Why so many websites suck (and what you can do about yours)

Johnny Cupcakes is one of the most extraordinary branding success stories of the last couple of years.

If you haven't heard of Johnny Cupcakes before, you're in for a treat - Johnny not only sells T-shirts out of a shop that looks like an old-style bakery; he's now also created such a cult following that thousands of people have his his logo tattooed on their bodies; people literally camp out to be first to get to limited-edition T-shirts; and Johnny himself is a regular speaker at major companies and events and featured in magazines like Inc, Wired and Forbes.

Johnny Cupcakes has taken one of the most commoditised items of clothing - the humble T-shirt - and turned it into a cult through a combination of humour, story telling and really smart branding.


The Johnny Cupcakes website is a treat to visit. While there is a link to "shop now" at the top of the page, I found myself scrolling down to read more about the story - and they tell a great one.

But even with so many great websites around, the world is filled with bad websites that leave visitors, well… bored. And when they're bored or not interested they go somewhere else.

Three reasons website suck In this article we're going to look at three reasons websites suck - and what you can do to avoid these problems. The three things are:

  1. Visitors have to dig to find out what you're about
  2. Your website is all about you
  3. There's nothing to do

1. They have to dig to find out what you do

Have you heard that we're supposed to have a shorter attention span than goldfish?

Well, I hate to say this (really) but that is "fake news". The magazines that reported this (including usually reliable sources like Time) picked up the goldfish analogy from research done by Microsoft 2015. But if you dig deeper, there is no scientific basis for the analogy. (You can read the full article explaining this here.)

So while we may actually be smarter than goldfish, we still have to design our websites to capture the right people's attention almost instantly. Here's why:

The purpose of your website is to capture leads
Let's get one thing clear right away:

The primary purpose of your website (in fact, all of your marketing) is to generate leads for your business.

(If you're also selling stuff online, your website will have a second function - to sell that stuff.)

And to capture leads, you have to get visitors (the right ones, the ones you would regard as ideal clients), to stay, read more and do something.

If it's not immediately clear they're in the right place, they're probably going to go somewhere else.
To get the right people's attention, we have to make it clear that they're in the right place. If we don't make it easy for them to know that they're in the right place, chances are they're going to go somewhere else. So the faster we can confirm they're in the right place, the better the chances they're going to want to read more.

So the first words they read should confirm they're in the right place.
When you do a Google search for something, the snippets that appear in the search results give you the first hint that a website may be interesting - or not. When you then click on a link, you do a quick scan of the page that appears - and if it's not what you were looking for, you close that window to continue your search.

Your headline determines whether they stay - or move on.
The first words on your website is (usually) your headline. So that headline has to confirm - to your potential customers - that they're in the right place.

The best headlines do two things:

  • first, it identifies who should find this interesting; and
  • secondly, it identifies how you can help them.

The headline on my website is: how to build and grow a business. This immediately identifies my target market: people who are building and growing a business. The sub-heading just below that reads step-by-step guides to help solopreneurs and business owners get stuff done. It confirms the target audience (business owners) and tells them how I can help them (DIY guides). So it should be immediately clear to my target market that they're in the right place, and I can help them get stuff done.

Make it easy for your target market to know they're in the right place. So here's what you need to do: go to your website as if you were one of your ideal clients, and see if you can clearly identify who should be reading this, and how you can help them. You should be able to do this without scrolling - your headline (and sub-heading, if you use that) should do the trick immediately.

If your website does not do this, you're making it more difficult for your ideal clients to know whether they're in the right place for not.

2. Your website is all about you

The second reason a website can suck is because it's all about you.

Let's look at an example - let's say that you run a skin care clinic specialising in anti-aging treatments. You structure your website so that it tells visitors all about you - your expertise, your credentials, the state-of-the-art equipment you use, your trustworthiness, a list of the things you can do, and so on.

Now imagine that you're a potential client. What do they want, and what would make your clinic a good place for them to come to? Chances are, what they're looking for include:

  • a solution for their specific concern;
  • concerns about side effects;
  • stories they've heard about things gone wrong.

When these people come to your website, they read all about how good you are - but they don't see anything that addresses their needs or concerns - or at least not immediately. So either they go search somewhere else, or they have the courage (and time) to dig deeper into your website to see if their concerns are going to be addressed.

