It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. Many trends have come and gone, technology has improved, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.
These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.
The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.”
n this age of mobile computing your site needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.
So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…
The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.
Back in caveman days (before the internet) there was only one way to find businesses; the phonebook.
Business owners had a choice… they could opt for the inexpensive listing in their respective category, or they could buy an ad. But you couldn’t NOT be in the phone book.
The same can be said for Google.
Today, your “Google My Business” listing is the modern equivalent of a straight listing in the yellow pages. You can’t afford to ignore it.
I can’t stress that enough… More and more, people just do a quick, local Google search and skip your website altogether. They’re relying only on the info the appears on your little, mini website on Google.
There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; Company name, hours, location, and of course, the phone number. It was purely informational. On the most basic level, Google works the same way.
Here’s an example:
Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service. So the company that bought the ad is likely to get your business. (Just like the guy who bought the first full page ad in the yellow pages.)
Next in line are the three companies that have listings on Google My Business and show up on the map.
Those four locksmiths get 90% of the emergency calls in my market.
But here’s a completely different buying scenario:
Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable equipment in there, so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a dramatically different set of needs and expectations.
Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior.
In that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires more than just Google My Business and a basic, informational website.
It’s about credibility and differentiation.
Website design for the first impression level.
The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly!
If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.
So how do you do that on a website?
Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”
There you go. That old-school thinking that was used to design yellow pages ads is perfectly relevant for websites today.
Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy.
And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo. Put content in this box. Add a stock photo. Proceed to check out!”
The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there are no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template for the same type of business.
That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high. They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.
Website design for the conceptual, branding level.
Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”
More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”
Being distinct is what branding is all about.
Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinctive” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.
The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.
For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at the BMW website makes that clear.
When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Relevance. Differentiation. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three keys over time.
Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.
It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography.
It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors.
It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different.
It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way.
And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship! In the art, the words, and the programming.
When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand.
Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?
Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.
The research or “how-to” level.
The deepest level of engagement in a website is content that educates.
People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.
On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials.
On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.
Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.
The conversion level.
Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product.
In that case, the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.
Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.
If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.