Business Website: You simply MUST have one if you want to be taken seriously!
A business website is a critical component of your businesses’ marketing and branding efforts. Web visitors will be coming to your website for a specific reason, and you want to make sure that you address your potential customer’s questions and expectations so that your website is able to sell your product or service.
Yes we design and build websites for the occasional business. We appreciate the break from law every now and again. While the average businesses website development project is significantly easier for us to build, SEO and market, our focus is law , so we have to be very selective as we choose to limit business sites to 20% of our total projects. MORE…
1st Business Website / Makeover of an Existing Site? — Watch Out for These Common Mistakes:
Rule One: Make every effort to NOT screw-up your website design! If you do mess up, you will squander the single-most powerful marketing opportunity any business can have to leverage their perception, their “brand” and growth. If you are considering your first website, or exploring the makeover of an earlier venture into cyberspace, please consider avoiding many of the common mistakes made by many business owners:
1. Putting expediency for “website launch” ahead of really understanding your target market.
We know how important it is for you to get your website completed and then “UP and LIVE,” but if your site is not being found by your target audience, you are wasting your Three T’s: Time, Talent and Treasure.
It is understandable that a business owner wants their website done as soon as possible, but take the advice of seasoned veterans: first research your target audience in your specific market, or hire a web developer who will do this for you. Here at lawSITES.PRO, we are often surprised at what we might have missed without doing our required research. Sure, we assume that potential clients will search for a DUI attorney by typing in “New Jersey DUI Attorney,” but we too are surprised to learn that a majority of searchers are searching for “NJ drunk driving lawyers!”
One of the most common mistakes that clients make is when they design their website for their own taste, but they are so “close” to what they do that they do not really understand their target audience’s expectation of look & feel, or the common search words and search strings their clients might be looking for. Lesson? Research your target audience.
2. The design of your current or planned website is Adobe Flash, too flashy, busy, or hard-to-read.
“Please wait while this site loads. Err, ahh, oh…, you’ve left already.” These are the lead-ins to Flash-based websites. Then to add insult to injury: “Click to ENTER —even though you have already entered once! Most people are already out of there! Sure they are pretty (if you are studying pretty websites for an art class), but they don’t play well on Apple products, there is a black hole where a website should be on an iPad or iPhone, they are unstable on Android and other mobile devices and tablets, Google Search cannot read the text (the content) thus NO SEO, and finally, the site owner cannot update content without paying a flash expert to recompile what is really a video —those are the black holes of the web called “flash.” Stay away!
Flashy can be a term for websites that are not based on Adobe Flash, but are just “over-the-top” inappropriate for a business. While a hard metal band might desire a “flashy” site, a business is just shooting itself in the foot. When a visitor comes to your website, they probably already know what they expect. They are looking for a product or a service. They don’t want to be entertained; and even if they did, your idea of cute and clever may be like fingernails on a chalkboard for your visitors. If they cannot figure out where they want to go in 3 seconds or less, they will simply “click away” and be gone: an opportunity lost forever.
Hard to Read – We have some blistering examples of “hard-to-read” websites, but they are almost comical. Purple text on a pink background. Black font on a dark charcoal background – the only way to read it is to highlight the text with your mouse. Then there are the more subtle –but annoying– issues in the hard-to-read, or hard-to-concentrate category. The screenshot at the right is from a law firm’s website where some visitors thinks it is “okay,” but many are so distracted that they click away in mere seconds. The issue seems to be the link color of orange that jumps out at some visitors to the degree of distraction or “clutter.” On page internal or outbound links might be important to SEO, or important to 2 of 10 visitors to tangent off to like-pages, but the remaining 8 of 10 visitors are seeing “clutter” and visual distractions and will have a hard time trying to read what might be well-written, informative content if not for the visual distraction. There are more subtle link colors that can be used and recognized as links without causing visual strain for site visitors.
3. No clearly presented “Call to Action”
What do you want website visitors to do once they have found your website and develop a warm and fuzzy feeling about you or your business? Do you want them to call you, click to get a live chat going, schedule a telephone or in-person consultation, book a service call, buy your product, or subscribe to your newsletter? Your visitor’s index finger is on the trigger (mouse button) and if you give them a clearly-defined path they will take it. You need to let your web visitors know exactly what the next step is to convert them from a visitor to a client.
