Your website is one of the most visible expressions of your brand. It's where people go the first time they hear about you, and first impressions are crucial to ensure they get what they need. If your website gives them the wrong impression, chances are they will go away with the wrong idea – and never come back.
Making sure your website says the right things, to the right people, is critical to your business' success. And yet, I see way too many websites that repeat the same critical mistakes. Before we look at those mistakes, you have to understand that your website has a job.
Your website has a job
Just like an employee, your website has a job. And ultimately that job is only one of two things:
- get people to connect with you; or
- sell your stuff.
Of course your website does a lot of other stuff too – it shows off your brand, provides people with information, tells them more about you and so on. But ultimately your website is there to do something, and that something is either to get your ideal clients to connect with you, or buy your stuff (sometimes both).
So as nice as your website can be, you have to measure how well it's working by the job(s) that it is supposed to be doing. That is what determines whether it is worth even investing in a website, or investing more to get it to do its job better.
So before you read on, decide what your website's job is. And then figure out how well it's performing at that job. Is it actually getting people to connect with you? And if you're selling stuff from your website, how well is that performing?
If it's not working as well as it should, chances are your website has one or more of the following problems.
Problem #1: It's not immediately clear
Or, to be more precise:
It's not immediately clear who you are, what you do and for whom you do it.
You've probably heard that we have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. While this urban myth has been thoroughly shown to be wrong, the fact remains that when someone comes to your website you don't have a lot of time to get their attention.
Some time ago I went searching for "small business accountants Calgary". The search delivered a respectable number of results, but almost none of the websites I visited immediately told me that they do accounting for small businesses. My instinctive reaction was to look at the headline on the first page, perhaps scroll down a bit to see if I could find what I was looking for, and if not, I would move on to the next search result.
Here's one example of an accounting business that didn't immediately tell me I was in the right place:
My behaviour is typical of someone who doesn't have a lot of time to do the work to find out if I'm in the right place or not – if I don't immediately see what I'm looking for, I'm likely to move on.
Contrast the above example with this screenshot:
In this case, it's immediately clear that I'm in the right place. These are the guys I will call first.
To get people's attention when they land on your website, they have to know:
- who you are,
- what you do, and
- for whom you do it.
If your website doesn't tell people these three things, chances are they will move on, too.
Problem #2: It's all about you
As proud as you are of your website, your website is not there for you – it's for your ideal clients. When visitors come to your website they're not particularly interested in you. They have a problem and they're looking for a solution – so your website has to be about them and the problems you can help them solve.
One of the tools I use together with my partner Michael Dargie at BrandJitsu is what we call the WE2U ratio. This is a quick way to determine how much a website speaks about you compared to how much it speaks about your clients. To calculate the ratio, we search for the words "we " and "our " (both with a space at the end so we find whole words only) and count the number of occurrences. We then repeat the search for "you " and "your " and count the number of occurrences. Those two numbers give us the WE2U ration.
Here's a quick example:
"we " + "our ": 75
"you " + "your ": 17
WE2U ratio: 4.4 : 1
These guys talk more than 4 times as much about themselves as they do about their clients. Compare this with a similar business:
"we " + "our ": 19
"you " + "your ": 22
WE2U ratio: 0.9 : 1
The first business is very proud of what they do and talk about themselves a lot. The second has a lot less text than the first, but the WE2U ratio is indicative of their focus on their customer rather than on themselves.
We haven't yet done enough analysis to determine what a "good" WE2U ratio should be, but we do know that a high ratio usually means you have more trouble attracting customers.
Problem #3: They don't know what to do next
To get your website to do its job (get people to connect with you, or sell your stuff), you have to make it clear to visitors what they should do next. This is called your Call to Action, or CTA. There are three CTA sins I see way too often:
CTA sin #1: Too many CTA's: Have a look at the image below. This single page has no less than 7 CTA's – and each one of them seems to be "necessary" because each caters to a specific need.
