Cracking The Website Code
Chapter 6: How To Avoid Looking Like An Amateur
“Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow-through who excel.”
~ Mary Kay Ash
Let’s face it, we all start off as amateurs. In fact, an amateur could be defined as someone who does not get paid for their hobby or pursuit. Professionals, however, are the people we all look up to, aspire to be like and envy, because they are masters of their trade and usually earn a tidy sum for doing so.
So what sets you apart from the professionals when you start out creating your website? Experience is the first trait, knowledge is quite possibly another. Ideally, there would be a way to fast track your way to the higher end of the scale in both of these areas, and that’s what this chapter is intended to go some way towards.
Below are the solutions to some of the most common mistakes those new to web design often make. Taking action on these points will quickly enable you to graduate to beyond the amateur stage, so take note and take action.
Begin With Purpose
People love a good design. When The Eiffel Tower was commissioned, it was to be the main exhibit of the Paris Exposition of 1889. Its purpose was to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution and to demonstrate France’s industrial prowess to the world.
But which do you think came first for the tower—the purpose or the design? The answer of course is the purpose—after all, how would engineer, Gustave Eiffel, have known what to design if he hadn’t been given guidance on the purpose of his work? Purpose has to come first, or the design will be pure guess work.
The same principles and order of events should apply to your website. Often it’s the look and feel of a website that’s considered first, because it’s so easy to think in terms of colours and pretty layouts. But without knowing the reason for the website’s presence, how can you even begin to suggest how it might look or function?
Yes, the excitement of a shiny, new website can take over your thoughts. You might dream of the elements that will make your site visually appealing, but a great website design can never outdo one that is purpose-built and created with a specific outcome in mind.
If you’re still not sure about the purpose of your website, go back to Chapter 5 and read the section entitled Overriding Strategy. Identify your end goals and work out how you will achieve these. I bet you’ll see that none of the steps that make up your strategy can be achieved in the first instance by dreaming up a fancy colour scheme.
Know Your Customers
In the place I grew up, you could often walk through the town centre on a Saturday afternoon and be approached by scruffy looking guys, trying to force a leaflet into your hands. Free drinks before 10pm at the latest nightclub opening, big discounts at a previously unheard of furniture store, cheap tickets to the circus matinee—the offers were completely random.
The problem with this type of indiscriminate mass-marketing is that the take-up rate is incredibly low. Lower than low in fact. Without pre-qualifying someone to see if they’re right for your offer, how do you know they even have potential to be interested? This thoughtless methodology annoys those being approached and makes them want to do all they can to avoid the guy on the next street corner waving another pile of uninteresting print.
If you apply the same unfocused approach to marketing your website, all you’ll do is spend a fortune on advertising to the wrong crowd and probably end up with just a handful of less-than-ideal website visitors. But if you can tune in to who your customers are, where they hang out, what their problems are and how you can solve them, you’ll attract more of the people you want to work with or provide solutions for. Knowing your target audience demographic is imperative.
If you didn’t do the exercise to define your ideal customer profile in Chapter 5, please go back and do this as soon as you can. You won’t be able to write relevant content or design your site for your customer if you don’t know who they are.
Me, Me, Me Syndrome
When I was young, my mum used to whisper to me, “I love me, who do you love?”. She wasn’t being vain, in fact she wasn’t talking about herself at all. She’d say this when she noticed someone openly bragging.
The fact is that people do love to talk about themselves and be the centre of attention, whether they care to admit it or not. And it’s not limited to when things are going well—people also love to share their disappointments and struggles. In these moments, it’s all about me, me, me and personal validation is what people crave. The empathy received from a friendly ally can help someone feel understood and important again.
So when it comes to designing your website, don’t let it be all about you. Keep it focused on your customer and design it solely with them in mind. And if you’re not sure what they want, here’s a shocker of a suggestion—ask them! Send them a survey, talk to them in person, phone or email them, but be sure to find out what they are struggling with and what type of solution would help them the most. Then simply focus on providing what they need.
When it comes down to it, what you like or want it is completely irrelevant. If you hate your site but your customers love it, you have the potential to make sales. If you love your site but your customers hate it, what have you got then? Simply a self-indulgent website that does nothing for your business. I know which I’d choose.
