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Website design & third party plugins: small is beautiful, less is more.

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Having focus throughout the website designing process is critical in delivering an amazing end product. Unfortunately this simple concept is one that in my opinion, is often overlooked.

To have focus requires foresight, planning, and an understanding of your target market.

Every feature in a well thought out 'focused' website is required in order to meet specific goals and objectives. In turn these goals fit into an overriding strategy.

In short, focus lets you achieve a lot with comparatively little, empowering your business to move forwards efficiently.

Quick fixes, rapid deployment and the rise of feature bloat

The problem, ladies and gentlemen is choice, or rather easy choices. Not following? I'll give you an example.

"No coding required” - 3rd party javascript applications

SumoMe is a great app, one that lets site owners gain access to a myriad of tools such as popups and heat maps. A popular example of a web application that can be installed in minutes. But their are thousands more. Applications deployed through JavaScript snippets that load from an external URL. Installation is simply a case of copying a single line of code into your sites global header or footer.

Great right? Well yes it can be. If it helps your organisation hit it's objectives, fits it's branding guidelines, stays within any established privacy agreements, and most importantly, helps improve your users experience.

But I question how many of the advertised 500,381 sites running SumoMe (as of January 2017) gave any of the above serious consideration?

What I'm really getting at is the amount of largely unnecessary third party applications that are installed as an afterthought to the sites initial deployment and that, when questioned, are justified largely by their ease of installation - consequences be damned.

So let's talk about the negatives

I don't even know where to begin. Third part applications introduce so many potential inconsistencies, privacy, technical, workflow and accessible considerations that I can only briefly summarise some of them here. But, if nothing else, I'm hoping I'll be able to get across why I always advise caution.

Security and plugins

Take this simple analogy:

"When you load an un-vetted 3rd party application, you're giving a stranger (or more accurately a team of strangers) a key to your house."

The first question to ask when looking at a third party service is do you trust this organisation?

Read their privacy statement, do some basic research. What’s their security like? If you don't like what you see then don't commit to working with them.

Another aspect of privacy that's worth remembering is if you provide no payment for the product, then more often than not you are the product, or more specifically your customers are. Are you happy to provide the data that makes this company profitable? If not then I reiterate, don’t commit to working with them.

Design matters

So that new ‘Live Chat’ JavaScript app you installed works great, but does it meet the style guidelines used throughout the rest of the site? What about the fonts, spacing and imagery? How does it look on mobile devices and does it meet the same usability standards used throughout the rest of the users experience? Importantly does it work with the content around it?

I ask because in nearly all cases the answer to at least some of these points is probably no.

Website Accessibility

Not sure what website accessibility is? Check out our accessibility blog post on the subject. In brief it’s important to make sure your site is open to as many visitors as possible, regardless of any impairments or disabilities they might have. By applying best practice implementation outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you can ensure you’re site is as accessible as possible to the broadest audiance.

Now with all the above in mind let’s take a look at another quick hypothetical. This time lets say you’ve installed a plugin into a Wordpress site. For instance maybe you’ve gone ahead and installed a banner slider to showcase some important images on your homepage. But does that plugin follow the same accessibility principles used throughout the rest of your website? For instance does the banner load alternative text for the visually impaired? Are the buttons controlling it easy to see? If Javascript is disabled in a users web browsers does the page still load it’s basic content successfully?

These are important considerations, all of which, need to be taken into consideration before using a third parties solution.

Distracting customers from your core conversation process

Ultimately your website was (hopefully) built around specific customer funnels, pages designed to be traversed in a certain order to generate conversions. So, from a lead generation standpoint, the big question is "does this feature help or hinder my existing conversion process?" If the answer is anything other than 'help' I'd be very skeptical about the benefits of that particular third party plugin.

So how should new features be introduced?

With all the above in mind you might be asking yourself how you should go about adding features to that splendid site of yours.

Well it's worth reiterating that I'm not saying dont install plugins. To clarify, the point I'm trying to make is that there is more to consider than the simplicity of the intial installation. If you find you arent happy with the compromises that might have to made with an off the shelf solution, it might be worth double checking weither you really need the added functionality at all. If you decide you do, why not have a chat with a web developer to see how a custom solution might better suit your website.

Got any thoughts? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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