Frank thought things were going so well. His in-person conversation with the prospective client went terrific. Things just “clicked” and he was looking forward to working with this client. Then he got the phone call. The prospective client had decided to use Frank’s competitor. Price wasn’t the issue. As they talked, Frank learned that his website had just cost him a $250,000 sale! The lesson is very instructive and relates to a costly problem that many businesses have, but are unaware of.
First Impressions Matter
You only have one chance to make a first impression. As nice as the old adage sounds – “don’t judge a book by its cover”, the fact is that we all make judgments based on first impressions. First impressions matter, a lot, especially in business. Prospective customers make snap judgments about your business based on their impressions during their initial contact with you. Those initial impressions will form the basis for whether or not they go elsewhere right away or stick around long enough for you to earn their business. Their first impression sets the tone for their relationship with you.
Your 24/7 On-line Representative
A prospective customer’ first impression may be entirely formed on your website, if that is where they first encounter your business. Or, if they first encounter your business in person, or through other advertising, your website may shape their impression of what kind of business you run.
Think of your website as a 24 hour a day representative of your business. Just as your perception of a business is colored, whether good or bad, based on your interaction with their sales personnel, so also is your prospects’ perception of your business colored by your website.
Choose What You Convey
My dad used to tell my brother and me as kids that “actions speak louder than words.” There is a lot of truth in those words. People will much more readily trust what they see rather than what they just hear. You get to choose what kind of impression people form about your business based on their first visit to your website.
The style of your website, the colors that are used, the layout, the imagery, the navigation, all go together to create an overall feel and impression of your company. What people see should be consistent with your company and your company values.
What Does Your Website Convey?
Put yourself in your prospects’ shoes. Now visit your website as if it is for the very first time. What is your impression of your business based on the website alone? Your marketing is most effective when each element is able to carry its own weight and doesn’t have to be rescued by something else. In other words, your website should be able to convey the right impression of your business all by itself. If it doesn’t, your website is costing you money in the form of lost business.
Take a good look at your site, as if you were seeing it for the first time. Based just on what you see, how would you describe the business to a close friend? Does what you see make you want to do business with this company? Do you trust them, based just on what you see on the website?
Top Weaknesses Identified
There are always weaknesses; however, some are a whole lot more problematic than others. What are the two top weaknesses of your website that cause people’s impression of your business to be a little lower than you want? Does your website make your business look polished and professional, or does it make it look like an amateur operation held together by duct tape and baling wire?
Remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Don’t worry about trying to meticulously catalogue each area where improvement can be made – that is a sure recipe for overwhelm and getting nowhere quickly. Instead, focus on just one or two of the top weaknesses that jump out at you. Focus on quickly improving those, and your website will become much more effective.
Your website and the rest of your marketing should play to your strengths. One of the ways that this is done is through the strategic use of imagery. Where possible, skip the use of stock photos in favor of photos you take yourself or even hire someone else to do it if you’ve got the budget for it. The issue with stock photos is that they are in use all over the Internet. People are fascinated by pictures of people. When the photos in use on your site are unique to your site, you instantly separate yourself from all the other companies out there using the same generic pictures and imagery.
Don’t worry if the pictures on your site aren’t quite professional grade – good enough is good enough. You need the pictures to be good, but when faced with a choice between using a “perfect” stock photo or a “good” picture you’ve taken yourself, the one you’ve taken yourself should be used because it conveys a personal touch.
What do the colors and color scheme in use on your website convey? Colors have both intrinsic and contextual meaning. The colors in use on your website convey a meaning. The million dollar question is: Is that meaning congruent with your company operations and values? Large corporations spend big bucks on their choice and use of colors in their branding for a reason. If trust is one of your core company attributes, you want to avoid a heavy dark feel on your website. Too often colors are selected based on a personal preference rather than the meaning of the colors and the message that they convey. The point is the colors used in your website and marketing materials should be carefully selected based on your company’s core values and/or the key benefits that you provide to your clientele.
Consistent use of colors throughout the site conveys a level of professionalism and attention to detail. Inconsistent use of colors on the other hand not only conveys the exact opposite impression, it can also affect the usability of the website as well as the amount of time a person spends on your website.
The choice of wording and the way the content on your site is written conveys a great deal about your business. Your content should be written for your primary audience. It should be written to their level so that it is easily understood. It pays to have your site proofed, and if necessary, the copy professional written or edited. If your site is very large, there are software services (both free and paid) out there that can spellcheck your entire website for you on a one-time or a recurring basis.
Your site should make appropriate use of keywords. Keywords not only help improve website SEO, but they also make it easier for your target audience to grasp the message that you are communicating to them. Remember that when used properly, keywords enhance readability, not detract from it. Stay away from those that advocate the stuffing of keywords – it conveys the wrong message to the people reading your website and will inevitably get you penalized by the search engines.
The functionality and usability of your website conveys a great deal about your business and can often make or break a business relationship. Pay close attention to this because it is a costly and often has significant room for improvement. Key improvements in this are often responsible for boosting the number of leads or sales generated by my clients’ websites.
An easy way to get an objective opinion about your website’s functionality is to ask someone who has below average computer skills to perform a specific task on your website. The task may be to buy a particular product or signup for something or request more information about something. Watch them navigate your website and attempt to complete the task. You may ask them to think out loud. Resist the urge to point out where they should click. This experience will be a real eye opener.
Never over-estimate the savviness of your target audience when it comes to navigating your website. To do so is to leave lots of money on the table. Your site should be built around the lowest common denominator.
Check Out the Competition
What do your competitors’ websites convey about their businesses? I don’t believe in spending great deals of time combing over every little detail about your competitors, but it does pay to have accurate information about the alternatives that your target market is looking at. If others in your market have sloppy sites that convey the wrong impression – you’ve got an opportunity to really shine as a star in your market. If your competitors are doing a good job with their websites, it should spur you to make sure you’re not a laggard in this area. Who knows, you may just get a few good ideas from the way they’ve done something on their website.
Your website either helps your business or hurts your business. In Frank’s case, it cost him dearly. It turns out that after his prospective client, who he got along so well with during the face-to-face meeting, checked out his website as part of his due diligence and decided that Frank was an amateur and not someone credible enough to be trusted with his project. Fortunately, Frank discovered what cost him the sale because his ex-prospective client was kind enough to tell him what happened. Most customers won’t do that. Now that Frank knows about the major leak in his sales funnel, he’s made his formerly low priority website into a high priority item.