Creating a successful website experience is just as challenging for a garage based startup as it is for the goliath multinational organization. What both business entities have in common though – which levels the playing field – is that they both have the same screen size window of opportunity to reach and connect with customers. Whether that screen is mobile sized, tablet sized or a larger LCD screen, all website owners have a relatively equal chance (budget restraints considering) to connect with and convert customers by optimizing the use of that space with clever use of compelling text, graphics and video content.
For years, when we met with clients and performed our own “fiduciary benchmark illustration” (i.e. “FBI Report Card”) of how their sites were performing (conversion and rankings) relative to their competitors, I have to admit it was a fairly haphazard process. We had lots of different types of surveys and metrics we would be using during the analysis. It was and in many ways still is a complex process to help someone understand how to improve their website. One learns from experience and I hope to share this with you today.
What this article describes is an easy to remember framework for developing a dominant website experience that can maximize your site’s ability to convert prospects into leads and sales. I call this framework the “Big Tall Sandwich.” Get your ketchup ready as we dig in and build a compelling web sandwich together.
The first ingredient in the Big Tall Sandwich is three pieces of toasted white bread (it’s a double decker sandwich of course) that frame the ideal conversation you hope to start with new and even returning visitors to your website. When people land on your site the first time, you have to help them to orient themselves to see if they landed in the right place. At the most basic level, the first thing you want to do then is to make sure your visitors understand what it is that you do, sell or provide.
In a deli, the three layers of toasted white bread make it clear that you are looking at an oversized sandwich, and not a deli platter or just an ordinary sandwich. If you are looking for fruit soup, look elsewhere – odds are you are in the wrong place. The toast analogy sets the tone and boundaries for the website conversation about to commence. Anything you can do to solve the prospective customer’s problem is going to be contained inside the layers of sandwich – i.e. inside the content of your website.
We call this first ingredient of the “big tall sandwich” by its most simple connotation – WHAT DO WE DO. If you want to focus visitors’ attention on your brand offerings then be sure to not hide your unique selling propositions from plain view. The most highly recommended method for showcasing your site’s service and/or product offerings is to simply display them in a rotating image carousel with eye-catching headlines, eye-popping photos, and/or a drop down menu called products (or services or practice areas or what we do). You want to help the new visitor to quickly determine if your site deals with their problem, need or desire before they leave and go elsewhere.
If you can place your “WHAT WE DO content” in easily discoverable places, then you’ve met the first goal of connecting with a prospect and and can move them to the meat of your site’s sales funnel. If not, then their brief visit becomes another statistic in your Google Analytics bounce rates report. As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that anything important you want to convey better be above the fold of your page. If you assume people are scrolling through pages to see something poignant, then let’s just be clear that you need to catch Walter Matthau in the Bad News Bears scene where he teaches the kids what happens when they ASS U ME things. People don’t like to scroll. They don’t even like to read text much of the time.
Your next sandwich step is to start speaking your target audience’s language which means letting them know not just what you do, but WHO YOU DO IT FOR. This is the deli layer. Contrary to your instinctive reaction, “who you work with” is in many ways far more important than the commodity of what you sell, and therefore is really the meat of the entire online engagement process.
Who you service and sell to are the two primary questions that prospects ask themselves once they understand what you do. They want to understand your “industry expertise” because after passing through the first stage (what you do) they can take for granted that you have a solution to their needs.
Another way of looking at this is by putting yourself in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. An initial viewer’s reaction can be something like “Hey, I see what this site does, but how do I know if they can help someone in my situation? I see that they sell t-shirts but do they sell t-shirts to someone like me.”
If you don’t’ think about who your site helps, then it’s like landing on a site that only does business with wholesalers and it takes you a good amount of time to find out you can’t work with them because you are a retail customer. Not only do you bounce at this point but you bounce with a bad taste in your mouth because an intuitive site would have helped you save time and not go down the wrong rabbit hole in disappointment.
Your site has to answer these WHO type questions to perform optimally and keep bounce rates down – which in case I haven’t mentioned it, also impacts your search engine rankings. Though this roadblock is similar to the question of “what you do” it still deserves its own flagpole because it presents a different perspective to the same problem which each user faces: “am I in the right place to solve my problem, need or desire?”
By crafting your message to clearly speak to your target audience, you give the visitor the opportunity to remove doubt about your capability to provide a solution for their problem and this helps them continue down the decision making process path – hopefully inside your site.
Another example of how this second element nags viewers works like this:
“I see that you offer medical equipment for sale. But do you sell wholesale to dealers, doctors, hospitals or government entities? Do you have any type of industry expertise”? One easy way to answer such questions is to list your client types in a drop down navigation bar for something along the lines of “industries” or “who we service.” Look at www.artisanprecast.com to see a concrete example in their left navigation bar where they list the types of products they offer (e.g. concrete walls and concrete fences) and they also list specific types of buyers they are targeting including engineers, architects and public utilities. Look at http://www.adrecom.net/customers/ and see how this ecommerce and CMS platform provider (Adrecom) segments its customer base into different industries.