Microsoft’s Office 365 – We often suggest that our law practice clients get on board with a cloud-based service such as a Hosted Email Exchange, or even Office 365 where the lawyer’s pleadings and motions that they or their paralegals draft are available to all who need access no matter if they are at the office, at home, a 3 day ski trip, or cooling their heels at the county courthouse. Microsoft does an excellent Call-To-Action allowing ANYONE to download their full Office 2013 suite of applications to 5 of their computers and try it out for 30 days with no credit card info exchanged, and if they like it about $90 a year –less than buying a hard copy at Costco every couple of years!
Other overlooked calls-to-action that many websites should have
The most common web design error is the lack of one or more clearly available call to action paths. It may be overlooking putting your phone number in the UPPER RIGHT of your home page (no matter that it can be found, if searched for on a buried page). It may be that you have overlooked a Home Page email or Contact Form. It may be that you didn’t brainstorm an incentive (newsletter, free e-book, coupon) to collect the email addresses of those on the fence but not yet ready to be your customer. Bottom-line: If you aren’t visually leading your web visitors to commit to an action (call you, order your service, buy your product, subscribe to your newsletter), then chances are, you are losing them and you’ve passed over an opportunity that your competitor may harvest.
Building a great website with terrific SEO is a great start. Next you or your marketing folks work on driving web traffic to your site by a variety of means including organic rankings through SEO, paid rankings via a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign, operating a BLOG and writing articles that link back to your site. But traffic on your site is meaningless if you have no Call-To-Action, or if your CTA is buried and not easily found. Call-to-Action badges and buttons are a great way to grab your website visitor’s attention, and these buttons can be the key to higher conversions. Investing some brainstorming into creating successful calls-to-action can help you achieve your business goals.
Crash Plan’s Call-To-Action – We advise our law practice clients to use a Hosted Email Exchange that will change their lives on a day-to-day basis by synchronizing their Outlook mail program (most often used) on their office desktop computer to ALL of their devices including home computer, laptop, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or Android, etc. The email exchange “pushes” or “syncs” all emails (even if already “read” on the office machine), to ALL of their personal devices. Moreover it shares calendars with partners, associates, paralegals and staff. It allows everyone in the office to upload client files to folders that are stored “on the cloud” and accessible via their email exchange account to any authorized persons at the firm. An email exchange can also be a life saver if the hard disk crashes. It is essentially off-site, cloud-based backup of current client files and emails.
But what about ALL the other critical files and data on your computer? Add a CrashPlan account and for another $55 per year per attorney, and a solo lawyer, or the dozen lawyers of a “boutique-sized” law shop, or the 100’s of partners and associates of a nationwide law practice can back-up all of their business-critical data and programs for a whole year for the price of a good steak. Cheap Insurance! Crash Plan understands what it takes to design a great Call-To-Action on their website: Try it for one month – No Credit Card Required!
4. Trying to target everyone when your target audience should be focused & targeted.
This is a page directed to “general businesses,” yet it is not lost on us that we have lots of law practice analogies. So shoot us! 🙂 That’s our bread and butter: our cup-of-tea. Our experience marketing one really difficult business sector (law) has honed in us the skills that doing general business sites would never have taught us. These lessons work for any business however.
Over the years we’ve heard from lawyers that their (sometimes very pricey websites) — we’re talking 48 months x $1,000 (a $50,000 website) never resulted in a single documented client from the Internet. That’s a huge waste of money and tragic. Over the years these repeated stories had a common thread: a generalized, cloudy, murky message. Shooting from the hip with a sawed off scatter gun is the upshot of this lesson. General watered-down messages that address everyone attract NO ONE.
What we found – Those law practices that “did everything” were the ones that experienced little or no results from their Internet marketing efforts. We learned this years ago and have guided clients to identify their strong suits and skill-sets and pursue just those by designing and deploying a focused marketing website. It will turn out better for the lawyer and benefit the client as well.
