When you are networking or speaking to a potential customer in person, you have the opportunity to engage them in a conversation and tell them about your services. On the internet, your website needs to have the conversation with them.
To effectively plan the content for your site, you need to think about that conversation you would usually have, and how it goes.
- WHO are you talking to? Your ideal customer has walked in the door, and you are having this conversation with them. Who are they? What is their age, occupation, income, technical skill, education, family status, motivation for buying.
- WHY are they shopping? Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons,” so in order to effectively sell to your ideal cus-tomer, you have to know their motivation for buying. Some people refer to this as knowing their pain points, but it’s not always about pain. The “what” that they want isn’t always the product or service that you are selling, but if you can con-vince them it will accomplish their goal, they just might buy it anyway.
- WHAT are they doing and what do you want them to do? Are they information seekers? Are they ready to buy? Are they looking for a consultation, or checking your expert status? Know what you visitors will be doing so you can help guide them to what they want, or what you want them to do on your website. Customers may go to a car dealer’s website to look at new cars that they are ready to buy, to look at pricing for new cars they will be buying soon, to learn about service options, to order parts, etc. If there are multiple avenues that a customer/visitor can take on your site, make the path obvious.
- HOW will you be having this conversation? Think about the types of content you will be using – text, graphics, PDFs, audio, videos, inforgraphics, etc. These are all different ways to engage your customers. How does your ideal customer respond best. Are they visual people, driven by graphics and videos? Do they require lots ofsupporting facts, or would they prefer anecdotal testimonials to sell them on your expertise?
- WHAT DO YOU OFFER? What are your services, products, packages, etc. Explain the benefits using language they understand. (This is why knowing your audience is so important. If you’re using language above or below their education level, skill level, etc., you could turn them away very quickly.) Knowing their motivation for buying will also help you use descriptions that they will respond to. List the features succinctly, but be descriptive on the benefits. (And make sure you know the difference between features and benefits.)
- WHY YOU? Discuss the benefits again, not just your offerings and your history. Why should they choose those offerings from you? There is no one that has a unique business model, unique services or products. So tell them why they should choose you! This is a great place for quantitative statistics – how many people you’ve helped, how much money they’ve saved, how much easier your services made their life, etc. Testimonials are also good for this – talk to your past customers and ask them to tell you why they love you so much.
Focusing the Conversation
I have this theory that I call “normalized website pages.” I borrowed it from database design, where there’s a concept called a normalized database. In a normalized database, information is only stored in one place in the database, and then referenced elsewhere – so you’d only have a customer’s address in one table with their contact information, and not just attached to each order. That way the information only has to be updated in one place, instead of 10.
When I apply this theory to websites, I think that each page of a site should only have one purpose. This needs to be considered too during the planning stage, because if you have too many purposes on one page, then it gets confusing for the visitor. You might thing that the home page should be considered an exception to this, but not really. The home page is an introduction to your site. There should be one clear PRIMARY purpose, but there can certainly be multiple factors on it.
If you have multiple products or services, I recommend having an introductory page thatmaybe lists the different products by categories or price range or what have you, but this shouldn’t be the page you intend to sell the product from. Each product or service should have it’s own page. In addition to focusing the conversation about this product or service, it also helps with SEO and social media purposes, as it gives you an opportunity to use very specific keywords and link to the page directly to promote it.
Some common pages on sites are:
- Contact (form vs. email)
- Request Information/Quote
Review competitors’ websites to see if there are any common pages/elements that you may have forgotten to include. Don’t steal content from them – I’m not telling you to plagiarize, but if customers are looking at your site, you can almost guarantee they will be looking at other sites in your field, as well. It is easy for us to forget something that we deal with everyday as a known fact about our business or industry, but an unfamiliar customer might not, and if they’re finding that information on a competitor’s site and not yours, it may cause them to wonder about your experience level.
Common home page elements
- Primary navigation
- Newsletter opt-in box
- Contact information
- Welcome/introduction to the site (but don’t say WELCOME!)
If your navigation is multi-layered, make sure the layers make sense. Make the first-level navigation as broad as possible without being ambiguous or confusing – have separate products and services, but don’t include them both on one page because all of that information on one page could be distracting to the visitor. (the normalized theory comes back into play here.)
If you currently have a site, this is a good exercise to go through yearly, as your target audience or purpose may change. Print out all of the pages of your site, think about how they work together, if things should be combined, separated, rewritten, removed, or added.
If you have multiple audiences, services areas, or goals, it may be a good idea to have more than one site, and have each site tailored to one focus area. Coaches do this a lot with webinars or training programs that they are doing – they make a separate landing page or mini-site specific to the program/webinar so as to not divide the visitors focus between two different paths.
The design should complement the content
When we first start thinking about a website, it’s easy to be tempted to think of design elements first. But that’s like trying to build an office building without knowing how the space is going to be used first. Once you’ve worked your way though the conversation you want to have with your ideal customer and have used that to guide you in creating your content, then you can start working on the setting for the conversation. Try to think of the design of your website as setting the stage for this very important conversation. Remember that you’re not selling to yourself – think of what your customers would like most, and will respond to. If they’re expecting a 5-star location, and your site with the website equivalent of a diner, they may be put-off.
Another tip to remember is to not get locked onto a design and try to make the content fit into it. Graphic sliders and videos are popular on websites, as are blogs and newsletter opt-in boxes. But if you’re not planning to have those items on your site, it doesn’t do you any good to start looking at designs that include them. Good designs can usually incorporate these items in gracefully later, but taking them out can truly affect to overall aesthetic of your site. A site doesn’t have to be heart-stoppingly attractive to be effective. But, no matter how pretty it is, if your visitors are frustrated by trying to use your site or find the information that they are looking for, they will leave your site and they won’t be back.