It’s 2014. When it comes to how we find things, the phone book has been officially relegated to the dustbin of history, and just about every business has a website. Having an online presence is more of a requirement than an option; because to find out about something, anything, people today go online.
Unfortunately, most websites are shockingly bad at doing what they’re supposed to do. The reason: they don’t know WHAT they are supposed to do. Do you? How well is your website doing? How many visitors do you get? What do they do on your site? Most websites don’t perform anywhere near their potential. If you’d like yours to be doing more, keep reading.
This article will show you how to tell the difference between the 90% of poorly designed websites and the 10% that are hands-down fabulous. And then it gets better: we’ll give you the formula for creating a priceless website.
Does This Sound Familiar?
Do you remember how your first website was created? It probably went something like this: you contacted a web designer and told him all about your beloved company. Using his experience and insight, your new designer created a “best guess/close enough” design that would please you.
A month or two later, your new website was built and launched. It was live – a living thing! You waited eagerly, impatiently for the phones to ring and your inbox to fill. Months later… nothing but silence. Sure, your site looked better than it used to but the results of your lovely and pricey redesign are either the same or worse. It’s bad at conversions and bad at attracting traffic.
Well, guess what? Guesswork is a dangerous strategy for web design. The only saving grace is that your competitor’s website was probably built using the same “flawed” approach.
How did we get here? Why are the majority of business owners – an intelligent, capable, self-motivated bunch – so ignorant about what factors really influence website success?
Time For Something Completely Different
This is a guide for anyone who owns or manages a website that is failing or average. This is not a guide on graphic design or HTML programming. Rather, it’s about how to make your site do two extremely important things extremely well: get seen by the right people and make it easy for those people to get what they are looking for. Rather, it’s about how to make your site do two extremely important things extremely well: get seen by the right people and make it easy for those people to get what they are looking for.
There are plenty of websites out there that do really well for their owners. But these sites don’t succeed because they look pretty or spent thousands in search engine optimization. They succeed because they do an extremely good job at demonstrating how their products and services provide solutions. Solutions that match the needs of their target visitor.
An effective web design is the sum of three disciplines working together: design, technical, and branding. Most web designers do okay with the first two disciplines; typically that’s all they do. It’s the third element that eludes most… brand marketing. And yes, this is the piece that will make or break your website. Matching your solutions to their needs. Solutions are key.
What Are You Really Selling?
As a business owner, your market is already defined; you know your typical customer, you know your ideal customer. For example, if you’re selling custom engagement jewelry, your market consists of finicky young women who recently said, “yes.” But what are you really selling?
In the case of custom engagement jewelry, are you selling a combination of gold and diamonds crafted into a unique shape? Nope. You’re selling the emotions associated with owning a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry that represents a lifelong commitment. It’s not the hardware. It’s what the hardware does. It makes the client feel good about herself. Period.
“A man who goes into a hardware store to buy a quarter-inch drill bit does not need a quarter-inch drill bit – he needs a quarter-inch hole.” – Unknown Source
Start selling solutions and you will unlock the potential of your new website. Most website visitors are people who don’t yet know the exact solution they need. They are thinking of their problem and how to solve it.
So the best way to draw someone to your website is to address them using the same language. (SEO note: It’s the same language that search engines will use to match their queries to your content). Your site will engage them more effectively if they see their present thoughts on the web page in front of them. Read that sentence again.
So what do you think Ms. Finicky Female would rather see on a web page; a picture of some torch-toting jeweler grinding down some precious metal into a ring shape; or a photo of the happiest, prettiest young woman in town showing off her one-of-a-kind diamond engagement ring to her friends?
Sell Solutions, Not Products or Services
What problems do you solve? What attracts people to your products and services? How do your offerings solve a need or a problem? Make a list. Seriously, seeing these things on paper makes them real, tangible, actionable events. Next, let go of the idea that you sell products and flip it, “I sell solutions.” Your mindset should be: “This is how my product will give you what you need.”
This may sound a bit daunting at first, but it’s easy once you’ve identified the real solution your product or service provides. A solid web design team should be able to take your information and put it into words that sing and images that dance. A website that simply connects the dots between your products and their solutions wins the day, hands down. See Figure 1 below for a superb example.
“A website that simply connects the dots between your products and their solutions wins the day, hands down.”