Example #1 – Generalized Law Practice Website targets EVERYONE and satisfies NO ONE
The legal websites that tended to fail were those where a single lawyer would offer to defend a person arrested for attempted murder (criminal law), and the navigation button next to that was to help you with your divorce and child custody, followed by a menu button claiming that this same lawyer would be able to get you the biggest possible settlement in a Personal Injury car accident case. Let’s pretend that you attended a big Memorial Day party where a shooting happened and you were arrested for murder. You are searching websites looking for a criminal defense attorney to get you out of the biggest jam you’ve ever been in. You also discover that it will likely require a 2nd mortgage on your home to pay for a decent criminal attorney. Would you feel comfortable hiring a “divorce lawyer” and sometimes “car accident lawyer” to defend you against the County DA’s murder charges? Or would you get a better feeling if you landed on another website where it appeared that the lawyer did NOTHING BUT serious criminal defense? Asked and answered. A rhetorical question…
AUTHOR’S SIDEBAR: In a past life I owned a company that specialized in projects for movers and shakers in the “Hollywood crowd.” We did some projects for Sinatra, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and lots of TV Producers. One producer we fancied was Mark Goodson (Beat the Clock, Family Feud, Match Game, Password, Tattletales, The Price Is Right, To Tell the Truth, I’ve Got a Secret, What’s My Line?) we did several wine cellars for Mark’s homes in Hancock Park and other interesting neighborhoods of Los Angeles County. It seemed as if everything on TV for several decades were a: Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Production. My memorable actor/comedian interactions include Don and Barbara Rickles. During our first meeting at his home on Hillcrest Road, north of Sunset Blvd., Don explained that friends and associates would bestow on him expensive gifts of rare wines and champagnes the likes that would take “normal people” 6-month’s salary to buy a single bottle. I got the picture that a bottle of Trader Joe’s “two buck Chuck” vs. a first-growth Bordeaux made little difference to Don or Barbara, but they were nonetheless concerned with their growing bottle collection suffering temperature fluctuations in their Beverly Hills garage (the size of my home at the time). They asked us to convert a walk-in living room closet into a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar. One day as I was sitting on Don’s fireplace hearth admiring how the 12-foot high door to the new walk-in wine cellar which was purposefully virtually invisible, I leaned against some random stone and triggered a hidden switch. “Oh Sh$t! I heard a motor sound. The fireplace facade began to come forward and push me off the hearth revealing a hidden media center. His house was like that: a private Disneyland. Another day I picked up a French phone to examine it and the staff rushed into the room like “alerted bodyguards.” Mr. Rickles was, and I suppose still is, an accomplished businessman and marketing guy. He certainly employee’d a lot of big-ticket marketing people over his career. I followed his career ever since. His roasts of presidents and big-name actors with his renown and oft curt “one-liners,” is legendary —but they resonate. I wrote down one of his off the cuff comments that, to this day, guide me in my companies’ efforts to market law firms and businesses years later:
Jack of ALL Trades / Master of NONE – Mr. Rickles was right. Define your strong suit and leverage it for all its worth. We advise law practices that have honed skills in 2 or 3 law sections to choose ONE or TWO that are logically compatible (law sections are: Antitrust, Business, Criminal, Environmental, Family, Intellectual Property, International, Labor & Employment, Law Practice Management, Litigation, Public, Real Property, Taxation. Trusts & Estates, and Worker’s Compensation). You can see where people might doubt the experience qualifications of those who claim to work several very complex sections of law! There is a saying that goes: “Jack of ALL Trades; Master of NONE…” If it fits handymen, it will fit lawyers and businesses too. For lawyers that might be good at 2 or 3 law sections we suggest that they pick their favorite and design a website that concentrates JUST on that ONE specialty: say Tax Law. Then, next year, we plan to launch a separate and unique 2nd website that is all about Trusts and Estate Planning.
Example #2 – 100-Year Old Auto Business Lost Focus when Designing Their Website
An Auto Repair Shop Example – Years back we were asked to handle the makeover of a failed site that was not “doing its job” for a 100-year old transmission shop –passed down from grandfather to father to son to grandson – a big enterprise: the grandson had quite the family estate with all the income and toys of a successful business owner. But their website was doing nothing for them. It should have grown their business. At most is was a convenience for existing transmission customers to refresh their minds about directions to the shop from their smart phones. What was the problem?
