Why Websites are Important, Even if No One Sees Them
It would be great if we could personally meet with each and every prospective client and share all the reasons they should choose our product or service, but unless you have really limited ambitions (e.g., your entire target audience consists of your three best friends), that’s not too practical. So, you need a way to communicate with people through other means. These days, if you’re in business, prospective clients expect you to have a website.
Your website should be the foundation for all your communication, public relations, and marketing endeavors, so while the goal is to have plenty of site traffic, the process of creating a great website is incredibly useful before a single person sees the site.
If you’re a new company, working through all the pieces of a good website will force you to get clear about who you are, who you’re trying to reach, and what you offer. If you’re a company that’s been around for a while, updating your website can serve as a much-needed strategic planning or visioning session. If you don’t create communication plans, strategies and content for a living, this can feel a little overwhelming, which is why companies like mine exist to help you.
Here are the most important things to consider.
The first step is branding. Branding is more than a logo, a color palette, and a tagline. My friend, branding designer extraordinaire Karen Adair at DG Creative Branding, describes it better than I ever could. I recommend reading her short but entertaining blog on branding when you get the chance. Basically, the process of branding defines who you are and incorporates that into everything you do–especially into your interactions with employees, clients, board members, and even critics.
What are your organizational values? Should your tone be friendly or formal? What colors evoke the right emotions? What image represents your organization’s unique personality? To be successful, you’ve got to be clear and consistent about who you are as a business and how you meet your clients’ needs. Relationships are based on trust, and a consistent approach builds trust.
Once you’ve gone through a comprehensive branding process, it’s far easier to define (or refine) your messages. One word of caution: the biggest mistake many of my clients make is that they come from their own perspective rather than that of their clients or stakeholders. Instead of focusing on what you do, focus on how you help others do what they want to do. The most effective messages resonate because they help clients solve a problem or reach a goal. For example, you may sell socks, but if you donate part of your proceeds to clothing the homeless, a certain segment of sock buyers will choose to buy from you rather than your competitor. They’re buying socks either way, but since you helped them align their buying habits with their values, you win their business and hopefully, their loyalty.
Think about what separates you from your competitors and how that influences your clients, and build your messaging around that.
You may think that now that you’ve established your branding and messaging, your website will build itself.
First, you must create a site architecture–figure out what goes where. The same mistake that many organizations make with messaging gets repeated in website design. I recently worked with a company that insisted a top menu item should be Departments. When I asked why, they explained that a list of departments would make it clear how visitors could find the information they wanted. The truth is, their visitors have no idea which programs and services are aligned with which departments. The proper menu title was Programs and Services.
When you create a menu structure, it’s important to think about the problem you’re solving for your client and how your client would refer to the product or service they need. Be sure to avoid industry jargon that makes perfect sense to you and very little to your clients. For example, I’m working with a school district to reorganize their website. They want to share information about everything from school events and accolades to budget and bond measure updates. In California, the budgeting process is ruled by something called the LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan). Anyone in education knows this, but the families whose children attend schools in the district rarely do. “LCAP” should never be a menu item. Rather, they should use “Budget” or “Funding our Schools” or some other common term that doesn’t require insider knowledge.
Once the site architecture is determined, make sure the site is designed so that regardless of where visitors land on your site, they can easily navigate to wherever they want to go next. If you continually think as though you’re one of your clients/site visitors, you’re far more likely to be successful. Then, test your design. Ask clients or those in your target demographic to browse around and see if they can find what they’re looking for. If there is information you want visitors to see, ask your beta testers if they saw it.
If you get rave reviews about your website, chances are you’ve nailed the branding, messaging and web design. Now you have all the building blocks for a successful communication, public relations, and marketing strategy.
If you’d like help creating or renovating your website, contact us. We’d be happy to help.