There are 3 things I believe are a great thing to do for most small business websites. We will be releasing some research on these things in the coming months but for now here are 3 tips for every small business website.
1. The heading – stop them skimming and start them reading
If you can, try to avoid generic boring headings. You never see a newspaper article with a boring heading. Journalists take this sort of thing pretty seriously, they know how important the heading is. Don’t avoid having a heading again not too many headingless newspaper articles (btw I’m aware that’s not a word).
But website owners generally seem to think a heading of ‘ Welcome to [business name goes here]‘ is sufficient. We try to encourage small business owners to have a heading that engages people from the start. Ask a question or state what makes you different, or say something surprising or interesting.
This requires a bit of thought and also you need to consider how long it will remain useful and how long it will last. See our main site for an example http://www.webcircle.com.au/. Our heading (at the time of writing) is “Web Circle is a progressive agency with a relentless drive
to discover and implement what works on the web. But what does work?” It tells people what we do, it gives a hint to our point of difference and it asks a question to engage the visitor and lead them into the main content in the site (all in 2 sentences)- stop them skimming and start them reading and that way they might stay in your site long enough to actually learn what you do and discover that you might be a suitable choice for whatever they are looking for.
2. The welcome message
There are many ways to do this. You might not have a big welcome message – like in our case we have a heading that covers the basics of the welcome message and then we have the about us section further down. You might think it’s more appropriate to have a more in depth welcome message. If you do, again tell people the basics of what you do, maybe where you are located but don’t stop there. There are 2 other things you must include:
- what makes you different
- a call to action
Firstly what makes you different – your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), competitive advantage or various other consultant buzzwords. It’s important to say what you do – i.e. you sell widgets but it’s as important perhaps more important to talk about how you are different in ways that will engage potential visitors. Most people will look around for widget selling companies and land on your site as a result. They will know full well that you sell Widgets. But what is it about your business that will keep them on your site and think ‘yeah these guys sound pretty good’. There are lots of ways you can do it, you will probably know from your customers or from the reasons you started your business in the first place exactly what you do well and why your business is a success. This is the sort of stuff you need in here. Just simply stating how you are different, ideally in a way that will appeal to the people you are trying to target. Some ways could be to talk about your history, your people, personal stories (see below), anything that adds credibility in the eyes of your customers, any achievements, testimonials, anything that adds to your point of difference and builds credibility.
We (http://www.webcircle.com.au/) use the words ‘what works on the web’. We talk about building ‘websites that’ because we are experts in knowing what works. We don’t just build websites.
Secondly a call to action. What do you want them to do? Make it clear both in words and visually where the visitor has to go next. It might be to contact you, to download something, to buy something. Whatever it is make it clear. The last thing you want is an engaged visitor bouncing to another site because they’ve given up trying to work out how to take the next step. I’ve done it plenty of times, there is only so much patience a person can have so make it easy.
This one is particularly important for small business. When you are thinking through what makes your business different a lot of small businesses will find that it is them that make the business unique. It’s the personal relationship they have with clients. It’s their story, their history, their unique blend of skills. That’s why we advocate personalising as much as possible for most small business sites.
This is very effective particularly for the sorts of businesses that have a lot of face to face contact with their customers. People generally respond a lot better to a personal welcome message with images of real people. People love stories – they love success stories and small businesses love working with other small businesses.
We recently updated out homepage with a few changes, I put a photo on the homepage of me and changed the ‘about us’ section to ‘The web circle story’. I also wrote half of the story on the homepage, despite that I looked at the stats after a few weeks and lots more people had visited the page and people were spending almost 3 times as long as the page – i.e. they were actually reading it not just clicking on it and skimming it and passing it off as another ‘about us’ page.
And that’s for my boring web design business! Imagine if my story actually was interesting! This is an easy way to separate yourself from other competitors because most people don’t do it – in fact a lot of small businesses deliberately try to make themselves look bigger than they are.
Bringing it all together
We recently built a site for Act2 Solutions who sell Actuarial Certificates. See this post for some info on the site. It includes an engaging heading that states exactly what they do (and how they are different – i.e. they are cheap), a welcome message that focuses on how they are different, personalisation by using pictures of Andy and a call to action telling people to download the forms.
We will be posting back with some more evidence on how the performance of this site compared to it’s predecessor in the next little while but suffice to say that it works.
Please post any comments or examples of sites you have and your experiences with any of these ideas.