Tips for Making a Good Impression, Building Traffic, and Driving Sales
Every business wants a great-looking website. More important, though, is to have an effective website—one that can be easily found through search engines, presents a vivid portrait of the business and what it offers, and offers a compelling “call to action.” To help you achieve this, conFab presenters Eugene Brill (online marketing manager with Rio Grande), and Gary Dawson (owner of Gary Dawson Designs, an internet-only business that was named among the “Best of the Best” by Instore magazine) offer a few tips on everything from basic design to search engine optimization (SEO). They are joined by Mike Dickman, a web specialist who constructed Gary’s site.
Presenting Your Business | Search Engine Optimization | Web Design Principles | Getting Help | Writing for the Web | Blogging | Content Management Systems
First Impressions: Presenting Yourself Online
Eugene Brill: There are three key questions that you have to answer when creating your homepage:
• First, Who are you? You need your logo and name up there in the top left corner.
• Second, What do you do? You need some kind of tagline or introduction that succinctly describes your operation.
• Third—and this often overlooked—what do you want visitors to do next? Once you have them on your homepage, do you want them to e-mail you, to call you, to place an order? Whatever you want them to do, put that “call to action” front and center.
You also have to ask yourself, what makes me different from the designer next door? Think about your thought process, what inspires you to be creative. On his website, Michael Alexander [a jewelry designer based in New York City LINK TO http://mjsa.org/events_and_programs/mjsa_confab/online_extras/effective_websites] shows how he starts everything in a notebook—how he gets cool ideas when he looks at certain objects. On his site, he describes how he uses that inspiration to create art. That’s very powerful and compelling
Gary Dawson: As you’re building your site, you have to remember: Be true to yourself. If you are, then how you feel about yourself and your business will come through on the website, and visitors will get a good idea of why they should do business with you. Think about whom you are and what you’re trying to market, have clearly defined goals, and then structure everything toward those goals.
Build It and They Will Come: Search Engine Optimization
EB: SEO is constantly changing. Right now, to rank in search engines, the most important part of a page is your copy. The second most important is your title [the text that appears at the top of a browser]. Google wants to see you write new copy frequently—it needs to see the webpage changing. (And don’t forget the copyright at the bottom of the page; spiders look at that, and will push [your ranking] to the bottom if it’s outdated.) The Description and Keywords Tags rank third. The Keyword tag used to be extremely important, but the people who “stuffed” and used 35,000 instances of a keyword on one page ruined it. Google actually has character limits—if your list of keywords total more than 256 characters, their spiders don’t even read it.
GD: Relevant content is king right now. If you, say, specialize in enameled jewelry, then you want to make sure you have content specifically about enameling. You can’t just pepper the word “enamel” throughout each page. But if you have a gallery of your work, you can talk about the specific techniques used—cloisonné or plique-a-jour, for instance. Or you can add a history page that might discuss the history of enameling.
EB: Content is king, but select keywords are still important. Choose three to five words and make sure they’re in your copy, your title, and your description and keyword tags. If you do, you’ll have a better chance of having the search engines pick them up.
EB: Another point: If you are selling jewelry, make sure images of your jewelry appear a number of times—and name the images! Search-engine “spiders” (a.ka. “Web crawlers,” computer programs that browse the web to retrieve data) do not see images, they read words. When you upload an image, you have the option of creating an “alt tag”—a description of the image that appears on the page. A lot of people overlook that.
GD: At the bottom of my homepage, I have links to three areas where I want people to go. Initially those links were images with no crawlable text. Mike [Dickman] and I fixed that and added internal links within the text.
EB: Also, when you register your domain name, try to register it for as long as possible. Google looks at that; they anticipate that if something is registered for five years, the website will be around for that long, and they rank it higher.
Getting the Message: Basic Website Design Principles
GD: Remember, white space is your friend: You don’t want to clutter your screen with too much information. Simpler is better.
EB: People tend to overuse technology. They might have seen a scrolling banner that flashes on one website, so they feel they must have one too; they try to go too far to stay on top of technology. You don’t want too much happening on a page. You need to keep it simple to get message across.
GD: On my homepage, in addition to the three links, I have a slide show to showcase my work and a little bit of text. That’s it.
