Create a Website that Draws a Crowd

by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts

We've talked about how to turn visitors into your best customers using email marketing, but what about your online presence? How do you create a new website or improve your existing website to increase your online success? This week our friend, and award-winning business writer and author, Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts gives us some great tips on writing and designing a website that gets results!

Create a Website that Draws a Crowd
by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts

Your website is your face to the world; it's unlike any other form of marketing or selling you'll ever do. If you want a website that people flock to, it needs to be rich in content and functionality.

Website Do's

Whether you are working with a professional to design your Website, or going it on your own, you must understand and maximize the contribution you make to the success of your site. Here are some important things to consider:

Clarify your goals
Years ago people built websites just to have a cyber-presence. Today's Websites can do much more. So first, determine what you want your site to do. Do you want it to be an online brochure? Will it be educational? Will it be a sales vehicle? Are you doing e-marketing or e-commerce?

Determine key words and phrases
You must determine the words or phrases your audience will use to find your site. If an attorney uses "matrimonial attorney" and people search under "divorce lawyer," they won't find that attorney. If you're a money lender, for example, you may use "factoring," "asset-based loans," and "bridge loans."

Remember that first impressions are key
Always put the good stuff first. Think of your home page as a giant magazine rack. Your audience scans the front cover of the magazine. Within 8 seconds, they'll decide to stay or look elsewhere, so make sure you capture their attention right away.

Write for your audiences
Remember that your site should be about your audience, not just about you! You must understand and be able to convey "what's in it for them." Benefits and features work well. Look at the websites of your competitors to see how they tantalize (or frustrate).

Write for readability
Web audiences want instant information. Therefore, you must keep the text concise-often much shorter than its print equivalent. Here's how to give your audience the information they want quickly:

  • Write headlines that give key information. (Pattern your headlines after those you see in a newspaper.)
  • Limit paragraphs to 8 lines of text.
  • Use bulleted lists.
  • Make effective use of white space and appropriate graphics.
     

Go modular
Think about the content and how the average person will access your pages. Keep the topic and content of each page focused, making each page one complete thought or idea. This means that each page should be able to stand alone. People have different browsing styles, so they'll enter your website from different paths. Therefore, you should consider providing your key information on several pages of your site.

Link to other sites
No matter how great your content is, don't waste the most valuable feature of the web-links. You've probably found that one of the best experiences you have on the web is the serendipity of stumbling upon a cool website you didn't know existed. When you provide useful links, your website becomes a valuable resource that your audience will return to, and recommend to others.

Build in tracking
You must be able to quantify the return on investment (ROI) of your website by measuring the activity of visitors, e-marketing, e-mails, faxes, and phone calls. It is critical to know who visits your site and how often.

Publicize your site
What good is your wonderful site if people don't know it exists or how to find it? Here are some ways to publicize your site after it's published:

  • Include the URL on your letterhead, business cards, and e-newsletters (Some people print out e-newsletters and distribute them.)
  • Add the URL to the signature portion of all your e-mail messages.
  • Post it to appropriate newsgroups.
  • Send out a press release, if that's appropriate for your business.
     

Keep your site current
A static site is a boring site. A static site may work for some businesses, but you want to give people a reason to return. A good way to keep your site current is to include new links, industry tips and trends, and any other information your audience will find useful.

Website Taboos

There are a number of reasons that websites aren't successful. Here are just a few:

  • Lack of key words: You must have the key words people will use to search for your site. Otherwise, they won't know you're there. These words must be peppered throughout the site because you may not know where people enter.
  • Bleeding-edge technology: Your site isn't New York City's Times Square. Don't use images that have an overpowering effect on the human peripheral vision just because you can. That's akin to generating documents that look like circus posters just because you have a word processor. Include only what you need and what's appropriate for your business.
  • Hard-to-read colors: People still use black backgrounds with yellow lettering, or something equally awful. Use appropriate, readable colors.
  • Outdated information: Keep your site current. You need a web gardener to weed your web garden and replant new flowers. An outdated site is the sign of an outdated company.
  • Long downloads: Human factors guidelines show that audiences lose interest after 8 seconds. Many people still use dial-up modems, and download time may be a significant factor for your audience.

International Websites

As Internet access grows across the globe, so do translation and download problems. Following are some guidelines to help meet the needs of a worldwide audience:

Work with a translator
If the site is to be translated, identify the languages. Send text, menus, and entries to the translator to learn of potential problems. For example, in other languages nouns may not have similar conventions and many words and phrases we typically use may be offensive.

Be aware of download time
There are many parts of the world that have slow modems with Internet access billed by the minute. Users in these regions (and many are right here in the United States) will visit sites that are quick to download.

Site must be printable
There are also parts of the world where Internet access is very expensive and users often share computers. People print out websites and distribute hard copy pages.

Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Principal of Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts & Associates, is an award-winning business writer and the author of 18 books. She's written brochures, proposals, video scripts, and Web text that have paved the way for clients to close multi-million dollar deals. You can contact Sheryl at 508-229-8209 or check out www.sherylwrites.com.