Having a website for yourself, your organization or business is a no-brainer these days. Everyone finds absolutely everything online, and if you are nowhere to be found, then you are missing out—big time. The problem is that there are some misconceptions about the whole web space and internet marketing in general.
Harsh reality #1: You gotta get your hands dirty and get to work!
The web is very powerful for business and a website is essential. However, long gone are the days when you could simply “hang your shingle” and expect the phone to start ringing. Getting your website built is only the first step. You have to go to work promoting and driving traffic to your site.
Your website should be a continuous project that you work on all the time. This means constantly adding content, blogging regularly, and adjusting the design to improve conversion rates and user experience. A website that is not continually updated is one that will be forgotten.
Harsh reality #2: It will cost you money.
A website is an investment. There are huge returns from owning a website, but you must see the cost of a website as an investment. Take a photographer friend of mine. She has invested money, time and resources into her website. She’s paid for design, SEO, Facebook ads, design updates and also been paid in her time by diligently blogging.
The returns have been enormous compared to the cost. Last time I checked, she had over $15,000 in business from Google alone, not to mention referrals and Facebook ads.
Without investing in a quality web presence and putting in the work to make the most of her website, that business would not be there. Invest in your website and you will see returns.
Harsh reality #3: You’re going to need help
You can’t do everything. I fall into this trap many times thinking that I can do everything when it comes to my business. The fact is that there are only so many hours in a day. You’re going to need some help. Hire out what you’re not exceptional at. Get coaching on things that you really want to improve on, but get some help.
Harsh reality #4: You need other sources of marketing
While it’s your most powerful and versatile marketing channel, you can’t rely solely on your website to bring in business. Having a well rounded marketing mix is key to any business.
A good idea is to have your website as the center of your marketing universe. Point all of your other marketing channels to your site. This way you can capture leads and get people engaged with your brand.
Having a website is powerful, but it’s also a lot of work, time and money. Unless you embrace these realities and really go after it, you won’t see much success with your web presence. Dedicate yourself to paying the price to see success via your website and you most certainly will.
It’s no secret that our current world is moving at a rapid pace. It’s almost dizzying. Keeping up your knowledge and skill has never been more important than it is today. That said, it’s never been easier to keep yourself abreast of the latest technology, practice and trends that you need to know to keep yourself relevant as a designer.
Here’s a strategy to stay relevant as a designer:
Sharpen your skills
The first and foremost way to staying relevant as a designer is to sharpen your design skills. Letting your abilities lay dormant will only cause them do die. Constantly attempt to improve your skills by creating things for yourself, organizations you are involved with or by doing tutorials. You will never get to a point where you are done learning about your craft. Practice it regularly.
Read quality design blogs
There is a wealth of information out there and it’s being updated regularly. Subscribe to some top blogs and read them regularly. Study what the experts are saying and implement some of their useful ideas into your work. Keeping on top of what the experts in the design community are saying is key.
Take time to get inspired by the work of others
Having a steady flow of inspiration can be a healthy thing for a designer. It helps you to see what’s possible what is working and what isn’t working. Moderation is key when looking for inspiration. You can easily get trapped into looking at other peoples work for hours and hours without creating anything yourself. Set aside a specific time in the week to see what others in the industry are making and take notes. Then, go and take what you’ve learned and implement it—putting your own spin on things.
Create side projects
Having side projects is a great way to experiment with new techniques and to challenge yourself. You can take on a variety of different projects that will help you hone your skills.
- Create an app
- Design a WordPress theme
- Do pro-bono work
- Create apparel
There are endless site projects that can both fulfill a creative outlet and possibly bring in some extra cash. Start something up today.
Read at least one design book a month
There are many many amazing design books available today. Reading one a month will help you acquire a deeper understanding of design theory and principles. Having this understanding will make you a better problem solver and better able to articulate your decision making to clients or other team members.