By now we should be approaching the third part of our big tall sandwich that keeps prospects engaged and ultimately convinces them to pick up the phone (did I really just use such an anachronism) or fill out a request form. This layer is what we call the WHY YOU layer and it contains all the non-essential yet filler ingredients that make the sandwich complete – i.e. the tomato, lettuce, onions, ketchup and mayo.
Without the filler you have meat on a few pieces of bread or a patty on a bun – not very appetizing or memorable. In the dialogue you construct with visitors through your website engagement experience, your prospects are interacting with your content and if they are still inside your site it tells you that they understand what you do and who you do it for. That’s really great but it’s not enough to put you in the big leagues of a high performing site. There’s still that very looming cloud of doubt which encourages prospects to ask the penultimate questions: “are you any good” or “are you the best at what you do” or “why should I trust you?”
Resolving these doubts is in some ways the easiest of the three challenges a site owner faces because at this point, the prospects want to believe in your capability and can sell themselves. You can help them.
Do this with a bit of class, style and flair by telling them how good you are – but subtly. Like any good playwright, you set the scene and say what you want to say without actually saying it. Here’s a list of ways to accomplish this sometimes herculean task.
1. Post case studies and testimonials. Make sure to include references to industries you want to dominate. Drop names and titles if you can. And most importantly, show real dollars and time frames so people can imagine similar results in their own circumstances.
2. Get a vanity phone line – can be a local or toll-free number. Nothing screams industry expertise like a toll-free number such as 888-ALL-MAGS which clearly highlights that this company is in the magazine business. People may never dial the phone but they sure will remember it and make a mental note that you are invested in the magazine business. The same logic applies to your logo and slogan, meaning you should think about a memorable positioning statement connected with your logo. It’s all part of the opportunity you have with the larger branding effort you make to complete the picture of your company being a serious player.
3. Showcase awards and logos of noted organizations and clients that would impact your own customers’ perception of your business acumen and capability. Third party validation of your connectedness in the industry is quite valued and valuable. We even posit that top search engine rankings are like the online Good Housekeeping seal of approval because clients of ours who may not be interested in the leads that could come from Google are certainly interested in the reputation that comes from having first page search engine rankings.
If I can depart for a moment from the metaphor of the sandwich, let’s review what’s been discussed and talk practically about what it takes to provide a positive and engaging website experience that puts dollars in your pockets and not competitors’ bank accounts.
When a person you are interested in working with comes to your site, we have to assume that he or she is looking to solve a problem or need for which you can provide a solution. You as the site owner have three chances to win their trust and get them to buy into using or hiring your company. You have to convince the prospect that you have what they need, that you sell it to people in their shoes and that you are reliable, trustworthy, timely and just damn good at what you do – you might even say better than the rest of your competitors (but that isn’t always necessary, let alone required, to make the sale).
To put it bluntly, if you want visitors to become customers, you need to get them to buy into your “brand.” This means you have to use your arsenal of web copy, graphics, images and videos to attract them and keep them interested so that they will buy into your story. The entire online dialogue you provide through the elements of your website has one overreaching purpose, you have to make a viewer feel like your story is interesting and that you can satisfy their appetite. If your site can keep them engaged while they pass through each of the three layers of doubt and resolution, then you are many steps ahead of your competitors and should enjoy higher conversions along the way.
Pass the ketchup when you are done.
P.S. if you thought the metaphor of the BIG TALL SANDWICH was finished, see an alternative list of ingredients for offering a compelling and engaging website experience.
Catch their Attention with BIG pieces of bread
- Branding overall which includes fonts, colors and page layout consistency
- Images to catch attention and if your site is mobile then display pages in a mobile format
- Graphics and iconography to set the visual tone of your site
Keep them Moving Along Your Sales Funnel with TALL heaping portions of meat
- Testimonials that highlight your reputation, industry, geography or social endorsement
- Above the fold versus content below the fold
- Links to pages inside your site or to your social media profiles
- Landing pages focused on one value proposition or target market
Keep them Engaged And Point them in the Direction of Acting with tasty SANDWICH condiments
- Search bar with advanced search options
- Action items like click here, fill out this form, subscribe to my blog or newsletter, or call me
- Navigation bar should be usable and intuitive
- Drop down menus give one click access deep inside your site
- Web copy should be professional, compelling and current and likely have a blog component too
- Industry specialties should be highlighted to segment your market dominance
- Contact information should be easy to find
- Headlines should set out your Unique Selling Propositions