It took me more than a year to get serious and invest in a website for my small business. When I first started a side gig, it was answering an ad for reviewing fantasy and sci/fi novels. I’d be making $25/week to put towards getting us out of credit card debt a bit quicker.
Fast-forward a year and that side project had become a viable full-time occupation, prompting me to take a self-taught crash course through the mysterious realms of sales funnels, online marketing, and networking tips. It was at this point that I realized a website was necessary to give clients and would-be clients a place to come get to know me a bit better.
Like a lot of naive entrepreneurs, I figured I’d build the website up, push it live, and watch the customers and the money roll in. It was a week or two later that I realized that my little corner of the Internet was a vast wasteland of web traffic; I swear I actually saw a tumbleweed rolling by on my homepage early one morning.
Getting traffic to your site can be a fickle thing, but keeping it there is a better battle to fight. People come to websites for one main reason: They have a problem and they need a solution. If you can provide that solution, they’re going to stick around and see what you’ve got. If your website doesn’t give them the sense that you’re an expert in the field, the little red X will be clicked before you can even blink.
Websites need to stand out and they need to be authoritative. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in business for six minutes or 60 years, you have to own your own space. Give it 360 degrees of coverage. Don’t let there be any room for doubt as to what you do and who you are. Here are five brilliant tips to making your website stand out from day one.
A recent Hubspot poll found that 76% of people think that the #1 key to a website being successful is the ability to find what they are looking for easily. This term is called usability or user experience (UX) and it’s an enormous niche industry, particularly for business websites. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes or better yet, construct a profile of who your typical customer is. Once you’re in their mindsight, you’ll know what they’re looking for when they click a link to your site.
In my early days of website management, I had my blog set as my homepage. I would get lots of hits and clicks when I posted a new blog, but soon realized every single person who was reading it was coming from WordPress, where my site was hosted. My new posts were going live on WordPress’s feature page and other blog owners were discovering them organically.
That’s all fine and good for Internet traffic, but it was 0-for-2 in my intentions. The people reading it weren’t potential customers and they weren’t going to the pages of my site that generate income. I had to consider who my customer was – someone looking for writing/editing services – and make sure a full list of those were readily available from the first moment you visited my site.
Tell your real story
It can be a little unnerving to put yourself out there on your website. It’s a bit like telling that one story you’re always embarrassed about while on a first date with Mr./Ms. Right. Individualism is what can set you apart in your business dealings, because it’s something no one else can emulate. There’s only one you out there.
Consider this: Regardless of what your business is, there’s probably some larger company or corporation out there that can do relatively the same thing, yes? If you make custom birthday cakes, the customer is aware that there are bakeries all over town; if you install car stereo systems, they know there are businesses that do the same thing up and down the busiest streets of your city. And yet they’ve still come to your website to look around. Once they’ve viewed your services, they’re going to want to get to know you.
The About Us page is one of the five most-visited on any website. When they do click on it, they don’t want to see more hype about your site, they want to see who’s driving the bus. Tell them you story (briefly); let them meet your family or your dog or your WWII model airplane collection. Give them a touchstone to who you are. If your website has a unique name or a kooky logo, take the time to explain it. If your great-great-grandfather started in your line of work 120 years ago, slip in a link to your Ancsetry.com family tree.
Give Them a Gift
If you’ve never gone to meet your significant other’s parents for the first time, here’s a tip: Bring flowers … for their mother. Giving a gift might seem like a suck-up move, and for a lot of businesses it is. They’ll offer a gift card, a coupon, or a free eBook download with the catch that visitors hand over their email address first. For a lot of visitors, that triggers a warning bell in their heads.
“This site only wants my email address to send me nonstop messages, they don’t really care about me.”
Don’t ask for their email. Don’t ask for anything. Put something on your site that can be downloaded and used free of charge. Back when the idea of hiring people online was a newer, I had a short document simply entitled: “How to Hire a Freelancer” available on site that anyone could download – no purchase or email address required. It took me maybe an hour to write and upload, and countless customers referenced it in their initial communication.
I took my kids to a summer gymnastics camp last week and headed to the nearby Starbucks to work remotely. There were about 12 people sitting inside with the look of business people getting work done – two of us on laptops, four more on tablets, and six on their smartphones. If your website doesn’t pass muster when it comes to looking good on mobile platforms, you might have just lost 50-75 percent of your interested customers.
Think those numbers are exaggerated? Think again. Google reports that 75 percent of users prefer mobile-friendly websites and 50 percent experience disappointment or anger when they visit sites that clearly aren’t responsive to their device of choice.
Go back to your ideal customer profile. You meet them at a convention or a networking event and give them your website address. They could be looking at it as soon as 30 seconds after you walk away if they’re interested. If it shows up sharp and crisp on their smartphone, you could have a new customer inside of two minutes. If columns don’t line up and pictures won’t load, they’ll never look your way again.
Blog Like You Mean It
You have to really want to blog to make it successful on your site, or hire someone else to do it for you. Blogging consistently does two marvelous things for your business and your potential customers: It establishes you as a voice of authority and it keeps customers coming back to see what’s next. The more often they come back, the more likely they are to become visitors. The blogging doesn’t have to be just about your business either, but you’d be smart to avoid anything political in nature. Write about industry trends, improvements/changes at your store, how legislation might impact the local economy, and even more personal or humorous stuff.
No matter how often I write about the future of online editing or copywriting, my #1-ranked blog subject continues to be when I write about my misadventures of balancing my business with being a dad. Write from the heart and you’ll be fine