I’m sure there was a time when ‘knocking out a website’ was as simple as thinking about what you wanted to tell people, adding a few photographs and hoping the whole thing didn’t look too ugly. I think it may have been around the early naughties… Times move on and our expectations of websites have changed.
Responsive, parallax, content-led, cross-browser testing, calls to action; I could go on but the industry abounds with jargon. Websites can be an absolute minefield for the many small business owners who don’t spend their working lives genning up on the latest industry blogs or hanging with the movers and shakers of the world of web. I don’t pretend to be an expert on SEO (search engine optimisation), I avoid coding like the plague; but I do know how to create a website that sells.
So how do you squeeze the potential out of every, single visitor? How do you make sure that you engage your audience and compel them to buy or do business with you?
It’s all down to the planning.
I’m working on two websites right now: one for a photographer and the other, an ecommerce website for a company that sells faux flowers both wholesale to fine retailers and direct to consumers. In each and every case, as well as working on the brand, I also think hard about the commercial implications of how website is structured, planned and written. Because whilst I love nothing more than a jaw-dropping design, it has to work. If it doesn’t generate business then, what’s the point?
My clients employ me to be their Creative Director: to set the tone for their brand, find the right designer (and sometimes developer) to work with and to oversee every last detail so that the end result is nothing short of breathtaking. I love that. But it’s also important to me that for every project I think about how to make the website sell as hard as it possibly can; mapping out the structure of the site, creating the wireframes and working through the customer journey to be sure that we get the very best result, every time. Over time I’ve developed a tried and tested process that I know will get my clients the results they need. And whilst it’s fresh in my mind, I thought it would be helpful to share it with you so that you can be sure your website is working as hard as it possibly can for you.
Whether you plan to design your next website yourself, work with a freelancer or a top dollar agency, these questions will have you well prepared commercially so that you can be sure your website is structured as effectively as possible. So grab yourself a pen and paper and let’s get to work!
Let’s start with the end in mind.
What do you want this website to do? How will you know it’s a success? Sure, it needs to look nice, you need to not cringe when you give the URL to a friend or potential client. But actually, what’s it there to do? Do you want your clients to buy online? And if so where are you starting from? How many sales are you gaining per day right now? How many do you hope your new website will achieve?
Do you want people to enquire about booking your services perhaps? Maybe they need to book in a consultation with you? Again, think about how successful your website is right now and what your goals are for the new site.
I can’t even read what this website for Jimmy Fairly says but I know it’s well structured and exquisitely designed.
What do you want people to know, think and do?
How should your visitors feel when they hit your site? What do they need to know about your business? What do you want to tell them? Whilst I’m never a huge fan of websites full of ‘we’, ‘we’, ‘we’ other than on the ‘about’ page, I do think it’s important that you identify upfront what you want people to know. Before you go to a web designer.
Very often a web designer will do just that, they will design what you ask them to. Having a clear idea of what information you want on your website and how you’d like it to be structured is essential if you’re to get the best out of your investment. Not all web designers will help you structure your site or create a compelling customer journey, so the more homework you can do, the better.
Make a note of the pages you think you need for your website and revise as you work through the questions below. Even if you plan on having a one page website like my consultancy site, you still need to view each ‘section’ as a page and treat it the same way. For each page, ask yourself, what should people know, think and do?
How will your customers journey through your site?
Think about your sales journey. If you want people to book you for their wedding, they’re unlikely to do that via a paypal button on your website, it just doesn’t work like that. So what you actually want is for people to enquire about your availability. What do they need to see in order to do that? What do they need to know? They probably need to see some gorgeous images which reflect what they’re looking for from their photography; they probably need to see testimonials from happy clients and they probably need to know that you share a similar approach and aesthetic to them.
What do your clients need to know? Knowing all of this means that you can structure your website in a way that makes sense to your prospective clients and make it easy for them to do business with you.
Think about the content you need to engage your clients, to get them excited about your product or service and ultimately, to get them to take action. Make notes, create mind maps and sketch out thoughts for banners or buttons that compel people to take action.
LOVE this website for Terrain and in particular, the way they’ve used a mosaic-style homepage layout to guide people through the relevant departments for this time of year.
Who are you talking to?