The problem was the old website was mixed mess of conflicting messages that left the visitor without a ruder and they’d click away in mere seconds hoping that the next website would have a reassuring message that their transmission problem was not big deal and “We’ll make it like it never happened…” While their brick and mortar business had been phenomenally successful since cars and horses occupied the same streets, and while these current ‘old timers’ had all but forgotten details of transmission repairs that other transmission shops had yet to learn, their website failed to communicate all of their vast expertise allowing less-qualified local transmission shops with better sites to take away new business that could have been and should have been theirs. Their website’s home page heralded some of the new little services that their younger mechanics took care of: oil changes and air conditioning service. Because the business owners were so “close” to their business and assumed that everyone in the geographical area knew they were the kings of transmissions that they could pepper their home page with coupons for oil changes and air condition services with barley a prominent area about their core business of transmission repair. Those confusing messages kept one or two of their 35 employees busy, but their serious core growth halted for lack of communicating their key strengths with the world.
5. Clutter – Too Much Information (TMI) – “Information Overload!” – [Advice? Titles & White Space!]
Your website visitors will be visiting your website for its content. How your content is laid out visually and logically creates a critical ‘usability factor’ and will impact your website’s ultimate success or failure. A common error made by business people is to overload the website visitor with a deluge of information (often needed information) but not visually laid out so it is easy on the eyes.
Most web visitors will visually scan through the information on a website until they find exactly what they are looking for and they prefer to scan through information quickly to get to the points of interest. This is why it is critically important to establish a strong visual content hierarchy so users can quickly scan your site to find what they came to find. They may find what they are looking for because you have a specific page focused on the information, product or service and a navigation menu link to that page, or it may the the entire purpose of the website is about why they came and there is a picture, a graphic, a Call-to-Action button that will take the visitor’s eyes to the exact spot where you want them to be and they also want to be. If there is more information to read, this is where the website visitor will be more likely and willing to begin to read your more detailed content if it is well-presented.
When developing and presenting content on your website, you should consider these tips:
- White space is a well-know term used in the printing business and is possibly the most important factor to consider in the new digital medium of websites. Plenty of white space will allow your visitors to focus on the meaningful content within each section.
- Break up lengthy content into smaller paragraphs and which will become easily-digestible visual blocks of text for the eyes to easily scan. You can do this by using headings, sub-headings, bullets, and blockquotes which is also very good for SEO.
- Readable content is important, so use a font that is not too busy, and easy on the eyes, good easy to read font on the appropriate contrasting background color, and a good line height that is sufficiently tall enough that white space separated the words and further helps to make the content more easily scanned.
7. Building your website yourself or hiring that College Student “Temp” on the cheap
Your website is often your customers’ first experience with your company, your product or service and your brand. If you don’t have design experience, do you really think you can do your company website justice? Remember… first impressions are everything. Trying to squeeze your companies’ branding into a $33 off-the-shelf theme may not be the wisest business decision. Don’t allow your customer to make assumptions about your business because of a poorly designed and deployed website.
You can’t do everything well – A business owner’s chief concerns should be clinching sales, growing the business, working with the best clients, developing new products or better services. You shouldn’t have to spend endless hours, weeks or months concentrating on website design, writing content for a connected blog, or working your social media marketing. While all of these tasks are essential for a modern businesses’ success, you have to realize that you are just ONE person! You cannot possibly do it all — and do it all well! Leaving some tasks to a responsible web designers and online marketing experts will save countless headaches, while also freeing up a great deal of time that is better spent elsewhere.
8. Putting your Website on the rear burner once launched.
Allowing your website to be a secondary concern to you and your business, once launched, is very common mistake! In fact, website neglect is rampant in smaller businesses or those who don’t understand what it takes to leverage the awesome power of the Internet. If you don’t “work” your online web presence, your competition (if astute and clever) can crush you! David vs. Goliath – The Internet is a true “level playing field” and the company with a small budget can crush their multi-million dollar competitor if just more knowledgeable, persistent and clever.
A FOOLISH waste of money to try to buy organic rankings – We have many Law Practice clients who, in past years, have fallen into the trap of thinking that spending a fortune on a legal website would ensure their success. Some of these hired a few very pricey website development companies that charge, on average, $1,000 to $1,500 per month for a lease term ranging from 48 to 60 months ($48,000 ~ $75,000). Ouch! They could have leased the biggest, baddest Mercedes or BMW and had change left over for an equally-gorgeous and more-potent website —but that’s water under the bridge.
