10 Rules for a Fantastic Website
By Marc Carson
I’ve seen a lot of successful websites. I’ve also seen complete failures.
Here’s how to ensure a success story:
1. Start Now.
At my city’s annual Pumpkinfest, I bought a slice of delicious cake from someone who doesn’t have a website. The cake was delicious. But who made it? What’s their story, and how can I get more of this cake?
I spent ten minutes on Google, trying to find out! No luck.
I want some more cake. They want some more customers. I doubt I’ll ever find them again, and that makes me sad.
So please: Remember my sad cake story when you plan your website.
Don’t delay. The longer you delay your website plans, the more potential customers you are leaving out in the dark.
(If you don’t have a quote from me yet, what are you waiting for? It’s free and can be done right this minute.)
2. Think about Total Lifetime Cost.
Don’t skimp on upfront cost when it could save you thousands down the road. Upfront savings will mean nothing when you find out in a few years that your website is obsolete, unmaintainable, and your web designer decided to quit and become a plumber.
Hire a web designer who will still be in business next year, and ask them to explain what maintenance costs to expect.
3. Plan from your visitors’ point of view.
The people who will be visiting your website are ultimately the ones who decide what it’s worth.
Walk through the design with your web designer, and ask how it will all work from a visitor’s perspective. I collect customer demographic information from my clients using a website planner. Then I craft a website that is specifically targeted at those customers. And they love it.
4. Target the right visitors.
You can be on the top of every Google Search result list, but if the people who come to your website don’t buy anything or immediately hit the “back” button and leave, the Search Engine Optimization you paid for doesn’t matter.
Think about your most valuable customers or clients. What do they want to see? What do they expect?
If at all possible, get out and talk to them.
5. Review often. Revise often.
You can update your website whenever you want (well, if I made it for you, you can). Take advantage of that — look at your visitor numbers. Are people buying what you’d like them to buy? Are they reading what you want them to read? If not, make a change and see what sticks.
This is a guilty secret of the web — people are just trying things, evaluating, then trying something else. If it sticks, move on to the next change. There is no magic secret to success — just effort.
6. Get direct feedback.
If you want to know what people think about you, put up an online survey. Ask visitors what they think. Offer them something in return.
When we launched the Mendo Lake Credit Union website, we included an online feedback form, and we received lots of valuable feedback. Some of it was extremely important and we’re glad we received it.
Our visitors wanted to be loyal, so they let us know what changes they wanted.
You can’t start with a successful website. But you can end up with one, if you listen to your visitors.
7. Keep an eye on your calendar.
Putting fresh content on your website is crucial. But where do you get all the ideas?
One key is to look at your calendar of events.
Many businesses publish a list or calendar of upcoming events. But very few actually capitalize on that list to drive their website’s content.
For example, instead of relying on a boring list of events, take a look at events that are happening this month, and run a series of short articles about them. Interview people behind the scenes. Tell the story that most people don’t know about already.
Bonus points for holidays — if you can, add some subtle holiday decorations to your website. Visitors will be happy to know that you are doing something different than usual.
Drum up interest. Start a scandal. It’s your website. It’s your theater. It’s your brand.
8. Eat your own dog food.
Do you use your own website? If not, you should.
Try to “eat your own dog food” (or “dogfood it”) and actually use your own website. See if you can anticipate what your visitors might like to do on your website.
What would make you more interested in your website? Is there anything about it that feels stale, or uninteresting?
9. Simplify your language.
Does your website use words that are complicated, specialized, and maybe a bit…boring?
Consider writing at a fifth- or sixth-grade level (10-12 year-olds) for your visitors. This is what most marketers do. It’s not insulting to your visitors, it’s simply acknowledging that you want to communicate clearly in a web full of words.
And don’t just talk. Remember that it’s always best if you can show, rather than tell.
10. Say “thank you.”
A lot of websites come across as “me, me me.” There is a lot of text to read, but visitors don’t feel like the site is really aimed at their needs.
Reward visitors to your website from time to time with special deals and other freebies (you’ll see some here from time to time, too).
Look at your web analytics. Check for search queries that lead people to your site, and try to match your content with what you think those visitors would look for.