They told you to build a website, so you did. They told you'd you get customers if you had a website, but that hasn’t happened.
I’ve been involved in building and marketing thousands of websites since 1999, but I realize it’s easy to get in a bubble. So I turned to 19 friends -- experts at web design, SEO, copywriting, marketing and usability -- to get their explanations why some websites succeed while others fail.
Their advice creates a clear plan for anyone looking to launch a site or improve existing pages.
“Most websites are written around how great you are and not what problem you solve," says Chris Brogan, New York Times best-selling author of nine marketing and business books. " ‘You want better skills and strategies for business? We’re here to help.’ See? "That’s the challenge. Make your buyer the hero.”
So says Jacob Cass, who runs the popular design blog JUST Creative. “Instead, tell your potential customers the benefits that your product or service will do for them," Cass says. "A classic example of this is a drill. Customers don't want a drill, they want a hole in the wall. So focus on the quality of the holes and how easy it was to create those holes -- not the actual drill itself.”
“Your website isn’t bringing in customers because it’s focused on you and not your customers,” says Ann Handley, author of the Wall Street Journal best-seller, "Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content" and Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs. “Instead of focusing on what you do or what you sell or why you’re awesome, instead focus on why your customers should care. How do you help them? How do you shoulder their burdens? Ease their pain? Make their lives better/richer/smarter? That is your story.”
“People are more likely to buy from you if the quality of what you sell is matched or surpassed by the quality of your brand identity,” says David Airey, author of branding best-seller "Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities." In other words, build a reputation around your company, products, and services, that is bigger than any of those things. That reputation will pull you toward greatness.
“People don’t randomly click on stuff and buy stuff,” says Larry Kim, founder of WordStream, the world’s largest pay-per-click software company. “They favor the brands they know and love. Repeat visitors (people who have heard of you) have two to three times higher click-through rates than new visitors (people who are just getting to know you)," Kim says. "So figure out ways to get in front of your target market before they decide they need to buy your products/services." Doing so will dramatically bias outcomes in your favor.
“Your homepage covers only the ‘know’ part,” says Lior Frenkel, whose e-book "Value For Money" explains why that's not enough. And Frenkel knows plenty as New World Early Adopter at FRNKL. “Trying to sell your services/products too early won’t get you great results. You first need them to like and trust you. You can do that by having an awesome ‘About Me’ page, by having them follow you on social or through getting them to subscribe to your newsletter.”
“Your website isn't bringing in customers because you have given them no reason to come back,” says Kelsey Meyer, co-founder of Influence & Co.
"If your company blog is updated just once per month and consists only of employee updates, why would a potential customer care about returning to your site?" Meyer asks. "You convert leads into customers by earning their trust and educating them on why they need your services. Focus on producing content on your site that educates and engages your prospective customers so they keep coming back to learn more.”
“If the wrong people are hitting your website, it's all for nothing,” says Paul Jarvis, who writes about the intersection of creativity and commerce for Fast Company, Newsweek, Forbes, LifeHacker, and BuzzFeed. “For example, if you sell surfboards and your traffic is mostly llama herders, no amount of conversion tactics will pay off.”
To help turn visitors into customers, Courtright Design Founder Kyle Courtright recommends optimizing your website’s design by asking yourself these questions:
“One of the biggest challenges websites face today when trying to bring in and retain customers is the user experience on the site,” says Jacob Gube, who founded the all-about-web-development blog Six Revisions. He's also co-founder of the Design Instruct online publication and author of "MooTools 1.2 Beginner's Guide."
“The user-experience problem could be something as simple as having a slow website that discourages visitors from spending any time on your site, and improving it can have big results," Gube says. "For example, Amazon increased its revenue by 1 percent after it reduced the website's load time by 0.1 seconds. Amazon earned $43.7 billion in the last quarter of 2016. Imagine what a one-second increase in website load time could do for Amazon? More importantly, what could it do for you?”
Maybe it’s not your website. Maybe it’s your product. “Companies spend far too much time trying to make their site ‘pop’ and stand out -- and often forget that they still need to build a solid product or service offering in order to provide something of true value to the customer,” Pippin Williamson says. He founded Sandhills Development, the company behind products such as Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP and Restrict Content Pro. “Forget the parallax banners and flashy, over-the-top ads and just build it," he says. "Ship it before you forget it.”
“Maybe you designed your website to satisfy your board of directors instead of your customers,” says Jeffrey Zeldman, founder of studio.zeldman and A List Apart. Don’t trust your board. Trust research, data and the trial-and-error approach. “Effective design begins with research. And continues with more research. And never finishes researching and iterating.”
Julie Joyce owns Link Fish Media and is a columnist for Search Engine Land. She says: “It's fairly easy to get eyes on your website. It's not easy to keep them there longer than a few seconds. The main issue I see with this is when design seems more important than usability. I've seen some beautiful sites that look unique and like a lot of time has been put into them, but I can't even figure out how to find the restaurant's menu or the contact us page.”
Ian Paget, a brand identity designer and founder of Logo Geek, gives common-sense advice that's all-too-uncommonly followed. “As the human brain is visually led, words take longer to process,” Paget says. “To help the user flow through the website seamlessly, use a technique called ‘word-connect’ to avoid interrupting the flow. As an example, if a banner or call to action states, ‘View our buy-one, get-one-free offers,’ the user would expect to see a matching page titled ‘Buy-one, get-one-free offers’. If the page title instead reads, ‘Selected Discounts,’ the words do not connect and could potentially confuse the user.”
Unbounce cofounder Oli Gardner likely has seen more landing pages than anyone alive or dead. “When I search Google for stuff I need, I hold the Control + Command buttons down and click the top five links to open them in tabs," Gardner says. "Then I go comparison-shopping. If your landing page/homepage doesn’t explain what you do immediately, you’re done. I close the tab and delete you from my world forever. This is happening millions of times every day. Fix the clarity of your value proposition immediately, or you lose.”
Tom Ross is CEO at Design Cuts -- a community of graphic designers -- and co-hosts the Honest Designers Podcast. He says: “People tend to focus on the wrong metrics, such as traffic, presuming this translates to customers.” The things you really need are a truly valuable product and the right quality of potential leads.
“Ignore the ego boost of 100,000 freebie seekers hitting your site, and focus instead on attracting solid, laser-targeted potential leads," Ross says. "If you offer the leading gardening fork on the market, and 100 gardeners who have just broken their gardening fork land on your page, you’ll get customers.”
“The informed know, like and trust you," says Derek Halpern. He founded Social Triggers and created the Sales Page That Converts training program. "The afflicted are people who have a problem and need a solution. The oblivious are people who don't even realize that they're suffering from a fixable problem. And the No. 1 reason why most websites fail to make as many sales as they thought they should make is that they only appeal to one of these people when they should appeal to all three.”
“The No. 1 reason I see websites fail to bring in customers is due to a lack of focus,” says Preston Lee, founder of Millo. “When potential customers land on your site, you want to push them toward your most important objective, which is usually selling them something. So stop inviting them to subscribe to your newsletter, follow you on Twitter or read your blog. Those can all be secondary goals, but they should be eclipsed by your primary goal: turning site visitors into paying customers.”
“Your site doesn’t work on mobile. Everyone’s on mobile,” says Dann Petty, a web and app designer who created Freelance.TV. Petty was a goldmine of tips, offering up gems that answer why your website may be failing:
"Did you tweet about it this morning?" Petty asks. "Did you post something to Instagram last night? Are you keeping up with your Facebook page? If you answer no to even one of those, it’s likely a reason why.”
Infographic courtesy of Courtright Design