5 Steps to creating content that motivates customers to take action
Websites are super easy to build these days. Cloud-based platforms eliminate the need to know html code and affordable stock photo banks provide access to quality images and graphics. With accessible services, even novices can cobble together a basic website.
Here's the rub though. There’s a lot more to attracting new clients and selling products online than mastering the technical aspects of building a website. It’s knowing how to write persuasive copy and choose head turning images. It’s knowing how to create SEO-friendly content that lands you on the first page of search results. It’s knowing which type of subscription forms perform better and the optimal place to insert pop-ups. Having managed the creation of more websites than I can recall over the past 25 years, I can testify that a well performing website — one that delivers results, i.e. increased sales and more clients — needs some serious thought, structured planning and a chunk of devoted time.
I did a quick Internet search and was surprised that I did not readily find a lot of useful information for small business owners about how to choose, organize and implement the various types of content (copy and imagery) that are essential elements in a high performing website. Yet, this is elementary to a website’s success — and the part that often overwhelms new entrepreneurs with limited experience. This got me to thinking about how I go about creating a website. I’m sharing here the 5 steps I take every time I create a new website.
Step 1 — Answer the question: Why am I doing this?
The first step is to flesh out why we are creating the website and what do we expect it to accomplish. Sorry, but “to impress potential clients” or “because my competitors have one” are not acceptable answers. We’re looking here for quantifiable goals, which in turn will dictate the site elements we’ll need for achieving those goals and the tools for monitoring and measuring how well our site performs.
For example: If you are a chiropractor, your goal may be to get 8 potential clients to call the office each week. A nutrition coach may aim to do introductory phone calls with 12 website visitors each month. An eCommerce site owner will strive to reach a specified dollar amount in sales each month. You get the idea. Pick a quantifiable and achievable goal and get started. If you over-estimate at the beginning, no worries. You can always revise your numbers to what you now believe is reachable and then increase that amount when you reach it.
So, step one is to write down a primary goal and maybe even a secondary one if you can. This will guide us through the rest of the steps for creating our website.
Step 2 — Decide on site structure
The professionals call it user experience (UX) or user interface. At its basic, which is all we need right now, we’re talking about our main navigation menu, often referred to as the top bar or main menu. Navigation helps our viewers understand our site structure and how to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. For example, people are used to finding the contact us link at the far right of the top menu bar. Why would we put it anywhere else? The idea is to help viewers get the information they’re looking for without distracting them by asking them to figure out something that should be intuitive. Another example is having the company logo link to the homepage. Everyone expects this, so I make sure I do it. The most important thing to remember is that with navigation we don’t want to be original, we want to be helpful. There are plenty of other places on the site for creativity.
So now is the time to determine our site’s structure, which dictates the tabs and links on the menu bar. We can begin thinking about the various web pages we need, what the main message for each page will be and the content we want to include on each page.
Here’s a typical site structure that may, or may not, need customization to fit your own needs.
NOTE ON PAGE LENGTH AND SUBDIVIDING PAGES:
While it is certainly OK today to create longer web pages than was acceptable in the past (thanks to mobile viewing), if you find that you have a lot of information on a page and that it can be logically subdivided, go ahead and create sub-pages under the main tabs. On the other hand, if your site’s main message can be communicated with minimum copy and imagery, you may want to consider one long web page and subdivide it into sections. In this case, you can link the tabs in your main menu to these sections within that one long web page. This type of linking is called bookmarking or anchoring by the various website building platforms.
Step 3 — Pick your call to action (CTA)
CTAs are the most important element on a business website. They entice visitors to take whatever action we’ve set as our website goal. Remember that quantifiable goal we chose at the beginning of this process? This is where we translate it into our main CTA.
CTAs often take on the form of a button that links to another page or pop-up but it can also be a line of hyperlinked text. Here’s what you need to know when crafting your CTAs:
Examples of CTA buttons are: GET 20% OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE, FREE INTRODUCTORY SESSION, BOOK NOW, and SIGN UP.
Step 4 — Tell them what they want to hear
At this point we should have a pretty good understanding of what we expect our website to achieve and how we’re going to communicate this. We’ve got a goal, structure (menu bar) and we're clear about what we want visitors to do (CTAs). Now we can begin writing copy for each page.
Here are my tips on writing killer marketing copy.
Nobody today has time or inclination to read more than two sentences in a row, particularly when viewing on a mobile device, first because the screen is small and more likely, because they are reading “on the fly” and don’t have a lot of time. Keep this in mind ALWAYS.
When starting out, don’t worry about anything but getting your thoughts written down. You can add, delete, mark up, edit, underline, capitalize, reference and spell check later. The most important task right now is organizing our thoughts on paper (oops, I mean: on screen).
Writing for a website or other marketing asset is very different from academic writing. We always write what our readers want to hear, not what we want to say —unless of course, they are one and the same. We are writing to educate and persuade readers in the shortest time possible. This is not an easy task. Since we eat, sleep and breathe our business 24 hours a day, it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who does not. But, it’s the only way to write successful marketing copy.
Always keep in mind that our viewers do not have a lot of time and are often distracted by other things happening online and off, which makes getting to the point quickly so essential. Personally, I find that my first draft is often very wordy; I overwrite. So, I revise it a few times over the course of a couple of days, each time tightening up the sentences so that after two or three passes, I’ve got content that is clear, concise and to the point. Some people work just the opposite. They start out with minimal text and later add a few well-placed adjectives and adverbs to clarify their message. Find what works best for you and run with it.
Always have someone else review your copy, not so much for editing and proofing (although this must be done, too), but more importantly for readability. Ask them to keep these questions in mind when reviewing:
- Does each section or paragraph make sense to me?
- Can I quickly identify what the point of each section is?
- Is the author giving me the information I expect and need to make a purchasing decision?
- Am I bored (too much information) or confused (not presented clearly)?
Step 5 — Choose attention-grabbing photos
Searching for the perfect photos and graphics can be a real time suck! Believe me I know; I’ve wasted more time in stock photo banks than I care to admit. To help myself out, I created a few guidelines that keep me focused and guide me to narrow my search for that one photo that conveys my message perfectly.
The guidelines —
Most images are meant to set the mood. Don’t be afraid to use abstract images that INVOKE the emotion we want our viewers to FEEL. We are not limited to images that are literal interpretations of our product or service. I like to take the most important noun or verb from the main sentence of the section I want to pair with a photo, and then think about it alone, disconnected from the topic. This opens my mind to a wider selection of imagery that can catch viewers’ eyes and convey the intended message. Remember what I said about the importance of conveying our message quickly? This is where the right picture is definitely worth a thousand words.
Photos you or your friends take are desirable over stock images from commercial photo banks, but only if they are of good quality and convey the right message. If you do need to search through stock photos, choose images that do not feel like professional models are posing for the camera (not always easy to find).
Where to now?
These 5 steps have served me well over the years and are, in my opinion, the minimum required to develop a basic business website. Don’t get me wrong, there are many more pieces that need to come together to effectively drive clients and sales to your website, but this is how I always start out. This post did not even touch on contact forms, lead magnets, product catalogs, payment gateways, blog posts, meta-tags, list building or a basic style sheet for brand consistency.
You may find all this a bit overwhelming and thinking that your valuable and limited time is best spent focusing on other aspects of your business. Maybe you’d like to leave your website to a professional? Perhaps I can help.
[BTW, this is a perfect example of a CTA. ]