This website, believe it or not, sells software. But what the customer really wants is a tax refund. The word “software” is rarely shown. Take a close look at your website. Does it talk mostly about you, how great you are, and how long you’ve been great? If so, you’ve got some work to do. Let’s get started.
How to Design a Website That Sells
Now that you’ve identified what your target customer really wants, your next task is to craft a compelling website that captures their attention and keeps them moving forward in completing their goals (and yours). Here’s a simple step-by-step process you can use that basically funnels your prospects from the home page to the final call-to-action. In order, your website needs to:
- Get their attention
- Engage them
- Call them to action
All three of these elements must be present on each page.
Look at every page on your site as an advertisement (but don’t let it look like an ad). It is the job of every page to get visitors’ attention in the same way an advertisement gets a reader’s attention (usually a compelling headline with supportive imagery). The page then needs to get the visitor to move forward to help them find the answer they’re looking for.
The goal of each page is to lead them to another page deeper into your site and –ultimately- to that final destination. This could be a commitment action such as purchase, sign up, call, or fill out a form. Along the way, you are building trust and credibility with your new customer. Here’s the formula, broken down into three easy steps:
Step 1. Get Their Attention
The ability to get attention is the foundation of an effective website. When visitors arrive they ask themselves, “Am I in the right place?” If the answer is no, they’re gone for good.
So, how do you get their attention? Easy; show them what they’re looking for! Present a solution that directly matches their immediate need and you’ve got their attention.
Remember, they don’t care about your company, your logo, your products, or your product’s features. They only care about one thing, “How is what you offer going to solve my problem today?” You don’t want visitors to have to figure out how the features of your product will solve their problem. Your appeal should be immediately evident.
Always use headlines
Tests show that the first thing visitors (as well as search engines) look for on a web page is the text. Images have multiple meanings; text is more specific. Each web page should have one piece of text that stands out above the rest: a headline. It’s the most important component of ANY web page.
Headlines should grab the visitor’s interest and give them a reason to look further. They needn’t tell the entire story, just pique interest enough to get them to keep reading. In other words, to engage them.
TurboTax’s headline, “It’s your money. Keep more of it with TurboTax,” grabs the attention of someone interested in getting the maximum tax refund.
Use “you-oriented” language
The three most powerful words in advertising are “You,” “New,” and “Free.” Your customers are only interested in one thing: “What’s in it for me?”. Most websites are built using an outdated, ineffective perspective: “We’re on the inside looking out.” But your customers, however, have an external perspective: they’re on the outside looking in. Your website needs to stand in their shoes and speak their language, from their perspective. Say goodbye to using the language your industry speaks. Explore your website and turn off “Us” and turn on “You”.
“Most websites today are built from an old approach that takes the view from the inside of the store looking out.”
Notice how many times TurboTax used the words “you” and “your”… 28 to be exact, on the home page alone! “Software” appears only twice in the main body of text.
In my own industry of web design, as well as other service-oriented industries, it’s surprising to see so many firms still focusing on themselves. “What We Do” and “Who We Are,” “How We Do It” are typical menu choices that lead to even more we-oriented pages.
And headlines that read, “We’re Injury Lawyers!” only force the visitor to connect the dots on how they can solve their problem. A more you-oriented headline would read, “Absolutely No Cost to You Unless We Win”, or “We’ll Maximize Your Recovery”.
It’s a well-known fact: consumers buy on emotion and then justify that decision with logic. Buying decisions are often already made emotionally before logic even comes into play. Always look for emotional reasons that would compel a visitor to take the next step.
You can give all the reasons you like for why something makes sense, but unless people can connect emotionally with the idea, they won’t take action. So again, connecting emotionally causes us to act. For example, a generic proposition – We deliver flowers- should be flipped to solve a problem and offer the buyer a tangible benefit. Give your girlfriend that perfect Valentine’s gift or How to let her know, “I love you”.
Self-interest is a critical factor in creating appeals to capture attention. We are all motivated to act in our own best interest. Telling your website visitors exactly what’s in it for them is the number one way to get their attention.
Step 2. Engage Them
Remember, the whole purpose of every web page is to get your visitor’s attention and keep them moving forward. For that to happen you must keep them engaged. The appeal alone may not be enough. What else do they need to know in order to be convinced to complete the journey?