The problem I usually see with too many CTA's is that visitors to your website are not being guided to where you want them to be. Unless there is a path to get them to sign up for something, or eventually buy something, all those CTA's are just leading them round in circles.
CTA sin #2: Intrusive pop-ups: One of my personal pet peeves are intrusive pop-ups. In the image below, the pop-up appeared immediately after I went to this particular website and asked me to click on a button to "get started". I haven't had time to even read the page or figure out whether this is what I'm looking for – the pop-up just appears and obliterates everything. I took a snapshot of the screen and closed the window.
CTA sin #3: Bad choice of words The venerable "Submit" button has been with us for a long time, but we're long past the time of having to "submit" something to anything (or anyone, for that matter). Rather than asking your visitors to "submit" their details, use words that relate to what you're offering, like "Get the report" or "Read more" or "Buy now".
On its own, none of the CTA sins will kill your business, but each time someone doesn't know what to do, or balks at intrusive pop-ups, you've lost the opportunity to get your website to do its job.
Problem #4: You don't write like you speak
For some unfathomable reason websites will often use language that sounds so official and convoluted it's difficult to understand. This "language" is called officialese. Here's an example that shows the difference between "official" and more relaxed ways of saying the same thing:
- Officialese: The consumption of any nutrients whatsoever is categorically prohibited in this establishment.
- Official: The consumption of any nutrients is prohibited.
- Formal: You are requested not to consume food in this establishment.
- Neutral: Eating is not allowed here.
- Informal: Please don't eat here.
- Colloquial: You can't feed your face here.
- Slang: Lay off the nosh.
- Taboo: Lay off the @!##!#!@ nosh.
While the example may be funny, choose how you speak to your visitors with care. How you speak is part of your business personality, which in turn is part of your brand. Write like you speak – so people won't be surprised when they eventually hear you speak.
Problem #5: No people in sight
Despite the fact that we're using the Internet to do business, we're still dealing with people. When a website gets your attention (and especially when you decide to buy something off a website) you will most likely want to know a little more about who you're dealing with. Knowing that there's a human behind the electronic mask makes it easier for potential customers to build trust – and ultimately trust is what allows people to buy.
Compare the About pages of the following two websites:
The example above is the About page of an accounting firm. You're learning absolutely nothing from this page – except that they're trying to tell you stuff which someone told them they should be saying to their clients. The intent is good, but the effort is worthless. (And you're left wondering what an "organic solution" could be.)
The second example is the polar opposite. This is another accounting firm, but in this case the About page is not just about the actual people behind the business, they're also showing they are relaxed but professional – notice the first names only.
In almost every case, you are more likely to do business with someone who is not ashamed to show who they are. We're all human, after all.
Problem #6: Bad design hides good information
Your website is there to provide visitors with information – so they can connect with you (or buy your stuff). Unfortunately, we want to tell our visitors so much that we sometimes forget just what's important.
Have a look at the page below. This is an engineering firm that provides water solutions for, amongst other things, mining camps. This page is specifically for their solutions for camps – can you spot the problems?
The header on this page should have said something like "Water solutions for mining camps". Then there's some copy about camps, followed by totally irrelevant information (all about them and not particularly relevant to camps), followed by the good bits (what they can actually do for you) followed by more irrelevant information (why you should be working with us).
There is some good information on this page, but it is so buried it's hard to find. This website is not doing its job very well.
The question you need to ask yourself repeatedly is: what problem do they have, what do I need to tell them so they connect with me, and how can I do that without getting them to read a novel?
Summary – and what to do now
Here are the 6 signs your website needs help:
- It's not immediately clear who you are, what you do, or for whom you do it.
- It's all about you.
- They don't know what to do next.
- You don't write like you speak.
- No people in sight.
- Bad design hides good information.
Have a look at your website as if you were an ideal client. How many of the above problems do you see? Even better, research your competitors' websites – how many of these problems show up there? Can you do better?
Good luck building your business!