It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of web design over the last 20 years. Trends come and go at a fashion-runway pace. Technology changes even faster than that. The graphic style is continually evolving, but there’s not a lot that I would really call strategic web design.
Regardless of the latest trends or technological bells and whistles, there are some timeless facts about strategic web design that will always apply. First and foremost: The most effective websites are multi-dimensional. That is, they communicate on many different levels…
The phonebook level.
So on the most basic level, your website needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that.
Cover the basics, front and center on the home page, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it. Just like a phonebook listing: who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number and links to where prospective customers can learn more.
But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. Effective sites also work on a 50 second level and in many cases, the five minute level. That’s strategic web design.
Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith on your cell phone. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up that offers emergency service. Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.
But six months later you might find yourself searching for a locksmith with a completely different set of expectations. For instance, if you need new locks on all the doors of your office building you’ll probably sit down at the computer and compare a few locksmith websites before calling anyone.
Same, exact unique visitor — different context. Different search criteria. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level.
The first impression level.
The most basic rule of strategic web design is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, you’ll never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.
So how do you do that on a website?
Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.
Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s almost impossible for small-business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”
The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 50-second marketing level. They’re not memorable. They’re not simple or fun to read. And they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.
That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high. The site doesn’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.
The conceptual, branding level.
Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”
More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Exctinct.”
Being distinct is what branding is all about.
Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. They are only comfortable with designs they’ve seen before. Plus, web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for innovation.
The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.
For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.
When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.
Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.
It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography. It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks, like “U. O. U.” It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way.
It’s good, old-fashioned craftsmanship in a high tech world.
When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for? What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?
Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.
The research or “how-to” level.
The deepest level of engagement is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of just about any purchase, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the decision they face.
On business-to-business websites this level include webinars, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. (Strategic web design ties in closely with content marketing.) On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This content is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.
The conversion level.
Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, conversion will happen quite naturally.
So the bottom line is this. Great sites aren’t’ just pretty. They aren’t just factual. They aren’t just chock full of content. They’re all those things, tied up in a package that’s delightful for the user.
If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075.