Most Company Websites Have This Problem… And Yours Might Have It, Too

There are many technical issues that I look at when I’m examining a website through my professional perspective.

I may notice that a line of text is incorrectly formatted for mobile screens, or that the previous developer made a quirky layout choice that didn’t quite have the desired outcome.

I’ll notice that a site loads slowly, has some potential SEO warnings, and I’ll ask the owner if they actually have Google Analytics installed – and too many do not.

However, if I had to identify a single consistent problem that I see with websites it would be this:

The #1 problem that company websites have is that they are built for the owners instead of the users.

Yes, you have a website for your company. Yes, it’s got your logo and brand styling.

But if it does not align with the needs and desires of your customer, your website is missing out on its potential.

 

How does this problem occur?

Some simple explanations for this are:

  • You built your own website or enlisted the help of a tech-savvy friend
  • You hired an inexpensive website production mill and told them how to build your website

It is easy to leverage the wrong knowledge when building your own website, and even easier when you are merely dictating your vision to someone who just knows the web technologies better than you.

What companies find when they hire a website designer who actually knows their craft is…

 

Your website is both about you, and NOT about you!

To better understand why this problem is so prevalent, let’s look at what web designers and marketing gurus have been telling people about website ownership for years:

“You must have a website to stay relevant!”

This isn’t inherently wrong – quite the opposite, in fact. 

However, if a website is not tailored to the needs of the customer, then the only people really benefiting from that website are the people who build and manage websites for their profession.

I describe this idea as Marketing Mirror Theory.

What is Marketing Mirror Theory?

Marketing materials (in this case your website) should be like a mirror – indicative of the personal preference of its owner, but functionally reflecting the viewer.

If you think about a fancy, gilded mirror, you are actually imagining the frame – your mind may summon the idea of intricate, flowery details around the border of the mirror. You can think of the design of your website in almost the same way – it has a certain aesthetic style and appeal, however the primary purpose of your website is not explicitly focused on your preference and instead serves as a vehicle to carry the message that your customers are looking for.

And just like the core function of a mirror is to reflect its user, your website’s main function should be to provide a solution to your customer’s needs and to create an illusion where they are seeing themselves as bettered by the solution.

After all…

  • A mirror is an illusion – a detailed but reversed replication of real life appearance
  • A mirror shows its user what they cannot yet see on their own (like their own face or the back of their head)
  • A mirror allows its user to feel their expectations validated (like when they are trying on a new outfit and it looks great)

How to use Marketing Mirror Theory to fix the #1 Company Website Problem

Now that we’ve identified how most company websites make a serious mistake in their design, and now that we’ve covered the concept of Marketing Mirror Theory, it’s time to take your company website and apply a Marketing Mirror Audit. Take notes on a sheet of paper or text document on your computer as you proceed.

  1. Know your audience – imagine for yourself a customer who is most profitable to you, easiest to serve, and most aligned with the core services your company provides. Create a mental image of that person; who do they look like? What do they want? Which of their issues does your company address? Find a photo of one of your best customers or find a stock photo that represents these ideas before moving on, and keep it for reference during your audit – we will call this your Customer Avatar.
  2. Pull up your website’s homepage. What I want you to do at this point is look for a strong Call to Action (or CTA) on the page – does a visitor receive immediate guidance or inspiration to engage with the website further? Note that this will take the form of writing in the interface, directional icons, or subtle animations that suggest to the visitor that there is more to see. This will typically not have anything to do with your images. Write down the strongest CTA on the page, or take note if there is none.
  3. Now that we’ve looked for CTAs, put your homepage and your Customer Avatar side-by-side for a moment and ask: “What elements in this website would encourage the person in this photograph to purchase?” You may consider items like the photos on the homepage, the logos, the layout, the colors, or the word selections. Write down the elements that might encourage your Customer Avatar to choose to do business with your company.
  4. Analyze the content of the homepage and determine the solutions or benefits that are explicitly laid out in the copy. Take note of those solutions/benefits, and take strong note if there are none. This should not take into consideration implied benefits in photography.
  5. Take the elements of the Audit at this point and write a “Why They Would” paragraph. Condense the results from steps (2-4) into this paragraph to create a positive summary.

Having fun yet? That was the easy part.

Next you are going to look at the page in a thoroughly critical light. Be brutally honest and approach these steps as if your were critiquing your competitor’s website (in fact, you may take the following steps on a competitors site to get you in the mood… your choice).