Read at least one non-design book a month
Becoming a well-rounded person is part and parcel to becoming a relevant designer. There is a temptation to obsess over design and design related literature. However, reading books outside of your main area of expertise is essential in becoming a professional. Dedicate yourself to reading at least one non-design non-fiction book every month. Doing so will help you to have more understanding of the world around you, making you into a multi-dimensional, more interesting person. This will only help you in your professional career.
What are you doing to improve your skills and personal development as a designer?
Tags: design training, improve your design skills, personal development, professional development, stay relevant as a designer, Web Design, website design
Posted in Best Practices, Graphic Design, Web Design ·
Ask most any designer and they’ll tell you that the design process is very personal. What works for one designer, may not work for another. In truth, most of the time, our process is ever-changing. With each project, new ways of doing things come to light and redefine how we approach a design challenge.
Refining The Process
When I started out in web design I felt as though there was a right or wrong process to design. As I grew in the field, I noticed that, yes, there are a few practices that are essential to delivering quality design work, but much of the process was up to me to decide what worked and what didn’t work to help me get to an excellent solution.
Discovery is one of those areas that I feel is essential to any design process. Without a deep understanding of the problem, the objectives, the industry, the message, the history and the audience a designer is merely guessing or pacifying either his own ego or the ego of the client. Neither of which will deliver an effective solution. Knowing exactly what the objective is and the story behind the objective allows for a more focussed approach. Read the rest of this entry »
Choosing a firm to work with on your website projects can be a difficult decision. Do you go with the large 300 employee firm? Do you go with your nephew’s best friend from summer camp? Or, do you go with a small firm? Depending on where you are at in the life of your business will determine your choice, but, there are some really good reasons to choose a small firm, and here they are.
With a small firm you have a great deal of access to the owner and staff. They are usually easier to get ahold of and more available than larger firms. Typically, at a large firm, you are passed on from the receptionist to a sales person then finally to an account manager. You never really speak to any of the designers or the owners of the organization. With a small firm you have access to all of the important people working on your project.
Large firms generally have large clients that take up a huge amount of man hours and attention. Working with a well managed small web design firm, you get the attention that you deserve. Generally the responses are quicker and meetings aren’t rushed.
Small firms have a great deal more flexibility when it comes to project management, deadlines, meetings and other tasks that are involved in a website design project. In a larger organization, multiple departments need to be coordinated for a slight change in schedule, costing even more time. Small firms are able to work with you and be flexible when it comes to the project needs.
While price is only one of many factors in choosing a firm, small firms are typically less expensive than larger ones. The key is in the overhead. Smaller firms have less employees and expenses and generally pass that savings along to you. While price should never be the sole reason for choosing to work with a firm, small firms generally can offer high-quality design at a lower cost than a large firm.
Small web design firms are able to give much more personal service to their clients. Larger organizations have huge clients with lots of demands, small firms have more manageable relationships and tend to have more personal connections with their clients. You won’t be just “one of the many” with a small firm, you’ll be part of a select group that gets special care.
It really depends on the size of your business or organization as to what size of web design firm you hire, but small firms have some big advantages. When considering hiring a design firm, think about the relationship that you want to have with your web designer. Do you want a strictly client/vendor relationship, or would you like a collaborative partnership with a group of professionals?
In working with clients on their websites over the years it’s become apparent that most people put an emphasis on the homepage of their website. I do to. The homepage is an important piece of your online marketing puzzle. It’s a place to engage users and give a distilled, powerful introduction to your brand. The homepage is considered to be the most important landing page of the whole website.
We may need to change our thinking.
The fact is that people will find your site in a variety of ways—many of those ways will not take them to your homepage. If your implementing an SEO strategy at all, you’ll be deep linking to all kinds of pages within your site structure, not just the homepage. You’re most likely getting lots of articles and pages from your site ranked high for long-tail keywords as well.
What’s the point?
Not everyone will be going to your homepage. In fact, the net traffic to sub-pages and blog posts is usually far greater than homepage traffic.
