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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.