One of the hardest, and most powerful, things you can do when writing any copy or creating any piece of marketing literature is to visualise specific clients. Rather than talking about yourself or telling an “audience” (yuk!) what you want them to know; picture a specific client or number of clients and put yourself in their shoes. Write to a person with a specific need for what you sell rather than faceless bunch of statistics- you’ll find it far more engaging and the words will flow.
Who is this person? Literally, picture a client or two you’ve worked with in the past. What need do they have and how do you solve it? What are their fears, hopes or desires? How does choosing you plug that need? What do they love about what you do? Why do they buy from you? What do they expect to see from you? How should your website look and feel?
Rinse and repeat for as many different ‘types’ of client as you can think of (four or five, max, usually does it).
Do your research
Who in your industry is doing this well? Take a look at the websites of your competitors. What can you learn from them? You’re bound to spot things that you haven’t thought of.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you do this to copy what you see, but to prompt thought and so that you can ask yourself, “What’s our take on this?”. How can we differentiate ourselves? I always use this exercise as a chance to make the project I’m working on even better than what I see! Maybe that’s the competitiveness in me, but enjoy the challenge of creating something even better than has gone before!
Also, what isn’t working well about what your competition is doing. And, for that matter, about your website right now? Make notes, copious notes and learn from what you see.
I’ve been drooling over this website for Woah Nelly Catering by Cody Small for quite some time! How gorgeous are those illustrations with that typography?
Create content that engages your visitors
It’s not all about the hard sell. Create content that draws people in, that helps them gain an understanding of your brand and enables you to start to build a relationship. That might be a look book, a ‘how to’ or specific featured content from your blog. But it’s about more than just the blog, it’s about giving people an insight into your world that feels more considered and less off-the-cuff than your blog might be. Do you create new collections every season? Show people how you got there. Share the journey, it’ll sell your expertise and it’ll spark interest.
Seriously, how cool is this website for CutThroat Cavalier? All of the content adds value and builds the brand. Love it. Reminds me a lot of Mr Porter…
Not everyone that visits your website is ready to buy or even make an enquiry. Make it worth their while joining your mailing list. What can you offer them? When you join mine I promise captivating content, special offers from time to time and news on the book and future workshops. Hint, hint, you can join here if you haven’t already! Make sure you ask people to join your list, give them a good reason to do so and of course, make sure you use the list! If you run an ecommerce business it’s really worth considering a popup invitation – you’ll see your signup rates increase dramatically.
Write copy that sells
Take the time to be clear in your own mind about what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they will want to buy it. Consider how to communicate that succinctly and in a way that makes people want to act. The Squarespace website below is a great example of well structured, clear copy that’s designed to get action. They’ve thought hard about the benefits of what they are offering to their ideal client and they’ve communicated in a visual and easy to understand way. What’s not to love?
Find the right person to work with
If you’re outsourcing, the fastest route to heartache, wasted investment and a disappointing outcome is to work with the wrong company. In a nutshell, web developers have jaw-dropping technical skills but, in my experience, are not the people to turn to for a neat and impressive design. Web designers are great with the visuals but may be limited in their technical ability. Brand designers will create you something beautiful, on brand and with the attention to detail you would expect but you will usually need to work with a developer to pull off the functionality.
Be honest with yourself about what you need for your unique situation. Work with experts in their field and work with someone whose skills are a good match for your needs. I know that sounds obvious, but I speak to so many small business owners who are disappointed with the logo and website design their ‘web designer’ has created for them, when in actual fact, they have been working with a developer whose talents lie in the functionality of the site rather than the aesthetics. It’s so important that you pick the right person for the right job so look closely at how the company describes themselves on their homepage, scrutinise the portfolio and ask yourself whether what you see reflects what you hope to see in your next website. You should see at least three or four projects that excite you.
create a clear brief
Finally, whether you’re creating a website for yourself or plan on working with an expert, just take a little time out to define what it is you’re looking for from your next site. Write down three words that sum up how you’d like your website to come across; create a plan for the pages you’ll need and how your clients will journey around. Be clear on what you’re after and use this brief as your guidance as you work through the design process.
This website design for The Telegraph by Ben Murden is stylish, simple and strong. Well laid out and with a clear understanding of what visitors need to find, fast.
Over to you.
Whilst running my business we must have created several hundred websites for small businesses. I loved the planning, seeing the visuals come together and creating something that would work as well commercially as it did visually. This list is by no means exhaustive so I’d love to know what you’d add in!