To capture leads, your website has to be about the people you can help, and what you can help them with. So let's restructure that website so that (after a catchy headline) visitors read the following:

  • the problems you can help them with (for example, looking as good as they feel and combating the effects of exposure to sun, wind and dry air);
  • how you can solve those problems (non-invasive skin treatments with little or no side effects and lasting results); and
  • a description of your ideal clients (women in their 50's and up who want to look as good as they feel).

How do you think your ideal client is feeling after reading this? If you've done your market research and written the website copy to address their needs, you've addressed their needs, started to alleviate their fears and allowed them to self-identify as your ideal client.

Now they're interested. You've captured their attention and they want to read more. Somewhere down the line you do want to talk about your credentials, the state-of-the-art equipment and the high standards you apply consistently - but not until you've captured their attention.

That's how you make your website about your clients and their needs, rather than about you.

What you should do Imagine that you are your ideal client. Make a list of what you're concerned with and how you feel about it. Now review your website from that point of view and see if those concerns are addressed - immediately. If not, you need to think about restructuring your website.

3. There's nothing to do

Remember the purpose of your website?

The primary purpose of your website is to capture leads.

To capture leads, you need visitors to your website to do something - something that they regard as valuable enough to give up an email address for.

Yet so many websites do not have a clear Call To Action. I see many websites that range from good to bad - and don't have a Call To Action (known as a CTA in the marketing world). Without a CTA even your ideal potential clients won't be able to contact you or give you their email address - even if they wanted to - without some more digging.

And that means you've probably lost the opportunity to capture that lead.

You must have a clear Call To Action on every page of your website. Every page on your website must have a Call To Action - something that will get potential clients to take action. On my website, the home page is designed to get people to download the Beginner's Guide to the Tornado Method; other pages are designed to download or buy a DIY guide or book a 30-minute call with me.

But I don't know how to build a good website!

Not all of us are website designers, and not all website designers are good marketers as well. I've seen many marketing agencies make really attractive websites that fail to capture leads for their clients - effectively wasting their clients' money.

If you don't know how to go about building a good website, there are a couple of things you can do:

  • If you have the budget to engage an agency, find a few that look interesting and ask to see a list of previous clients (these are often showcased on the agency's website). Check those websites to see if they tick at least the 3 items we've talked about in this article. Then contact the company and ask them if their website is effectively capturing leads for them.
  • If you don't have the budget to engage an agency and you've built your own website, ask your current or potential clients to give you honest feedback about your website. Or even better, ask a third party to get that feedback for you (people tend to be more honest with a third party if they need to give anything less than glowing feedback).
  • If you've built your own website and would like to continue going that route, you will have to develop some degree of proficiency in technical, design and marketing skills. My recommendation is to start with the marketing skills, and one of the best ways to do that is with The Brain Audit by Sean D'Souza.

I do occasionally do website teardowns for clients or potential clients. Contact me if you're interested.

Let's summarise

There are three reasons websites don't deliver on their promise of capturing leads. Here they are - and what you can do to avoid the problems:

  1. It's not clear what you do, or for whom When visitors land on your website, it's not immediately clear if they should be interested. To avoid this problem, craft a headline (and sub-heading) that makes it crystal-clear what you do for whom.
  2. Your website is all about you To capture someone's attention, you have to address their pains and concerns (and only later talk about why you're the best choice to work with). To make sure you do this well, the first page on your website has to clearly identify your potential clients' problems, the solution and confirm they are the people you want to work with.
  3. There's no Call To Action To capture leads, every page on your website should have a very clear Call To Action inviting your potential clients to schedule a meeting with you, download something or sign up for a trial (something designed to capture information about them you can use to follow up with them).

There's more to website design of course, but these three items are critical and a good place to start to make sure you have a website that is fit for purpose.

Johnny Cupcakes seems to break one of the rules

The Johnny Cupcakes website breaks at least one of the three "rules" we've talked about here. They don't focus on who they help - rather, they focus on their products and their story. But still they're successful - because just about everyone could use an unusual T-shirt and their story is so engaging it captures your attention anyway.

But the old rule about breaking rules remains: if you have to break all of the rules to get your website to deliver what it is intended to do, go ahead and do that.

Only results count.

Next Steps

Here's what you can do now:

  1. Check your website to see if it's clear what you do - and whom you do it for. Ask a friend to do the same - or even better yet, a potential client.
  2. Make sure your website is firstly about your clients, their pains and concerns. Your credentials come later.
  3. Make sure there is a Call To Action (CTA) on every page.

And if you're still wondering, drop me a note - I may be able to help with a quick look and comments.

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