  1. Looking at your website’s homepage, scroll through (especially on a mobile device) and take note of how many sections you have to scroll through between CTAs. If your homepage only has one CTA, or CTAs are few and far between, write “low CTA saturation.”
  2. Look at the photos you are using to portray your goods or services. If you spot any of the following, write “boring photos”, “blurry/pixelated photos”, or “generic stock photos” as they apply. I want you to be absolutely ruthless with this one – great photography elevates good website design, while poor photo selection tanks it.
  3. Compare your Customer Avatar with your homepage again and ask yourself: “What elements of this website might offend, distract, or deter the perfect customer?” Write down at least one answer to this question.
  4. While again comparing against your Customer Avatar, ask yourself: “Why might the perfect customer choose to leave this site and disengage?” Look for a lack of interesting content, poor social proofs, or anything else that could cause your customer to think ‘eh, maybe I’ll come back another time.’ Write down at least one guess here, because it is almost certainly happening already.
  5. Take the further elements of your site’s Audit and write a “Why They Would Not” paragraph. Condense the results from steps (1-4) to create a negative summary.

 

How do you feel about your Audit results?

If you just poured a ton of time and money into your website and this process gives you a sinking feeling in your stomach… I truly feel sorry for you, because this is a result of choosing the wrong people to hire for your website.

 

If your “Why They Would” paragraph is longer than the “Why They Would Not” paragraph, there’s a good chance your team did something right and only a few adjustments are necessary.

 

However, if a thorough and honest assessment has provided a short “Why They Would” and a lengthy “Why They Would Not”… You should consider hiring a marketing professional to oversee your website development team – or hiring a different one altogether.

Every Brand Needs Good Website Design – Period.

I say it frequently: A website is the core to a good marketing strategy.

But why is a website the core to a good marketing strategy?

It’s really quite simple, and can be summed up in the word ‘control.’ In order for a marketing strategy to be effective, it must establish control over an audience or an industry. Sinister? Not exactly.

If you have any experience in networking your business in a local community, you’ve heard this justification for spending time in networking circles:

“The reason you network consistently in our group is to become top of mind when our members need your services (or goods)”

I served as the captain for a leads group for two years that repeated this message. It’s not inherently wrong; in fact, that’s the point of any marketing strategy. But read that statement again and you’ll realize that it’s about control – specifically, control over the correlation in your network’s mind between your industry and your brand.

How does control factor into website design and marketing strategies?

Your website is the one place that anyone can access where you may communicate 100% who your brand is for, what it stands for, what it looks like, and why people should do business with you. Nowhere else do you have this type of control:

  • Your storefront is likely shaped how the designers wanted it or your city dictated, not as you designed. Furthermore, access to your location is limited to the people who live nearby or travel to your location.
  • Your social media has your name, your imagery, and your content, but all of that is encapsulated in Facebook’s brand, or Instagram’s brand, or LinkedIn’s brand. Worse than that, if at any time, for any obscure reason they disagree or dislike what you post, they can take down your content or page at any time. The point is that they own their platform and control access to your content.
  • Your printed brand materials are not accessible from anywhere, no matter how widely distributed they may be. This is why newspapers now publish their articles online.

Imagine being unable to unleash your brand’s unique and creative approach to its industry, being unable to say what you want, when you want, as much as you want. Take a moment, really think about that. Now go get a website.

For your marketing strategy to succeed, you need to own your web presence.

Here’s how:

  1. Register your domain! This should absolutely be the first thing you do when starting a brand. I like NameCheap.com for this, but GoDaddy works if you absolutely must (personally I find all of the other products they’ll try to upsell on you subpar). For more on choosing domains, check out SEO specialist, Moz. Do this for yourself and NEVER let someone register a domain on your behalf – it is your most important piece of intellectual property online.
  2. Hire a website designer. Can you design a website yourself? Eh… sure. If you say so. As a professional who has designed websites for a number of years, I’ve seen many people struggle to design the website they want with DIY solutions such as SquareSpace (or the afore mentioned subpar services from GoDaddy). Save your valuable time and hire a pro. Your designer will become a key member of your marketing team, even if the only other member is you.

Now that you have your website, you can connect everything to it.

Business cards. Social media pages. Articles. Vehicle wraps. Direct mail flyers. Radio and TV. The list goes into infinity of what you can connect to your website, in both the real and virtual worlds. This fundamental concept is why your first steps in a marketing plan should include website design.

 

Relying Entirely on Social Media will Fail You

On March 13th of 2019, Facebook pretty much went down. This issue affected WhatsApp, a widely popular messaging platform, and Instagram, one of the most impactful social media for marketing your business.

As a result, many businesses who rely on Facebook’s family of apps to communicate with prospects found themselves hindered and at the mercy of Facebook’s team of engineers.

This system-wide failure is bad enough, but imagine what it’s like when massive companies like Facebook and Twitter censor your content because they disagree with it – which happens more and more each year.

So what is the answer?

Escaping Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are fantastic tools for SEO and marketing efforts, but when the infrastructure is swept from beneath your business what do you have left?

