“My website is lazy.”
It’s an odd sentiment. Kind of like calling your car lazy for sitting in the garage. But then again, it’s not, is it? Your website, for all intents and purposes, is like a 24-hour store. Always open and ready for business. You’re like the store’s owner, and the site is your team of employees. Each part of your site, each page, is like a different department of your store, offering something unique to your customers, whether it’s information, a product, entertainment, instructions…whatever.
But, what if your employees are lazy? What if they aren’t giving people what they want or offering them the information they need to make the decision to buy from you? What if the way your employees look is making people not want to be around them? What if the employees are giving people outdated or incorrect information? Or, worse, what if your employees are misrepresenting you and people are leaving your store because they have the wrong impression of you and your product?
What then? Well, it may be time to get into your store and clean house a bit, because your website can, and should, work diligently night and day for you, and, with a little bit of effort, it will. But first, you need to have an idea of what your website should do for you and what you should do for your site.
What is my web site is supposed to do for me?
I like Shrek. He’s got layers…like an onion. And, like Shrek, your site’s purpose is layered, too.
The first layer of that purpose is what I’ll call The Broad Picture: to give a clear representation of who you are, what you have to offer, and how your site visitors can get what you have to offer. Plain and simple. You have something to offer that you want people to buy, and your site’s job is to help people find what you’re offering and buy it.
But there’s a second layer, a little deeper and more psychologically interesting layer. It’s called The Proof. You have to answer your customers’ question, “Why are you an expert? Or, in the case of authors, ‘why are your stories worth my time and money?” This is where you dig deep and present yourself to your readers in a more personal way, showing them that you have skill and passion to provide them a meaningful, impacting journey through your writing and through interaction with you in your website.
A third layer, and probably the most important, is what I’ll call The Core. It answers the question, “How will you meet my need?” Another way of labeling it is “the takeaway.” Think about it: what are your site visitors most concerned about? Themselves. No, not in a negative way, but the simple fact that they are online, visiting websites, more than likely with a cup of coffee in their hand and wearing pajamas, means that in that moment, they aren’t thinking about how they can help the world. They’re looking for something that will do them good or meet a need THEY have. What will your site give them as their takeaway?
What should you do for your website to keep it from being lazy?
The question isn’t really, “Why isn’t my website doing much for me?” I kinda think that that’s a backward way of thinking. If we’re honest, we know the real question we have to answer is “Whose responsibility is it to make my website work?” It’s yours.
Think about this: if you haven’t changed the oil in your car, can you blame your car for breaking down and not getting you to the airport on time? Nope. If you don’t put gas in it, will it operate properly? Nope. If peanut M&M’s roll across the dashboard and fall into the defroster vents…you get where I’m going. In short, it’s important to put thought and effort into your website if you want it to run properly. You have to give your “employees” the right tools, the right uniform, and the right training so they can offer the best experience to your customers. How does that translate into action you can take? Well, it’s pretty straightforward:
1. update content regularly (blogging helps),
2. keep imagery fresh, and,
3. when necessary, overhaul the whole thing with a new look and features.
Now, I’ve been posed with the question before, “If my website isn’t doing much for me, why should I pay a lot of money to have a new one built?” This question is a tad more difficult for me to answer without sounding self-serving, so I’ll try to just illustrate (sans-flannelgraph).
Imagine you’re running your dream business; for the sake of this story, we’ll say it’s a flower boutique. You come to work one morning and find your air conditioning units have stopped working. So what do you do? You jump online and look up repair companies. (HINT: the ones with the best SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, will come up first…something to think about…)
You click www.JacksQualityAir.com simply because it’s the first result within ten miles of your shop and…the website is a blank white page with one photo of a repair guy, presumably ‘Jack’, standing in front of a dirty, nondescript wall. The words “Jack’s Quality Air” are written way off on the right in Comic Sans font, and the huge, red words “COMING SOON” sit in the middle of the page right above a phone number. You click your back button as quickly as you can, hoping the image of Jack isn’t burned into your retinas.
You click the next result, www.DavisandSonsAC.com, and, lo-and-behold, a clean, professional-looking site pops up. The colors are cool and inviting. There are pictures of smiling faces. There are several clearly-placed logos from air conditioner manufacturers you recognize. Right there in the colorful image slider at the top of the page are the words, “Did your air conditioner just quit? We can fix it. Call 470-blah-blah-blah and our team of professionals will come fix it today.”
Do these websites ACTUALLY tell you anything about who will do a better job? No, but the professionalism and pleasing aesthetic of Davis and Sons won you over. Without even thinking about it, you were influenced by the site that engendered a feeling of professionalism and trust simply based on its presentation. Did Davis and Sons pay more for their site? Without question. But their return on investment far outstripped the cost of the site. They get business while poor Jack doesn’t.
This is a great illustration of what your website should be doing for you. It should be engendering trust and confidence in your site visitors so that they view you in the way you want them to. I’m not suggestion that anyone misrepresent themselves, but I strongly encourage everyone to remember that, as a writer or a speaker or even a business owner, your website is your first impression to much of the world. People will see your books in a bookstore and immediately try to find www.YourName.com. What they find when they arrive at your site will, whether fairly or unfairly, influence them in their regard for your writing. Your website is your resumé, your Sunday best, your fireworks show, and your little black dress all in one. It has to wow people and leave them wanting more.
Tips on how to evaluate if your website is doing its job
So, how do you determine if your site is doing its job? Here are a few tips:
1. Track. Your. Site. Website stats aren’t nearly as mysterious as some people think. Knowing the first few steps and then being willing to get your feet wet will go a long way to understanding and maintaining your site. A few stats you’ll want to track are how people are finding your site, what pages in your site are most popular (and which ones aren’t), how long people stay on your pages, and what links get clicked the most. Use that information as leverage to improve pages people don’t stay on very long, place popular links on more pages, and put “Call to Action” (like “Buy my book!”) on pages people visit most and stay longest.
2. Work on your SEO (search engine optimization). Place content in your site that, when indexed by the big search engines, will help your site climb up in search results. A simple Google search on “SEO for my website” will give you tons of great information and tools to help your site. If you use a content management system like Wordpress, Typepad, Joomla, or Drupal, you’ll have loads of plugins and add-ons available that can help you prep your SEO, too.
3. Get feedback. I’m not a big proponent of using polls on your site, simply because that isn’t why people came to your site, but sometimes, a little bit of customer feedback can help. If you blog, use a blog post and its comments to connect with your visitors and find out about their experience on your site. NOTE: giveaways help. :)
So, what do you think? Do you have a lazy website? What help do you need? If you don’t, what are some tips you have to keeping your site working for you?
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All about Matt Jones of Jones House Creative:
With nearly thirteen years of experience in graphic and web design, Matt is still the first to admit he is constantly learning. “In a field where progress and change is a daily activity and innovation is key, I have to keep learning, keep expanding, and adding new techniques and knowledge to my arsenal. The good thing is, I love it.”
While he enjoys the satisfaction of seeing a well-thought-out design come together, Matt also enjoys all kinds of creativity. A professional bass-player and budding writer, Matt spends his free time enjoying music, hanging out with his amazing wife and three kiddos, and trekking across country in search of beauty and adventure.
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