These law practice owners, knowing that they’ve spent more on their website than some young, new lawyer just starting his practice could ever manage, then mistakenly assumed that their new sparkly, shinny website would bury the competition without ever again lifting a finger to update it or add to it, or to really even measure their website’s performance against competitors. They further assumed that because they were in a position to blow a pile of cash, that their pricey trophy-website will be or will soon become king of the marketing mountain squashing any lowly competition that may have a smaller wallet or purse. For some it works out that way. But if there were clever competitors nipping at their business, they likely discovered years later that they had lost significant market share to less-powerful –but more savvy rivals.
NOTE: Because most lawyers learn that winning in courtroom litigation is more a battle of wallets than the triumph of “justice,” they then extrapolate that having a BIGGER checkbook will ensure like-results in their expectations of web dominance. Could happen. Sometimes it does happen. But the logic is flawed and such people are vulnerable to less-wealthy, but more clever competitors. The more web-knowledgeable and savvy can always out perform the uninformed, sometimes arrogant high roller.
Lawyers and business owners of all kinds fall into the trap of pushing their website onto the rear burner once the website is completed and “LIVE.” We see it everyday. Countless websites just SIT THERE untouched: often for years at a stretch. No maintenance. No updates. No new content. Not a word or sentence changed since day one. The Problem? – Consider SEO and Search Engine Rankings. Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines send out special web software often called “bots,” “web-bots,” “spiders,” or “web-crawlers” that crawl the servers that are stacked in countless data centers and eventually examine every LIVE website at least once a month. We find that Google crawls our clients’ websites much more frequently; averaging every 7 to 10 days. These spiders are looking to catalog and then index new pages, new blog postings, new articles, new press releases, or changes or edits to existing content. If your competitors are posting a new article every week and you are not, what will Google do? The Google spider-bot visits your website and NOT A CHARACTER has changed in 3 years; but your competitor’s website has fresh and new additional information virtually every crawl or visit. Google’s million+ lines of code MUST REWARD your competitor by adding points to their ranking score for “trying” —for being in the game— while you are not. Your website will not be awarded for being a bump on a log – especially when being compared as a stagnant site against a backdrop of other dynamic and “alive” sites.
Some of these stagnant sites are $50,000 boat anchors. How sad is that? If these companies that shell out $1,000/month lease payment to honor their contract were instead paying a sales manager a flat monthly fee of $1,000 PLUS a percentage of sales, would the business owner feel good about that sales manger sitting home on his butt and doing nothing? Of course not. A website can be more powerful that a Sales or Marketing Manager for most businesses. Moreover, they show up 24/7/365 and don’t demand raises, get sick, quit, or ever make a worker’s Compensation claim! But they won’t stay high in the rankings (if already there), or climb toward PAGE ONE Search Results (if you start from behind) unless you put just a little time and effort into this online presence: often the public face of your business. Solution: Make your website a top priority in your daily business operations.
9. Hold Off on self-starting Videos and self-starting Background Music.
At one time, both business owners and web designers went through a fad where they added self-starting videos or background music to their websites. Hold off on the background music because it is very irritating, will annoy the majority of your visitors, will slow the loading of your site, and will violate the Terms-of-Use Agreements for those who want to do some Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns on Google or Bing. Recently, a recently-retired partner at AllenMatkins had us set up a self-starting song by Nat ‘King’ Cole for a new post “For Nika“ on a personal site that honors this lawyers’ son who was tragically taken away too soon. But that one post with a self-starting song was more a gift to the family that the posting was designed to bless. In business, think about this seriously. For some PPC Campaigns, we do recommend a VERY short 20 second video, that can rope in pricey clicks to pay attention to a unique message. Such decisions are governed by the unwritten laws of guerrilla marketing – not by common wisdom which suggests forgoing self-starting music or videos unless you can measure that it makes sense.
10. Failing to drive traffic to your website after it is has been launched.
Kevin Costner was an actor in a make-believe movie when he proclaimed: “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, the rest of us live in the real world. If you build a website, visitors WILL NOT beat down the doors to your website! Deploying your new website doesn’t automatically mean that potential customers and clients will flock to your site. Part of having a successful Internet web presence is actively and persistently promoting your website. It is not that difficult, but it needs a consistent plan of action. Anyone can reap the rewards of a little elbow grease.
Other Reading: Business Website Development