So what is the solution?
More often than not, interior pages are simply a “dumping ground” for content. A simple template is produced and marketers or website managers throw content into the “shell”. It’s time we become more on purpose with the foundation of our websites.
In my view, we need to approach website design from the inside out. Start with designing the interior pages and optimize them for conversion—first. Make sure that we are putting the necessary thought into each interaction. We need to think about the users that are accessing our content from different sources and providing interactions that help them engage with our companies more easily. Once we have successfully designed the “foundation” pages we can then start to design specific landing pages and then finally the homepage.
This is the exact opposite way that most websites are built. I think that adopting this method will create more effective websites that generate more conversions and revenue. And that’s always a welcome change!
Getting your website redesigned or launching your first ever website can be a blast. If you are considering venturing into the world of web, consider these misconceptions about web design. They can save you a lot of money and keep you on the right track after your site is launched.
If I build it, they will come
Ok, you’ve probably heard this expression used in other contexts I’m sure, but it applies here—big time. When done properly, a website is a powerful tool. However, just because you have a well designed website doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get traffic. You need to start getting traffic. There are many ways to start doing this. Some easy ones are:
- Simply talking about your new site
- Put your URL on all your stationery and signage
- Promote your site via social media
- Promote your site via traditional advertising
There is also Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which is highly effective in getting traffic. SEO takes time and effort, or money. The point is that to really see your website work, you need to get traffic.
If it’s pretty, I will make money
Pretty is great. But it’s more of a byproduct of good design than an end unto itself. Good design takes into consideration your target market, user needs, business goals and conversion optimization. Using design principles, we can more likely reach your business goals via your website. The end result is ‘pretty’, but the foundation is sound principles and best practices. Many designers simply offer “window dressing” which may look fine and make you feel good, but it may not move the needle. The goal of your website should be to make it easy for your users to say “yes” to whatever it is you are offering.
All I need is traffic
You can have all of the traffic in the world, but if your site is not compelling, easy and enjoyable to use people will leave. The standards that the average internet user has for interacting with websites has risen exponentially. Your users expect more. They want to be engaged. Boring won’t cut it, either.
Think about it like this. You have a restaurant in the middle of town. You get lots of foot traffic every day. However, your restaurant is cramped and dirty. The menu is difficult to read, and you can’t even figure out where to order.
It wouldn’t matter how much traffic you got, you wouldn’t convert much of it. Not many people would buy food from that kind of restaurant. Traffic alone won’t bring in the business. You need a well executed site that will convert that traffic.
Branding doesn’t matter
Tell this to the biggest brands in the world. If branding didn’t matter then everyone would have the same name, logo and colors. No one would take out advertising, and if they did, it would simply be a word document converted into a magazine ad. Big companies are a lot of things, and they do waste a lot of money, but they must get a decent ROI on their branding and marketing efforts or they wouldn’t do them year in, year out. Your brand is your story, and story is one of the most powerful tools in society. Pay attention to your brand and build it. Your website should help to build your brand and reinforce the message that you are trying to get across.
I just need a Facebook page
With the rise in social media, it’s easy to think that maybe all you need is a Facebook page, or Twitter account. Don’t be fooled! Social media is very important, but having a dedicated website and blog is crucial to your online marketing.
The first reason is shelf-life of content. On Facebook, the shelf-life of your post is about a day. Twitter is less. On your website and blog, your content’s shelf-life is infinite (as long as you pay your hosting bills)!
The second reason is ownership. Many people don’t realize that Facebook owns your content. It can decide tomorrow that it’s changing its policies and half of your posts, photos or videos get removed. This exact scenario hasn’t happened (yet), but recently with the timeline updates, many of the features that marketers were using simply disappeared or changed dramatically. If you are in business, you can’t soley rely on Facebook, Twitter or Linked in for your web presence. Having your own website and blog, you can host your own content and have it there forever. It’s yours. This is a very valuable aspect of a website.