  1. Email marketing
  2. Phone contact lists
  3. Website

Ultimately, if your business relies heavily on social media to gain new business then there is a chance you are leaving opportunities on the table to build a more secure marketing platform.

Email Marketing

One of the oldest digital marketing methods, email marketing is still running strong. Email lists are easy to start building – all you have to do is set up an account at MailChimp or any other email marketing service and start adding your existing customers to a list.

Now you have a foundation for your email campaigns where you can send out news and promotions to the people who are already looking to hear from you, and when you embed a sign-up form on your website or link to the form in your social media platforms, you can develop an entirely unique experience for your customers which will survive a Facebook outage or censorship.

Phone Contact Lists

Using the phone is still one of the most effective ways to communicate quickly with prospects, rendering it one of your most powerful sales tools. When developing your email marketing list, you can usually include a field for visitors to enter their phone numbers as part of the opt-in form.

Alternatively, you may choose to build forms on your website that bypass email entirely and go straight to gathering phone numbers.

Website

Last on this list, but by far not least, is your website.

Your website is the best representation of your brand on the Web. You don’t have to compete with the aesthetics and rules of social media platforms when translating your brand design, and you have the ability to completely control the content and site functions. With good hosting, and assuming you’re not trying to reach China, your website is pretty much available 24/7 to bring new global prospects into your brand.

All of this is not to say that social media is a good or bad thing for your business. Social media has a place as a ‘top of funnel’ source for website traffic. Social media also allows you to broadcast your content directly into your prospects’ lives at a price that no other medium can compete with.

If your marketing strategy relies solely on social media, however, then you had better hope and pray that the internet deities of Facebook, Twitter, and Google continue to smile upon your enterprise…

For when they don’t, your marketing strategies will die.

Your Business Already Has An “App”

“Do you do app design?”

Every so often someone will ask me this question, once they know that I design websites. The technical answer is ‘no’, however from a certain perspective that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve been designing responsive, mobile-ready websites since 2014, and after receiving this question a handful of times I finally have an answer:

iOS, Android, and Windows phones allow any website to function as an ‘app’.

This isn’t exactly new information – informed users of each platform have known this for years. Most businesses though, especially smaller local businesses, overlook this aspect of website design. By adding a shortcut to your website on their mobile device home screen, a potential client has an opportunity to put your website alongside their favorite apps for easy access.

Try it: How to Add Websites to the Home Screen on Any Smartphone or Tablet (Source: HowToGeek.com)

Your business website is already an app, but is it any good?

Take a moment to pull up your business website on your phone and ask yourself:

  1. How quickly does it load?
  2. Can I easily read it?
  3. What action would I take as a potential customer?

These questions should quickly define the function of your website as an ‘app’ on a mobile device. Now that we’ve noted some potential problems, let’s look at a few actions you can take to improve your mobile website.

1) Make Your Business Website Responsive

Your website needs to resize and reorganize its content for screens of all sizes. This is called Responsive Design, and is the new standard for website design. The best websites are designed first for mobile, then for the full-sized screens, which means resizing text, reducing empty or ‘white’ space, and stacking content so your user can scroll through. If your website scales the entire design down to fit a smaller width, instead of reorganizing the content, you need a web designer immediately – Google is marking you down for this.

2) Reduce Your Website’s Load Time

A slow website is a dead website. Cut down on fancy animations or use standardized animation tools and never use custom-coded animations. Reduce image sizes in Photoshop. Use free tools to gain insight into how your website runs and where it can be improved (try GTmetrix). Pass the technical items on to your web developers, and if you don’t have one then find one! Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out yourself. Get on Upwork or find a local professional.

3) Define Your Website’s Primary CTA (Call To Action)

Decide what you need your visitors to do on your website to grow your business – and then tell them how to do that near the top of the page. Repeat the CTA throughout the length of the page so your visitor is presented with a buying option or action item with each new snippet of information about your business. A website without a CTA is essentially a glorified business card.

Bonus Tip: Remember that your business website isn’t about you – it’s about what you have to offer the visitor.

Your product or service should be crafted to make somebody’s life easier; show them how it does this, show them who trusts you, and show them how to buy on the first page. Save your bios and company culture write-ups for the pages which they might eventually visit – if they actually care. A website’s landing page can be short and concise, or it can be lengthier than 3 typical pages as long as the information in that space is critical to the buyers’ decision. Most importantly, though, let your website’s design make your customer look like the hero in this story because of your product or service.

Whether your website is awesome or terrible, it serves as a basic app for your business.

Make sure that it’s the former so your business can grow in its online presence. If this is overwhelming to you, then Clarity Business Design has you covered with mobile-first design and development solutions.