneur

Feature Images

Consistency is important when it comes to branding, but you don’t want all of your feature images to look the same.

Yes, you want to try and make them look like they’re all a part of the same brand, but having a basic template where you just switch out the words…this isn’t the optimum play for online success.

The reason for this is…clickbait.

The reason clickbait is hated so much because it works. 

And clickbait draws your eye by standing out, using words and images and boobs to make your mind think that you just can’t not click it.

If your audience becomes used to seeing exactly how your image thumbnails look, they might — subconsciously — not want to click your latest and greatest post because it doesn’t stand out to them. 

Your images also won’t stand out to potential new viewers, who’ve perhaps seen your thumbnails before but never clicked them. You need to vary it up to draw new people in and keep growing. 

Look at some successful YouTuber channels; almost every single one of their thumbnails (or feature images) will probably be wildly different from any of their most recent videos.

There is almost no consistency throughout the thumbnails of Pewdiepie, who I just picked as the obvious example for this as the most-subscribed YouTuber on the planet.

There is a general theme of comedy within them, and he uses his face within some (but not all), but other than that there aren’t too many similarities. 

YouTube is slightly different to your site, as you’re not competing with millions of other people when articles are on your site, or are shared onto social media, but you do want to make sure yours are highly clickable and somewhat unique from the others — even the others on your own site. 

Once again, I want to say here that I really think it’s more important to get your site live, even if you don’t have the most amazing website in the world. This goes for imagery too.

My $200k blog used generic royalty-free images — unedited — for a long time. 

At least you can earn from a website that looks 5/10 but is live and getting traffic, rather than a website that looks 9/10 but still isn’t quite perfect so you’ve never hit publish.

Your design does matter.

Some sites look amazing.

Some sites look absolutely terrible. 

As long as yours isn’t in that second bracket, you should have a reasonable chance. 

Branding Through Words

Branding isn’t just done how your site looks to the eye, it’s also done with how your language resonates in a reader’s mind.

How many times have you ever Googled a question, looking for a guide, and then found the best post you could have expected?

…A post that was so good, that you then went on to subscribe to hear more from that site?

I bet a good percentage of you have done this, but the amount of times you’ve done it compared to how many times you’ve searched for things is probably incredibly low. 

Most of you will only get one chance to hook a visitor to return to your site.

On the average blog, a person is more likely to not return to your site — ever — than they are to come back even once.

Seriously.

Hundreds of thousands of people viewed my last blog and I know for a fact that a lot of people found it useful…

…But on average, people only came to my site 1.43 times. 

Sites in the affiliate style (like the example above) generally provide people an answer and then send them elsewhere. A lot of people have no reason to stay around for more. 

For sites like mine, where I don’t provide a service, or tools, or products, I can almost only rely on my words — my written content.

I think my writing is most of what I can offer. It’s not for everyone, but that’s fine. 

You don’t need to try to appeal to everyone.

And not appealing to everyone — intentionally — is branding in itself.

Do you think high-end fashion designers are always looking to create something that absolutely everyone loves? 

Image credit: WEBN-TV on Flickr

I mean, I know absolutely nothing about fashion, but it seems to me — from a marketer’s perspective at least — that these designers often seem to create things that are a little ‘out there’ in order to shock, surprise, or get people talking.

And oh man, people get talking. YouTube videos from random people reviewing dresses at these events get millions of views (there’s a niche idea for you). I have no idea why as I have absolutely no interest in them, but I agree with Kelsey; I’d have worn something more vibrant if the stars were aligned as they were that evening. 

If the big names in fashion created generic, bland products, less people would be prepared to pay premium price tags.

Their products do most of the ‘speaking’, and with a high-end audience, you’d expect language on their websites to be in a very professional tone. This still adds to the overall feel of their brand. 

What is it that you’re offering on your site?

I recently ordered some metal posters (as in posters printed onto metal, not posters with a theme of heavy metal — I’m not 13, or 50) from a site called Displate.

That’s a refer-a-friend link, but I genuinely love their products and really liked a few things about their service, too.

Firstly, it was the first time I’d heard of metal posters. 

It seems this isn’t a unique idea, but it was unique to me at the time and I think I saw them via an Instagram ad so…well done to them for effective advertising, I guess. 

Secondly, their slightly crazy confirmation email just made me smile a little; it wasn’t so over-the-top that it was cringey or too forced, I was just glad that some brands can show a bit of personality out there:

Their confirmation enhanced what was already a slightly quirky product.

If you’re creating a site for your legal consultancy, you definitely don’t want to come across like this.

There is a line that you can’t cross with things that you say, but this line is in a different place depending on the industry you’re in and the type of site you are.

The line for me is so far away that it could well be inside that Chinese sweatshop I mentioned earlier — it’s a shame none of the child workers would get to see it because they’re not allowed to take breaks. My old employer has a big order they need to meet.

You’ve got to work out where your site will be positioned and how you want to come across. 

For most people, a bit of fun doesn’t go a miss.

This isn’t just in your written content on your website, but it’s also what you include in emails, on social media, in videos, etc.

Sometimes, some people won’t like what you say or the way you say it.

I’m sure a lot of people won’t understand my jokes or they’ll think I’m offensive or rude or whatever…

…But I’d rather build an audience of 1,000 people that quite like me rather than 100,000 of those that don’t really care what I have to say. 

Make people remember you for one reason or another. 

That’s how you build a brand. 

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2 Comments

  • Another great post Luke. I thiNk I want to spend a bit of time over getting my brand right, but I’m creating a shop website. I think it’s more important to do it with a shop than affiliates.

    • Yeah, you’re right. I do believe in branding, I just believe some people give it too much credence. It’s more important in certain areas, i.e. when you’re entering a competitive e-commerce area.

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