The third reason is customization. With Facebook and Twitter, it is very difficult to differentiate yourself visually from your competitors. Granted, you can change your background on Twitter, and your Cover Image on Facebook, but other than that it’s tough to really provide and exceptional user experience on these platforms. A custom website is the key. Your website is your hub of all marketing. You have the opportunity to create a stunning user experience that compels visitors to engage with you. You can always change, rearrange and redesign the site as many times as necessary. You’re at the mercy of the Social networks’ whims if you rely solely on them for your internet marketing plan.
A good use of social media is to create community and drive traffic back to your website and blog. Don’t waste time and money by exclusively using social media tools.
Set it and forget it
It may work for rotisserie chicken, but not for effective websites. Constant testing, updating and refreshing is necessary for success. What worked last quarter may not work this quarter. Weekly blog posts, monthly updates to core website content and quarterly content strategy plans are essential to a thriving web presence. A website is rarely ever “done”.
Your website is the center of your marketing world. Take the time to invest in a quality web presence that will engage your audience and convert more users into customers.
If you have a website, then most likely you are trying, in some way to get your visitors to do something. With professional service firms, typically, that action is to contact the firm, or fork over contact information (lead-gen). To be effective, all websites need to have a conversion strategy in place. Otherwise they have a good chance of simply taking up space on a server and draining your account of money.
A website should make you money, and conversions is how that money is made.
Here are 10 elements of a high converting website.
Calls to action
Number one on the list is the absolute most important element: Calls to action. Without calls to action the user will have little opportunity to know what you would like them to do. People need and want to know what to do next. By nature, most people aren’t too aggressive, even the ones who seem to be so. They also don’t want to think to hard and have to dig to find out what you would like them to do. Have a clear call to action saying exactly what it is that you would like them to do. Just take out the guesswork and you will be on your way to higher conversions.
Your headlines need to be succinct and compelling. The homepage headline should sum up what the site is about and why it would benefit the user. Always think “what’s in it for them (the user)” when writing headlines.
We would all like to think that everyone cares deeply about our firm’s standards, procedures and awards, but the don’t. All they really care about is their problem and how you are going to solve it. It’s a hard truth but if you embrace it, you will have a lot more success creating effective headlines (and entire websites).
Clear, on-message design
This one is a biggie. Too many times firms settle for sub-par design that is off-message, cluttered and/or has no strategy behind it. While Tommy down the street may have a copy of dreamweaver and only charge $3/hr. you’re most likely missing out on business that could be generated via a well thought out and designed website.
Clear, on-message web design means that the entire site has a defined message that is being delivered throughout the layout, color, typography and imagery. The design should help to not only build trust, but guide the eye, and increase conversions. Invest in design and it will pay you back several times over.
People do not want to think too much. It’s unfortunate, but you have to meet them where they are at. Let’s face it, people are busy, they don’t have time to hunt around your site for an hour to find what they are looking for. Make sure that your site is designed to take the guesswork out of the equation. This goes along with having clear calls to action.
Having an incentive is critical. You need to have some sort of free valuable resource to give people. Simply asking for their information is not only pushy, but a little rude. Put yourself in the user’s shoes. If someone were to ask you for your contact info, you would want something of value in exchange. That’s what I mean by incentive. Give them a no-brainer reason to become a lead.
Create a free report, video, audio seminar or any other kind of digital resource and give it away for free. You will see your conversions start to go up quickly.
Unique Value Proposition
How are you different from your competitors? What makes you unique? These are really tough marketing questions that many firms wrestle with. Answering them and then forming a value proposition is key to high conversion.
Visitors need to know why you are different from the bazillions of other firms out there, and they need to know quickly. Give them what they want. Create your unique value proposition.
Balance of information
This one is tough and has a lot to do with what industry you are in or what your market expects. Finding the balance between too much and too little information is tricky. Having too much content can lead to overwhelm. When a user is faced with too much information and choice it can be, well, too much. They can shut down and simply leave out of confusion.