EB: Another big problem I’ve seen, especially with creative people, is they like to have dark or solid backgrounds with white or light-colored text. Just look at Google’s search page, a simple white background. Also, they place too much information below the “fold” (i.e., below the visible portion of the screen, requiring the viewer to scroll down). Keeping things simple and above the fold is very important.
And always make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with you—by e-mail, by phone, even through a live help button.
Mike Dickman: That’s what we did on Gary’s site. Gary is very personal, so I wanted the site to give him as many ways as possible to contact him. In the upper right corner of the homepage is a prominent box enabling visitors to joing his mailing list. In addition, his phone number is on the homepage. Gary initially said to me, “If I can talk to people, I can sell them.”
GD: I also have a “request a quote” form that works pretty well. However, I’ve found that my best customers—the ones who give me the least hassle and spend the most money—are those who don’t mess around the form and just call the 800 number. “Request a quote” gives people an idea of the information we need to discuss, but having my number prominent makes it easy for them to pick up a phone and call me.
EB: Speaking of phones, don’t forget about mobile. If you want your website to read as well on a phone as on a computer monitor, you’ll need a total redesign—mobile requires a brand-new language. There are companies out there that will take your website and turn it into a mobile website. The biggest issue with this is how the site translates from system to system—there are differences in the operating systems (Apple vs. Android), carriers (AT&T vs. Verizon), devices (iPhone vs. Samsung Galaxy) and the speed (G3 vs. G4 connections) at which people can connect to your mobile site. And, don’t forget about tablets. You have to make sure your site is as technologically advanced as possible to load quickly, so that someone in Ohio in the middle of a thunderstorm will have the same experience as someone in the middle of New York City.
You’re Not Alone: Getting the Help You Need
GD: In areas where you’re not an expert, get professional help. So many artists believe they can do it all—photography, writing and editing, website development. I do my own photography, but that’s only because I’ve spent years learning how to photograph jewelry. I’m not a web designer, so I handed that off to a pro. And on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say the importance of an editor is 15. Writers are so enmeshed in their writing, it takes an editor to clarify and focus. But I would dissuade anyone from just giving their copy to a friend to read; again, hire a professional. You need an editor/writer relationship to really improve the work and objectively help you to distill your message.
Copy That: Writing for a Website
GD: For my business, the idea of story is pretty important, and I write in a personal style. However, writing for a website is different from when I do an article for a magazine. When I’m writing something for the web, I have to narrow the focus to one or two seminal points. If I’m writing about my design process, I don’t need to outline my entire process and how I do it. I just have to focus on two things: My understanding of design and my competence. It’s just like when I write an e-mail to a client: If I ask five questions, they’ll answer only one or two effectively. You have to prioritize.
The Story, Continued: Blogging Unbound
GD: The blog I was resistant to initially, but Mike said it was important for two reasons. First, it continued my story. Second, and this is going back to SEO, the more links in and out of your website, the better. The blog opens in a new page – it’s actually a separate website—so it creates the opportunity for people to go back and forth extensively between it and my website. It actually has turned out to be something of a cash cow: I each day I probably get 20 unique visitors that find the blog first, and who from there go to Gary Dawson Designs.
MD: Another important thing: those links should actually include some of your keywords. You don’t just want the link to be “Gary Dawson Designs,” you want it to say “custom gold jewelry at Gary Dawson Designs.” Again, that helps with search.
Software Sense: Tools to Help You Get Started
GD: It’s important to build site using a CMS [content management system, a computer program that enables users to create webpage templates and blogs, and to easily update and manipulate the text and art]. The search-engine algorithms almost always have something to do with content turnover; if you never make changes to your site, the web crawlers will see that. Not only will you not rank high in the listings, but you’ll fall lower and lower the longer it sits. The CMS allows changes on the fly, so you can update and add new content regularly.
EB: There are several programs out now that make it easier to set up a site and give you more control over it. Here are a few:
WordPress: A free, open-source software program that started as a tool to create blog; with available plug-ins, it can serve as a full CMS for creating and maintaining websites. http://wordpress.org.
Joomla: An award-winning, open-source CMS with numerous extensions available to expand its capabilities. http://www.joomla.org.
Drupal: Another open-source content management system that’s very good. http://drupal.org/
Wix: A free CMS platform that offers upgrades and add-ons for a fee (the “freemium” model). http://www.wix.com/
Magento: An e-commerce platform. http://www.magentocommerce.com/
For more CMS solutions, go to http://www.siteground.com/best_cms_tools.htm