EXERCISE 6.1: Determine What Your Visitor Wants To See
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you’ve never visited your website before but arrive on it for the first time. Answer the following questions to help you get clear on what should feature prominently on your site.
- What are some of the main reasons a client would visit your site?
- What types of content would interest your client or provide solutions for their needs?
- Identify anything on your website that doesn’t fit with any of the above and either move it to somewhere less prominent or lose it completely.
Be A Good Tour Guide
There’s one mistake I see so often, see if you can relate.
You’re on a website and you scroll down the page and—nothing! You’ve come to the end of what you were browsing but there’s nothing to tell you where you can go next—no suggestions of what else you may find interesting, no direction whatsoever. So what do you do? You leave.
If you’ve designed your website well, your visitor will be able to take cues from you as to what to do next. For example, at the end of each blog post, you would do well to include either an opt-in form for your email list or suggestions of which related pages and posts on your site your reader may also find interesting. You can do both of these very easily and it could make all the difference between someone reading one page on your site then leaving, and staying browsing for longer and potentially becoming a subscriber or customer.
One of the main places people look for guidance is the main menu of your site and they will look for that at the top of the page, so make sure that’s where it is. Use a font that’s easy to read, make sure all your most important and most popular options are visible on the first level of your menu, and ideally don’t have more than one level of sub-menu if you decide to use a dropdown beneath the top level menu. If things are too difficult to find, people tend to give up and go away.
It’s sad to say that even fully grown adults need to be hand-held and shown what to do next. So if you’re not providing an easy path to discovering other parts of your site, you could be losing valuable business all too often.
EXERCISE 6.2: Be A Good Tour Guide
Have a look at your web pages and see if you’re providing an easy transition through your content. Make sure you have the following in place:
- A menu structure at the top of the page that has all your most popular options visible and available with a single click.
- Clear calls to action at the end of sections, pages and posts to take the reader to where you want them to go next.
- A subscriber opt-in box underneath blog posts to encourage sign up for your mailing list (with opt-in bribe if possible).
- Hyperlinks within your articles for quick links to other pages on your site.
- Call to action buttons wherever you want to ask your visitor to take action—make them bright and obvious.
- Graphics that draw the eye towards content you want the reader to notice, such as your sign-up form or special offers.
Sell The Benefits
Features and benefits. Do you know the difference? And most importantly, do you know which one you should sway more towards in your marketing?
When you describe the features of your product, you’re essentially just naming the cold, hard facts. There are usually no feelings associated to the features of a product, so listing them is not what will get you the sale. All your visitor will know is what it does, not what it can do for them.
Start describing the benefits and you’re now into the realms of selling. Benefits evoke emotions that can cause your customer to attach themselves to potential improvements owning your product could bring.
In short, banging on about benefits rather than the features should be your number one selling technique. You should definitely state the features in your pitch too, but these are only there to back up the benefits and provide a logical reason to complete the purchase.
As an example, if you’re promoting a recipe book and you just concentrate on listing its features rather than any of the benefits, your description may look something like this:
New cookbook with 50 recipes, full colour photographs, macronutrient counts and step by step instructions.
It sounds okay but it doesn’t necessarily make you want to get your wallet out does it?
But if the we add in the benefits of each feature, the description becomes much more appealing and we can imagine how this book might help us achieve our goals and live a better life.
Look how it reads after including the benefits:
Brand new cookbook with huge choice of 50 recipes so you never get bored of the same old food, full colour photographs so you can see what mouth-watering dishes you’re about to eat, macronutrient counts so you are in control of your weight and don’t have to worry about over-eating or calorie counting ever again, and step-by-step instructions so you don’t have to think about a thing and you can simply concentrate on entertaining your friends and enjoying yourself.
The difference between the first description and the second is the use of emotional triggers, which stimulate the imagination. Notice that for each feature, I added the phrase “so you” before I described the benefit. If written effectively, benefits can pull on the heart strings and are more likely to sway people towards a buying decision than a stark list of features alone.
So when you’re writing your web pages, emails or advertising copy, always try to get the benefits across to your readers first, as they are more likely to be hooked if they can get an answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”. Once you’ve got their attention, you can back up the benefits with all the amazing features your product has. Of course, don’t forget to ask for the sale too.
