Your website is not your storefront

I’ve just read another post about your website being your “storefront” – a place where you present all your goodies for perusal by a passer-by or where you present your business to a packed conference room – with the aim of satisfying your own business goals.

This view of your website is not completely incorrect, but it’s not the full truth either, and it’s an aspect where many websites fall down.

Your website is not where you make your sales pitch

At least, not at first! Your business goals for your website might well be to make more sales, to raise your own profile, to show how expert you are in your specific field. You may well be measuring the success of your website by how many visitors convert into clients, and actually, that’s all ok. But still, I’m going to challenge the “storefront” view.

Your website is a meeting place not a storefront

Think about it- when a vistor has come to your site, they have already decided to click on your site; they have already decided to enter, with hope… that you will solve their problem, or answer their question. THEIR problem. THEIR question. Your website visitor has not come to a presentation where they are ready to hear your sales pitch, nor are they just wandering down the High Street vaguely looking in shop windows. They have a specific need; a requirement for information or help, and they have ventured onto your site with the definite hope that you are going to help them.

It’s all about them

Did you spot that? It’s all about your visitor!! Do they care that you want to make sales? Do they worry about your site satisfying your goals? Nope. Nopety-nope! All they care about is themselves and the particular problem they want solved.

They want you to meet them where they are

Meet them. Where they are.

If you meet your website visitors where they are, if you welcome them in to your site and guide them to the solutions they are looking for, then you gain their trust, and then, slowly, they are likely to become your customers. But this is because you MET with them. You didn’t stand at the street side showing off your wares, you didn’t do a general sales pitch, you didn’t stand behind the counter in your shop, behind your beautifully crafted storefront. No, you actively went out to meet them, to understand their needs and to offer them a solution.

If websites spent more time meeting their customers and directly addressing their needs rather than showcasing the products the site wants to sell, the web would become a more friendly and usable place. All it takes is a slight mind-shift in how we view our own websites.

Website engagement is like super-speedy speed-dating

How do you introduce yourself?

Your homepage is often the location where you meet and greet new visitors. I like to think of it as super-speedy speed dating – you don’t get 10 minutes of your partner’s time, you get about 2-3 seconds! First impressions count. The look and design of your site is vital in attracting your desired audience, but beyond that: What to say?

You had me at “hello”

Ha – well, if “Hello” was all it took, then it would be easy, wouldn’t it! A new visitor to your site will react to their immediate impression of the visual layout of your site, and then what? They scan your site for text. What is it that jumps out at them? This is crucial and is so often missed on many sites. What are the first words a visitor sees on your site? It may well be your site’s name, or the tag line in the banner, or the main heading on the page. Whatever it is, it will be eye-catching. But does it convey what you want it to say?

You have 3-5 words to let your visitor know why they are should stick around, and that they will find what they are looking for there. So if the title says “Who we are” – it tells your visitor nothing. Perhaps your title says “Welcome”, which is lovely, or “Home”, but it still doesn’t say why your visitor should linger.

Put it in a nutshell

Think of it as a mini-elevator pitch. 3-5 words to explain who you are or what you do. That’s it. Make those first few words count, because if your colours and layout aren’t quite spot on, your words will be what encourages your guest to hang around.

What do your visitors need to know about you immediately?

They came to your site looking for something – don’t make it hard for them to find it. They haven’t bought in to you yet. They don’t know how wonderful you are yet. You know it, but they don’t! Make these few words jump out of the page so that your guest’s eyes are drawn to them. The main title is a great place to put them, or in the banner at the top. 3-5 words that describe what you do, or who you are. The Backstreet Boys may sing that they don’t care who you are or what you do, but that’s not the case for your web-visitors.

Build Goodwill

Visitors come to your website with a certain amount of goodwill. They come full of hope that you will be providing the solution that they are looking for. Perhaps you are their first click, perhaps the tenth, so make them welcome and let them know what you’re about. Each step of the way will either build their goodwill towards you or erode it to the point of bouncing off your site. Make it easy for them. Take them by the hand and guide them.

I was on a website of a fairly famous person the other day, whom I hadn’t actually heard of – I had been asked to critique their site. The site was dark (black background), with a main image of this person and three other small images. The only text was of their latest tweets and the navigation. At least, that’s all I noticed and remember of the page. The homepage left me absolutely none the wiser of who he was, why I was there and what I was supposed to learn about this person. In fact it didn’t even have his name on the site, just the initials! Now, I’m sure that Mr.Famous is very happy with his fan base and doesn’t need his website to grow it, but should you actually be wanting to reach people or even sell something online, you need to introduce yourself or your business quickly.

Sticky, speedy intros

What words jump out of your homepage first? Do they accurately say what you want someone to know about you immediately? Or are those words buried somewhere within blocks of text, never to reach the eyes of visitors? Make your website work wonderfully and make it easy for your visitors to love you. Let me know what words you choose as your nutshell description and how you let your guests know who you are in your super-speedy speed dating.

Website First Impressions

First impressions count

What impression do you give people when they meet you for the very first time? What impression does your website give? They say that 70% of communication is non-verbal, and although I wouldn’t know an exact percentage for visual communication from your website, we experience a similar feeling when we land on a new website. We either feel hopeful about finding the information we’re looking for, or we have a suspicion that it will be a waste of our time.

The first thing we notice is the colour and the layout, the overall feeling of the site. The design. We immediately feel comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s a split-second, intuitive thing, and it already sets the tone for the rest of our visit on that site.

Going on a date

Your homepage is a bit like going on a date. You want your date to get the best impression of you. You want them to think about how they would like to stay around for a while and get to know you better. So how does your homepage do on its first date? Is it attractive and easy to get on with?

Inviting people to your home

But your website isn’t just for welcoming new visitors though. What about your returning guests? Imagine it more like inviting friends around to your home for coffee. What impression does your entrance give? Is it tidy and welcoming or cluttered and messy?

The design

Within a split-second a user has an impression of your site from:

The colour scheme – depending on the type of audience you wish to encourage to stay on your site, you can choose colour schemes which are calming, vibrant, or even jarring, but be very clear about the effect the colours have.

The layout of the page – some sites love to focus their visitors on just one item in order to encourage them to be interested in that one topic. Others feel they want to offer more information as an introduction, but beware confusing or overwhelming your visitors with a cluttered layout. Think about the “google” page as a strong advocate for simplicity.

The fonts you use – the initial impression of the font you use can give your website the feeling of having authority, or being edgy or in the worst cases it can even repel people. Yes – even the humble font can wield that much power!

The main image(s) – Say it with pictures! What is it you want people to know about your site straight away. Does your main image say just that?

You can elicit an immediate, pleasurable “ah!” or a nervous “oh-oh” from your visitors, just from the design, before they have read a single word you have to say. Does this seem far-fetched? Have a look at the time many visitors stay on your site – 2 seconds? 3 seconds? How can they judge that they don’t like what you’re saying in that time? Well, because they aren’t even getting as far as your fantastic text!

Welcome your guests

First impressions count! Why not see what first impressions your website gives – ask a friend to look at it and give you honest feedback, or do an online survey, or see if you can look at it with “new eyes”. We get so used to the familiar things around us that we rarely see them as others do. It might be time to ask a designer to take a look at your site, someone who is trained in the use of visual communication.

What you say on your site is definitely important, but if your visitors don’t even get as far as reading it, your words are in vain.

What are you going to tweak on your homepage today?