Web site workover

Web designer Sandi Smith offers tips for improving your Web site

Anyone here absolutely happy with the results from their Web site? Do you get all the sales, leads or marketing emphasis you want?

When I do stories about Web sites, I check in with my friend Sandi Smith and always learn something new. Sandi's one of those hyphenated people (CPA-author-speaker-pilot-Web designer) but is so nice, all her accomplishments don’t annoy me. This time, I asked Sandi what she’s telling her new clients about Web sites.

"I ask if they’re getting the business they want. If not, we talk about how to make some changes,” she says.

Every business is different, many sites have differing goals, but each one should provide certain benefits.

“Provide credibility.”

To attract potential clients, you want to show your experience, list some clients and a few case studies when appropriate. If you sell direct, use a secure shopping cart and display your privacy policy. Even if you only ask for an e-mail address for future contact, you need a privacy policy, Sandi says.

“Make an emotional connection.”

Wait, does emotion belong on a business Web site? Yes, says Sandi. "Show people you're approachable, using pictures of yourself, including working with clients if that's common.” Give your potential clients a sense of how you will interact, that you’re worthy of their trust. Does that vacation snapshot look professional? Sometimes a bad picture is enough to turn off a potential customer.

"Create a memorable tag line.”

The tagline should tell about you and anchor your page. Sandi’s is short and pointed: Get more business from your Web site. "It might take a lot of time to come up with the right tag line," she says. Float two or three, and see which generates the best feedback. Remember that visitors are almost always looking for something, and the faster you show them you have it, the better. Remember, a home page has to grab a visitor’s attention within 8 seconds or they’ll be gone.

“Provide free information.”

CPAs might explain the marriage deduction change; veterinarians about advances in flea treatments; insurance agents might list the top cars from a recent safety test. If you’re so experienced and knowledgeable that you can give information away for free, you must provide all manner of value, right?

“Put a call to action on every page.”

"Something as simple as 'call us for more information' can make a difference,” Sandi says.

Want to find your own Sandi? Check out a Web designer’s portfolio and see if the style and design samples fit your business and image. But after a certain point, more "design" turns customers off. Only specialized sites like those aimed at children, entertainment or game players benefit from flashy gimmicks and eye-burning color combinations.

An experienced designer will be able to tell you what to expect and when you will start getting payback. The more specialized your product or service, the faster the payback. In contrast, consulting, in which the Web site reinforces the whole marketing strategy, needs a long-term sales cycle.

Last thing to keep in mind: No matter how good the designer, few (if any) Web sites do good work in a vacuum, so make your site one part of your total sales and marketing strategy.

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