Having to little information can have an adverse affect as well. It can lead to confusion on the part of the user and they can leave as quickly as they showed up.
The key is to know your audience and to keep it simple. Run some user tests and see how your balance of information works. Then, add or remove as necessary. Try to err on to little info on the homepage. You want to limit the amount of options that the user has as this can lead to inaction and frustration.
Making it easy for your visitors to navigate your site is critical. An assumption that’s often made when it comes to navigation is that the user needs to see every possible option. Giving your users to many options can have an adverse effect and actually make navigating your website harder.
Keep your navigation simple and easy to find. Use a good amount of whitespace, or frame it in so that it stands out from the rest of the layout. It’s also a good idea to stick to conventions with a navigation system. You can be creative, but don’t overdo it. Getting to creative can create confusion.
Think about how your users are going to use your site. What are they looking for and how do you perceive that they are going to get there. Create user paths on a white board, scratch paper or with 3×5 index cards. These user paths help you to visualize the user flow of your site. This exercise can help you structure your site in a way that helps your users find what they need as well as meet your goals.
Finally, a site with no personality will not convert well. Unless you’ve hired the absolute best copywriter on the planet, you’re probably going to benefit from having some personality woven into your website.
Use images of people within your organization or images of happy clients. Breathe some life into your website through color and typography to engage your users. Doing so will build trust and aid in conversions.
Conversions are the name of the game on the web. If you’re looking to increase them on your website think about these 10 points and try to integrate them. Be sure to test after you’ve implemented your changes and measure your results. Keep adjusting until you get the results you’re looking for. Happy converting!
In our world, we are constantly bombarded with choices. On the one hand, this is truly an amazing thing. No longer are we left searching for a solution to many of the problems that we face. Often, we have 1, 2, 3, or 10 different choices, all with their own slight twist on the solution. It’s great, if you are the consumer, and a huge challenge if you are a business.
The modern prospect has learned to tune out much of the advertising and marketing that is constantly vying for their attention. Can you blame them? You probably do it to.
So, with that said, what is the value or importance of a strong brand identity?
A strong brand identity helps you cut through the clutter
First and foremost, a strong visual identity helps your firm stand out from all of the noise in your industry and the marketplace at large. Without a unique identity, you are almost guaranteed have no perceivable difference to your prospects. Note that I said, “Perceivable”. You are most likely VERY different from most of your competitors, but many potential clients will not even notice you without a strong visual identify. You run a serious risk of just being one of many—and you know, that you are not.
Your identity acts as a gentle salesman
Being nagged is no fun. But we don’t like being reminded of things that we enjoy in a gentle way. Your identity is that gentle reminder. I’ll use my addiction to Starbucks as an example. Every time I see the Starbucks logo, I think about how nice it would be to get an Americano and sit out in the sun and read a great book. These positive feelings come to me and I am compelled to go in and purchase a drink.
Now, I have enough self control to not act on those feelings all the time, but I do many times. Essentially, the Starbucks identity is acting as a subtle salesman gently reminding me that if I want to have a great experience in my day, I can. All I have to do is go in and buy a drink!
I should warn you, however, people are reminded of whatever experience that they have by your identity. If you are making your clients angry, frustrated or leaving them feeling undervalued, then your brand identity will remind them of all those feelings. So, make sure that your business is creating real value for people, then enhance it with a powerful identity.
Your brand identity keeps you relevant
Many times having an identity refresh is an effective way to stay relevant to your marketplace. Especially if a cooler competitor is gaining market share. It can send a clear signal to the market that your firm is still alive, active and really wants to serve the market’s needs.
Don’t ever copy a competitor’s identity or style. It’s one thing to re-brand to stay relevant, but another to emulate your competition. Offer up a solid choice for your market and you will be head and shoulders above much of your competitors.
