10 psychological barriers to the website of your dreams

10 psychological barriers to the website of your dreams

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
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Upgrading your website is a complex undertaking and lots of things can get in the way.

From SEO to brand design to coding, it all has to come together in a choreographed sequence spanning multiple steps involving multiple stakeholders. One misstep can have a domino effect on timelines and trust.

While these represent the practical barriers to your dream website, there are also a series of psychological barriers, too. Often these are harder to overcome and cause bigger problems when they’re not addressed. So that’s what we’re focusing on today.

This article is based on one of our popular webinars. View the video and download the slides.

website of your dreams webinar

What does a ‘good’ website journey look like?

Articulate website design process

For context, let’s start with what good looks like. Above is a diagram of our process (rather simplified, of course!). So, a well-organised creation process, that’s one indicator of ‘good.’ Others are fairly self-evident: on time, on budget and on brand.

Beyond that, it should be well-implemented. Meaning, search engine optimised, passing Core Web Vitals and page speed checks, with site maps uploaded to Google, any compliance-related issues taken care of, and care to ensure the user experience is top-notch (websites should be people-first, not product-first).

‘Good’ also means that as you go through the project, nobody loses any sleep, nobody loses their composure and stress levels are kept to a minimum. A website journey can get emotional. That’s understandable. It’s a big part of a business’s identity so there’s a lot at stake. Here is where psychological barriers come into play.

What goes wrong?

In our experience as an agency working with B2B tech clients, there are a few psychological barriers that can turn ‘good’ to bad and even on to ugly. Happily, there are also constructive ways to overcome these problems. So lay back, know you’re in a safe space, and let’s get stuck in.

1. Bad memories

In other words, “It was horrible the last time we did a website project.”

The first barrier often comes up in our sales conversations with prospects. Even though you might desperately need a new website, the one you built a few years ago was such a terrible experience with such underwhelming results you can’t face doing all that again. You’re looking at it with whatever the opposite of rose-tinted glasses are. You don’t want to open the can of worms again.

It doesn't have to be like that. Seriously. We've had the majority of our projects go smoothly and deliver on time, with nought but a little constructive creative friction along the way. See this article on how we build websites for more information.

2. Perfectionism and gold-plating

Gilding the lily, over-specifying the site. Perfectionism is borne from an anxiety: “Whatever we launch with, we’re stuck with, so we’ve got to get it all perfect, now.” (And, “The second we launch everyone will flood to our website and see it immediately.”)

You may have had this happen before, where all your post-launch next-phase dreams got deprioritised. Or, you just needed to get away from the agency or freelancers that built the site because relations have gone down the toilet, so you were left with a site that you couldn’t update.

Good news is, having the site on the right platform can really save the day and future-proof your website as a dynamic, easy-to-update and maintain, living, thriving marketing machine. We build websites using HubSpot CMS. It’s designed for marketers to make it easy to update and edit without developer input. So once the site is launched, it doesn't need technical maintenance to keep it functional in the same way a Wordpress site needs, for example.

Another thing to consider is getting yourself into the mindset of a website project as a journey, not a destination. At launch there’s a peak of activity, but it's the first step of many. Viewing it this way from the start, and working with people who have that same viewpoint, means less anxiety about launch and more emphasis on shipping now and making iterative improvements later. Don’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good enough’, but don’t lose sight of the whole journey, either.

3. Expectationitis

People can hear one word and think it means completely different things. For example, a ‘marketing campaign’ to one person might mean emails and social media and to another means blogs and landing pages. So the expectation, the scope, is completely different.

Expectationitis often manifests part-way through a website project where someone asks about explainer videos, language translations, e-commerce sites on different domains, photography or integrations that were not mentioned during the scoping phase. Really this is a communication issue, but a tricky one to navigate because you cannot read another person’s mind, and their obvious is not your obvious. So if stakeholders in the website build all have different expectations about what the work even includes, then you’re going to end up in a world of challenging conversations and resynchronization.

To avoid expectationitis, make a list of what the website project will include AND what it won’t include. That should help to align expectations. You can use our website specification template, here.

4. HiPPOs

We’ve talked about this before, but ‘HiPPO’ means the ‘Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but a common one we’ve encountered is in owner-managed businesses, where the HiPPO is a blocker.

They come in at the end of the project when the site has been designed, the design has been approved (the mockups too), the page sites have been coded and built and the work has been done. And a week before launch, they go, "Nah, I don't like it".