Remember, people buy primarily based on emotions and then qualify or justify their buying decision by falling back on the facts.
EXERCISE 6.3: Sell The Benefits
- List the features of one of your key products or services.
- Now go back through your feature list and next to each, list a benefit you know your customer would gain from each feature.
- Visit your website and reword the description for this product to also reflect the benefits to your customer, as well as telling them about the features. Use bullet points where appropriate, for easy reading.
- Go through all your product pages and make sure you are talking more about benefits than features, rewording each item description if necessary.
Don’t Let Anyone Leave Without Action
I’m not suggesting you can hold people hostage on your website, but there are many ways to keep them browsing for longer or get them to return in future. If your site has good content and appeals to your visitor, you should make sure they know that you have more to offer.
It’s a good idea to have an incentive scheme for your website, whereby a visitor can hand over their email address in return for something of value. This could be a free report, a mini course, a coupon for their next purchase or simply the promise of some great future content. Whatever your incentive is, it must have a perceived value to your clients or they won’t take the bait.
It’s very easy to put an opt-in form on your website in various locations, to capture email addresses with. We’ll go through the options for doing this and which are the most effective in Chapter 11.
Once you have your visitor’s email address, you’ll have the advantage of being able to follow up with more information, education and of course offers. Without this means of following up, all you have is a website that visitors arrive at and then leave. Building relationships with those who have visited is the best way to convert them from one-off browsers to regular customers or raving fans.
Start thinking about what would be valuable to your customers. What could you give them in return for their email address? It could be a checklist, cheatsheet, printable item, ebook, mini course delivered via email, links to some great tools or resources, a video showing how to do something. There are so many options but just be sure to create something useful to your website visitors and get your follow up emails in place. Your giveaway doesn’t have to take too long or be too extensive. Think more nutshell than novel.
We’ll go deeper into opt-ins, giveaway bribes and email marketing in Chapter 11, so hold that thought for now.
Realise The Need For Speed
If you didn’t catch on to this fact already, we’re living in an age with a huge demand for information to be served at a lightning-fast pace. This unfortunately means that even a two second delay when loading your web page could have your visitors hitting the back button and abandoning ship before they’ve even seen your home page logo.
To keep your website running at optimal performance, make sure to:
- Remove any unused plugins.
- Keep your image sizes the smallest they can be by uploading them at the size they’re intended to be used at, and use an image optimiser plugin. I’ll talk more about the specifics of image sizes in the next chapter.
- Install a caching plugin on your site, to help speed up access for returning visitors. This will enable image-heavy pages to load faster, as the visitor will already have a copy of those images on their device, saved on their previous visit.
You can use a website speed tester to find out if your website is sluggish, such as the one at:
If your pages are shown to be slow to load, take a look at the ideas above for improving the situation. Implement one idea at a time then retest to see if you’ve cracked it.
Don’t Let It Fester
I have to make this point because too many business owners seem to think that getting a website live on the internet is the end of the story. They go through all the pain and hard work of setting everything up, and then— nothing.
Creating your site is akin to the start of a tender growing process—if you don’t water the plants, they die off. Same goes for your website.
You could create the most stunning website that initially gets you some attention, but you run the risk of gaining very little else from it unless you make regular updates. Just imagine how likely you would be to return more than once to a website if all you ever saw was the same old content every time.
People are glued to the internet these days and they’re used to the speed at which new content comes up in their social media news feeds. They want to be entertained and made to feel good by what they see, so if your content is static or boring then where’s the incentive to come back? I’m afraid there isn’t one so please take a look at your site from a visitor point of view and ask yourself if it’s eye-catching and working for you—i.e. bringing in leads and sales regularly— or if it’s simply sat there gathering dust. Is it interesting enough for you to stay? Be honest and impartial if you can.
If yours is a website that visitors are likely to want to return to in future, at the very least you should change your prominent home page features frequently to pique interest for return visitors.
A great way to make sure you don’t forget about your site after you create it is to use a publishing schedule. You can simply print out a month-to-a-page calendar, such as the one I created for you in the bonus package, and fill in the title of the content you will create on the days you intend doing so. Other than being able to see how a whole month’s content will play out, the other advantage of using a content planner is that you are more likely to stick to it if you treat each entry as an appointment with yourself.