Cutting through the clutter of today’s over-stimulated culture is no easy task. A unique, well planned and executed brand identity can help you gain the attention of your prospects and keep the attention of your current clientele.
Looking to convert more visitors into leads on your website? Get the free report here.
Having a website for your business is critical in today’s world. But, how do you know if your website is doing what it should? The key is to measure your success. Doing so will allow you to tangibly see the results and adjust your strategy along the way.
If you aren’t getting visitor data via analytics go and get some set up on your site today. It’s cheap or free and will give you the data that you need. You can see how many visitors you get each day, where they are coming from and what keywords they used to get to your site. This is all valuable information that will help you determine what is working with your site and what is not.
You can get really technical with analytics and set up all kinds of custom reporting, but at the beginning, stick to the basics and get your head around what’s going on with your site.
If you don’t have any goals for the website, it’s hard to measure anything. So, get some concrete goals down on paper and see how your site is performing.
For example, if you are a financial advisor your goal could be to get 2 leads from your website via an email newsletter sign up per month. This would be your initial goal. Then you would track your progress via your newsletter software and analytics. You would see whether people are hitting your landing page with your form enough or if you need to adjust the design to get more conversions.
In the past companies would redesign their website every 3-5 years. This can be costly and many people are not sure why they are doing it other than to “stay current”. That’s all well and good, and sometimes you really need to engage in a top to bottom redesign. However, a good practice for most businesses is to measure and adjust or re-align the website’s design on a continual basis. Doing so will give you better results, simply because you are basing your decisions on data and not just personal preference.
Get your analytics installed and start measuring your success. Evolve your website over time to help you achieve your goals faster. This way you can know that you are getting a solid return on investment.
Posted in Web Design ·
Building trust online is one of the most important activities that any business owner can be engaged in. Without trust, no one will buy your stuff. It’s that simple.
The challenge is that in the online world, trust does not come easy. While people are generally trusting online sources more and more, there is still a good deal of apprehension when people engage with businesses online.
Here are a few things that can help you build trust online. No one item will instantly build trust between you and your users, but a combination, over time, will position your business as a trustworthy source.
Look Your Best
Invest in the design of all aspects of your web presence. Having a branded, well-designed and cohesive message across all platforms gives people a sense of stability and trustworthiness. If your brand messaging looks disjointed, confusing or just plain tacky, people will tend to trust you less. You may be the most trustworthy business on the planet, but if people don’t perceive you in this way, then they won’t believe it. So, invest in the design of your website, blog and social media sites.
Testimonials are a key ingredient to building trust online. Your website should have testimonials throughout. Having names and organizations of the testimonial giver is critical. Take it a step further and include a photo. You can go even further and include a video testimonial. There’s really nothing more powerful in building trust than hearing a real customer/client sing your praises.
Keep Your Content Fresh
Let people know you’re alive! Having a website that has 3 year old content on it is going to do nothing for your business. Keeping your content fresh will let people know that you are still in business and ready to help them. A stale, old website or twitter feed with month old tweets says that you are either a) disorganized b) don’t care or c) out of business. Activity and updates are what attract new visitors and build trust in your organization.
The best way to keep your content fresh is to schedule time to work on your online presence. Have one day for blogging, one day to add content to your main website, and spend a half hour a day updating your social media outlets. This manageable system will keep your content fresh and not take up too much time.
People don’t want to do business with websites, they want to do business with humans. The more you can ad a human touch to your site, the better. Add photos of you and your staff. Real images let people into your organization. Your users can get an inside look as to who you are and what you’re all about. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple strategy.
Reply to any comments on your blog. Get back to people who contact you through your website in a timely manner. Don’t use an auto-responder for your contact form. Have a real person respond. Start and engage in conversations on social media without selling. Just be involved with the people that you serve.
Building trust is a good amount of work, but it is not too complicated. With a little persistence you can create an online presence that brings in new business that already trust and like you. And, it can do it while you sleep.
What do you think?