This person with veto power should have been in those earlier meetings, those gateways, and been part of the decision-making. But their time is precious and often protected by middle-managers who only want to show their executives a finished design, something perfect and approvable. It’s on us, as the people building a website, to push back and get the HiPPO in the room in the earlier creation phase. That’s a lesson we’ve learned. These days we’re very upfront about what going back to the drawing board means in terms of time and money.

Psychologically, the HiPPOs have to be paying attention, or not involved at all. So, for you, when you build a site, either ensure that person is involved at key decision-making moments, or establish a hard-and-fast delegation rule so they don’t get veto power at the end.

The latter is rather difficult to achieve but it can help to educate all stakeholders on the limitations of the project and the basic mechanics of building a website, so they understand why certain things are a certain way.

5. Clichés

People like familiarity. They look at competitor sites or sites in their industry and they say “I want something like that.” Quite often, the clichés emerge out of this fear of not wanting to look different and a desire to do more of what the audience wants.

We’re not saying you can’t design a website in a way that is familiar to your audience. Of course you have to accommodate for their expectations. But, don’t let familiarity dictate your every design decision. In the world of B2B tech, blue logos, network diagrams and stock photos of office people are so familiar that they’ve become clichés, which impacts your ability to differentiate and often leaves you with a disappointing result. Apply the MAYA principle: Most advanced, yet acceptable.

6. Thinking you’re unique

At the other end of the scale are people who reject all familiarity and want to be absolutely unique in every way. To win design awards with a creative website that does inventive, imaginative things with animations and effects and dazzling user interface elements.

Sure, do some of that, but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. You challenge too many of the fundamental principles of UX design and you’re going to lose people (while impacting your site’s performance).

The great novels messed with the content, but not the delivery system. Cover, pages, text going left to right (in English). The content is what mattered. Hexagonal pages would’ve only put people off reading them. The same applies to websites.

7. Carousels

Does your website have a carousel banner on the homepage? So many sites do, and it comes from a psychological place of, “This bit above the scroll is really precious.” That makes people want to say a lot in that small space — so much that they decide a carousel is the only way to fit it all in.

The thing is, users know how to use websites. They understand scrolling. They get navigation bars. You don’t need links to everything and latest launch news and so on crammed onto one section, cycling through variations as if the site user isn’t just going to scroll down anyway. Nobody gets to page six on a carousel, they just don’t. You must ruthlessly prioritise the information hierarchy on your homepage, especially.

The carousel represents a psychological barrier to thinking about the homepage and how people use your site — it’s not a magazine users read from cover to cover.

8. Not invented here

cost of web design

Websites tend to be multidisciplinary. In an agency like ours, the team of writers, designers and coders are used to working together and in a particular way with a particular set of technology. So we can integrate and build things very quickly.

The moment we are dependent on in-house copy or third-party input, as well-meaning and time-and-cost-saving as it is intended to be, it throws a spanner in the works. For example, if you’re a technology business and you've got a team of developers building an app or something, they do not need to build your website. They do not need to build a CMS. They might want to build a CMS. Resist that. The opportunity cost of taking your team of developers off the thing that makes your business money and having them build something else is not to be underestimated.

9. Smooth pebble

We call this issue of design-by-committee the “smooth pebble”.

These are paraphrased, but reflect the sorts of things we’ve heard and that have come from this design-by-committee place.

  • We want a site that is “professional” (a word that means very little in design terms).
  • We don't want to do anything that's going to be controversial.
  • We want half of this and half of that, but with all the interesting bits that give each design a direction or tell a story removed.

It’s important to have the right decision-makers in the room when designing and building a site, but too many stakeholders and the whole thing gets mired in indecision, cowardice and random opinions. The smooth pebble is what happens when all the interesting crags and colours are buffed away, leaving something inoffensive and bland. A rock like any other.

10. The “two weeks to launch” meltdown

Finally, something that affects about 75 percent of website projects, by our estimation. You're close to the planned launch date and everything is still a bit unfinished. At this stage, people start to get a bit panicked. Stress levels go up, those who weren’t paying attention start demanding information and it all can get a bit fraught. (We know this is coming, so we prepare accordingly, of course, with more communication and a steady hand.)

If you've ever cooked a meal (and we assume you have), then you know it can look like a mess until everything comes together. As with a website, it often seems messy until it suddenly doesn't. It’s a lot of moving parts, and as they slot into place, it can look like there’s a lot left to do. But, often, if you stay calm and attentive and aligned, the launch should be pain-free.

As we’ve said, a website project is quite the emotional rollercoaster. But, like a rollercoaster, it can be fun, too. Don’t let excitement sour into anxiety and fear. Stay positive. Hold the course. Your dream website is just over the crest of that hill. Weeeeeee…

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