Any marketer and even most business people will tell you that you need a website to thrive in today’s economy. When a consumer is looking for a product or service do you think they’re opening up the phone book? Or sorting through the day’s mail solicitations?
More likely they’re searching online, in search engine results, ads or local search, or through recommendations from their social networks. And the businesses they find are the ones with websites, so if you’re not part of that crowd you’re going to be overlooked.
Even consumers who know your business name, have driven by your storefront or have used your services before will look for your site for information or in hopes of “getting to know you better”.
Having a website is so important that it’s practically rote. But so many sites end up as cookie cutter versions of one another, a landscaper here, a manufacturer there. So how do you push your website over the edge, from merely “there” to something memorable and even great?
Here are some ideas to help you get started on your path to website greatness.
Use Great Photography
Stock photography is nice and you can certainly use it to fill in the gaps, make a statement or add color to your site. But if you want your site to be different than the rest you need to ditch the “generic man in business suit” photo and the “friendly customer service rep answering phone” photo and come up with something original.
No, I’m not talking about something you snapped with your cell phone camera last week. I’m talking about professional photography.
Even if you aren’t selling products (in which case you’d better have professional photography!) it wouldn’t kill you to hire a photographer to take a few good head shots for your bio page, some great shots of your office or a few “behind the scenes” photos of your staff in action.
“Actual” smiling customer service rep on phone is far more effective than its generic stock cousin.
If you’re in a service industry, you can get some good photos of either service-in-action or the end result. Have professional photos taken of the buildings your company has engineered or the homes you’ve helped decorate.
Even if your job is to plow snowy roads, you can still manage a couple of real-life wintry scenes with your equipment and shovel crew in the background.
Especially in today’s world where “social” has taken over, people love to see the true face of a business, not just the pretty pictures someone purchased for the sake of simplicity.
The web is visual and if you can provide that visual in the form of compelling and memorable photography then people will start to build an emotional attachment to your company.
Use Great Video
I said great video. Much like photography I’m not talking about video you shot with your camcorder this weekend. Anyone can do that. Heck, everyone is doing that. Instead of some shaky-cam testimonial that you dragged out of your nearest customer about how happy he is with your service, try putting together something a bit more compelling and unique.
How about a mini-documentary-style video of testimonials? It’ll be a lot more watchable than that droning guy sitting at his desk. How about tutorials or how-tos? How about a real behind-the-scenes look at your office, factory or warehouse? Or interviews with clients or staff? Those are just a few examples.
If you’re creative – or wisely hire someone who is – you can come up with a ton of ideas depending on your business, your audience and the purpose of the video.
Polish them up with a good script, good pacing, good graphics and you’ve got yourself something that will appeal to prospects and customers alike. If you use video, you’re part of the crowd. If you use great video, you stand above it.
Write Great Copy
What I really mean is hire a great copywriter. I know, you’re a genius with a thesaurus. But even if you know your nouns and wouldn’t dream of dangling a participle, it still pays to work with someone outside of your business who can bring new perspective and new ideas.
Great copy can make a tremendous difference in the message you convey, how it’s received and the impact it has. Bad copy can make your business sound unprofessional or incompetent at worst, or be ignored while someone clicks on to the competition at best.
Probably the worst offenders when it comes to bad copy are people in financial and law industries. If you’ve ever been to some of those websites, they’re usually page after page of generic, droning verbosity. In many cases the copy sounds generic because it is generic – literally content purchased as part of the “financial advisor package” and copied and pasted onto the site.
Bad, bad, bad!
If you can improve your site in one way today, get rid of the generic boring copy and start over.
So what’s great copy? It goes beyond mere grammatical correctness and into the realm of storytelling. Yes, even if you’re an accountant or an attorney, you can tell a story. Nobody really wants to read your long list of services or the point-by-point description of your process model.
Newsflash: people are probably not reading even one of those boring prepackaged newsletters you stick on your site. Inject some personality into your copy. Tell the story of your business or even your clients and how you’ve helped them. Tell people what you will do for them and why they should work with you.
Don’t just list a bunch of “benefits” and call it copy.
Get a copywriter to ask you questions about your business, your values, what you do and how you do it. After all, you may know what you do but does everyone else? You may know what you mean when you explain the ins and outs of retirement, but does anyone else?
A professional will help you turn your copy into something much better than merely something to fill up a page.
Add A Human Touch
This wraps up everything I’ve said so far into a nice little bundle of website greatness. While you’re busy putting together great photos, video and copy, make sure part of your plan is to put a human face on your company. Nobody wants to do business with a building or a phone queue.
We’re a social species, take advantage of it! Put yourself into your business personally so you can build relationships and connections with prospects and customers.
Here’s a little side story for you, in case you’re not convinced that you can have a relationship with someone you may never have met or spoken with. Actual studies have shown that people develop relationships with TV characters and start to think of them as “friends”, so when a favorite show gets cancelled or ends (think: Oprah) people will actually become depressed and feel as if they’ve lost a friend.
The catch is that these relationships develop when the characters most closely represent real life. Not too many people get attached to a cartoon character. How can you translate that to your business? You can become the “character” in the other half of the relationship with your web visitors. I don’t mean you should be disingenuous or act a part, just be human.
Be the person that you’d want to do business with and the one that attracts others to you. And the only way to do that is to get real with your website.
You can add a human touch to your site in the photos you choose. Don’t be camera shy. Get a photo of yourself on the site. Your staff, your customers, the cat that lives on the back porch of your office… all of these things connect you with customers and build relationships.
Be the star of a video. Look into the camera and the eyes of your customers and speak to them. Tell a personal story, the one about why you’re doing what you do and how you got where you are. Especially if you, like most of us, climbed a few mountains, fought off a few dragons and spent a lot of working weekends growing your business to get where you are, you should be sharing your story.
Don’t take yourself or your business so seriously. Unless you’re a funeral director, there’s no reason why you couldn’t inject a little humor into your site. I’m not talking about telling a knock knock joke, but do try to remember that the fate of the universe does not hinge on whether you’ve used the word “synergy” or can count enough three-syllable words on the page.
A quote, a quip, a turn of phrase or unique use of language can add personality and humor to your site. A good copywriter will help you up the wattage on your copy so it doesn’t read like a death certificate.
MailChimp, an email campaign management program that we use, does humor really well. When you log in the chimp (yes, chimp) at the top of the page offers words of wisdom, links to silly videos and other tidbits that entertain.
They could have listed their six top-selling features and talked about the power to leverage your email campaigns, but I wouldn’t have noticed that. It would have blended into the noise of every other generic synergistic leverage-loving paragraph I’ve ever read in my life.
Doing these things will take some time, good planning and even budget. I never said a great website would be cheap or easy, but the return will be in the way you’ll stand out above the cookie cutter competition and ultimately in the response you’ll get from prospects and customers.
So go ahead and throw a website up if you must, but before you wipe your brow and move on to the next project, revisit the site and start thinking of ways that you can take it from “there” to truly great.