At this point, you are deep in the realm of web copywriting. (Don’t confuse this term with copyright, which is a legal mechanism that protects ownership of what you write.) Unless you keep providing your visitors more reasons to proceed, they will lose momentum and give up before reaching that next step.
Content writing can boil down to just common sense but it must convince your visitors that they are heading in the right direction. Use the checklist below to develop the perfect engaging content. While reading the content of your web page, the visitor must:
- Identify with what is being offered and feel it really applies to them
- Build a sense of trust
- See evidence that their specific requirements are met
- See signs that ease doubts and concerns
Note how the TurboTax website accomplishes each of these goals. The proposition of getting some of my hard-earned money back, as communicated with the first headline, definitely applies to the refund-focused visitor.
The site builds a sense of trust by providing CPAs and real tax attorneys as experts to help you each step of the way.
They mention the massive number of people who have successfully used their product and provide customer reviews, further easing doubts and concerns.
The site makes sure everyone’s specific requirements are met by offering a variety of product versions online as well as CD/Download and mobile versions.
Website Copywriting Tips
It’s important to note that people read web pages very differently than printed pages. In fact, we don’t read web pages at all. We scan them. We’re searching for a solution to our problem. What we see when we look at a web page – and usually only a fraction of the page – depends on what we have in mind.
So whatever you do, keep your paragraphs in short, bite-sized pieces and use plenty of meaningful subheads and bulleted lists. Write in a conversational style. The more friendly and approachable, the better. Use contractions. Use “you’ve” instead of “you have,” “it’s” instead of “it is” and so on. Avoid corporate jargon, also called corporate speak. And lastly, write more about the needs of your visitor rather than you or your company.
Step 3. Call Them to Action
This step is the big payoff. The call-to-action (CTA) is a prompt to get your visitor to take the next appropriate action right now. You simply tell your viewers to do what you started out wanting them to do – that is, pick up the phone and call, sign up, buy, subscribe, refer, whatever.
“It’s mind boggling how many websites miss this important step. It is the single most common failure of website conversion.”
It might be obvious to you what readers ought to do next, but it’s not to them. It’s kind of like winking at your girlfriend in the dark. You know what’s on your mind but she doesn’t. A sales process without a “check out” will not produce sales. How many pages on your website have no obvious next step?
“A web page without a call-to-action is a dead end.”
Take another look at the TurboTax website in the figure above. The homepage is littered with CTAs like
- Start for Free
- See Products
- Get Started
Notice on Sunshine House how they’re repeated so that it is always accessible at the point the visitor is convinced to move forward. Timing is crucial; you don’t want to tell your visitors to take action before satisfying the engagement checklist. After all, it’s not a good idea to propose on a first date, right?
Tips for Compelling Calls to Action
An entire book could be written on this topic alone because it is the most important step in customer conversions. But here are a few good tips for creating compelling calls to action.
Calls to action should be obvious, bold, direct and should satisfy one of these four things:
- What the user wants to get
- What the user wants to do
- What the user wants to know
- What the user wants to happen
If any CTAs on your site do not fit into one of these four categories, you should change it. For example, how many times have you seen “Click here”? Click here is not a call to action because it doesn’t satisfy any of the four requirements. “Find Location” as used in Sunshine House is a more compelling call to action because it allows the visitor to “know”.
“Download now” for example, satisfies the “What I want to get” requirement. “Contact Us” satisfies the “do” category.
Phrase your calls to action as commands. It’s been well documented that people naturally respond to commands. All good CTAs contain action verbs, but the best language to use depends on the context. There are no golden rules so don’t be afraid to test different variations to find what works best for you. Just think like your user and you’ll do just fine.
There you have it. Whether you are creating a completely new website or considering a redesign, you can now do so armed with some powerful “insider” knowledge. A few gems to remember: insert powerful appeals that your target can identify with. Sell solutions instead of products. Flip each product or service into what it actually does for the customer – a solution that you can market as a proposition.
Once you’ve identified the correct proposition, write it in a headline. Embellish it with supportive imagery and engaging content that provides enough momentum to get your visitors across the finish line. And don’t forget that call to action.
Now you know the difference between a poor website and a priceless website. Many web design firms can build pretty websites. But what are these websites worth if they don’t solve the right problem? Nothing. Now imagine getting a website that did solve the right problem. Priceless! Got a web design problem? Get in touch with us today and let us help you solve it . . .