The first step to becoming a thought leader is to develop a strong foundation on which you can build your brand. It requires defining, articulating, and declaring your brand and then translating that into places where people can effectively engage with your business.
The problem is that I have seen far too many people haphazardly rush into building buzz for their brand, only to drive traffic back to a website and/or social media sites that don’t hit the mark.
Have you ever heard the expression “If I had a dollar for every time … ?” Well, here’s my version. If I had a dollar for every time a businessperson has complained to me about the countless hours (and enormous amount of money) they’ve spent on building a website that wasn’t quite right, I’d be retired in Hawaii watching the waves, a fruity drink in my hand.
Building a website before determining the specifics of your brand message is always a mistake. Your brand is what drives the website design — not the other way around. In my experience, many business people (especially entrepreneurs and small-business owners) grossly underestimate the impact and importance of their websites. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the quality of your website is critical to your customers, potential customers, and even members of the media. Here’s a story that illustrates this point.
The Disappointed Journalist
I recently had a conversation with a reporter from a major media outlet who was lamenting the lack of usable sources for stories. “I often get referred to an expert who I think would be a good interviewee for a piece I’m writing,” she told me. “But when I go to their website, it’s so badly written, designed, or simply unprofessional that I can’t risk using them.
“If I quote them as an expert and a reader goes to their website and sees how poorly executed it is, that calls into question their credibility and, as a result, reflects badly on me,” she explained. “It looks like I didn’t do my research and find a top-notch person to interview.”
Personally, I found that fascinating — but not surprising. It was interesting that a credible expert can’t be used because of their website’s perceived lack of credibility. I wish I could say this was an unusual event in my line of work, but in fact it’s a common occurrence.
The fact is, the quality of your website matters. There are hundreds of large and small decisions that impact how well a website reflects a business’s brand and marketing orientation. Below is a very brief glance at just a few elements that I feel pack the biggest punch. And while they may seem obvious, every day I see websites that miss the mark on these basic items.
1. Color and design
Specific colors and types of design (fonts, layouts, etc.) go in and out of fashion. What might have been considered modern a year ago seems dated today. The quintessential example is the 1980s top dog of color — mauve. At one time, it was the new black, found on everything from logos to living room walls. Today, mauve is mostly considered an old-fashioned hue — something your granny might wear.
One infographic from Kissmetrics highlighted various research on the impact of color and design on online branding and buying, including the following points:
- Color increases brand recognition by 80 percent.
- 42 percent of shoppers base their opinion of a website on overall design alone.
- 52 percent of shoppers didn’t return to a website because of overall aesthetics.
- 93 percent of consumers place visual appearance and color above other factors when shopping.
It’s statistics like these that leave me shaking my head in wonder when a business owner tells me, “I just left that stuff up to my web guy.” While many web developers have a terrific feel for what looks good, it’s still critical for clients to think through the brand messages that certain colors, fonts, layouts, and other design elements evoke.
2. Speedy navigation
Let’s face it: People have no patience. According to one survey byKissmetrics, websites with a mere one-second delay in page response time can see a 7 percent reduction in conversions. The bottom line is, your visitors won’t wade through a website that doesn’t easily and quickly take them to where they want to go.
3. Contact and social media above the fold
If you’ve ever had to search a site for a company’s contact information or social media connections, you know how irritating it can be. Branding best practice is to place your contact information and social media buttons (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) above the fold (toward the top of the page), so they can be seen as soon as someone lands on your site without scrolling down.
4. Calls to action
One of the main functions of your website is to encourage visitors to engage and interact with your company. Go beyond the passive “Contact us” and “Friend me on Facebook” to offer people an active and immediate call to action with such offers as:
- Sign up for a newsletter
- Take a quiz
- Download an audio or video file
- Fill out a poll or survey
- Make a comment
- Pose a question
- Sign up for a webinar or teleclass
- Download an ebook or white paper
- Make an appointment for a complimentary consultation
One important benefit of a call to action is that it captures contact information and helps you build a list of potential customers and interested individuals — at least those who want to be captured. Some marketers call this an ethical bribe: “I’ll give you something for free (ebook, webinar, audio file, etc.), and in exchange, you give me your email address and permission to periodically contact you with information and offers.”
5. Responsive design
We live in a world of screens — big and small. According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, and one in five conduct most of their online browsing on their mobile phones.
“Day by day, the number of devices, platforms, and browsers that need to work with your site grows,” writes Jeffrey Veen, design partner at True Ventures in San Francisco. “Responsive web design represents a fundamental shift in how we’ll build websites for the decade to come.”
That, as it turns out, is an understatement. In one survey from Google, 67 percent of users reported they were more likely to make a purchase from a site that’s mobile-friendly, and 52 percent said they’d be less likely to engage with a business if the mobile experience wasn’t up to par.
In the mobile era, designing a well-branded website means making sure your pages also work well and look great on a tablet, smartphone, and any other platforms that may come to pass.
by KAREN TIBER LELAND