The 3 Keys to Creating a Website that Converts

When you think of all the objectives your website has to meet, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Not only do you need to draw new people in, but you have seconds to make a strong first impression and get them to take an action.

This often leads to home pages that are packed with information and competing calls-to-action.

And because a confused visitor is a lost visitor, this can be a huge problem for business owners marketing their work online.

But not every site suffers from this problem. What differentiates those sites from the rest?

They answer three key questions right off the bat.

1. Am I in the right place?

Imagine for a moment that you’re out shopping in a busy commercial district. Maybe you’re looking for a birthday gift on Michigan Avenue, or just browsing cute shops while on vacation.

As you pass each storefront, you’re making snap decisions based on the store’s name, the merchandise on display and the overall vibe and aesthetic of the shop. Maybe a cute sidewalk sign lures you into one store in particular.

You look around. And within seconds, you’ve either entered deeper into the store or turned right around and left.

The same is true on the web. You’ve got less than 15 seconds before a new visitor to your home page bounces.

In those 15 seconds, your visitor is making all sorts of snap judgments about your work. They rapidly evaluate whether you offer something they want, and that first impression will determine whether a new visitor stays or goes.

While it can be tempting to do something clever with your home page, savvy marketers know that clarity always trumps cute.

Can a new visitor tell in 15 seconds what your site is all about?

photosanity home page

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick is clear about the mission of Photosanity.

2. Do you have what I want?

Knowing that you’ve only got 15 seconds to make an impression, understanding what kind of “something” your visitor wants can help you design a sticky website.

Generally, people are looking for one of three things:

1) Information. A lot of businesses assume that what that website visitor wants is to buy something from you, but that’s usually not the case. At least not right when they land on your website. More often, people are gathering information. This is nearly always the case for those of us who offer services or products at a high price point. Very few of our clients and customers are looking to buy right now. They’re comparison shopping.

Is your target audience gathering information when they land on your site? What are they looking for?

communication rebel home page

Michelle Mazur knows her audience wants to learn how to get better at speaking.

2) Something to buy. But that doesn’t mean that no one ever impulse buys a product on the web! While this is a rarer breed of website visitor, you can find people ready to buy at low price points, and at times of emergency.

Maybe they’re hosting a baby shower next week, and you offer 2-day shipping, or their site has been hacked, and you offer emergency tech support.

If your core desired audience wants your product or service now, your first goal is to get it to them.

It's clear what Sarah of Simply Curated wants you to do -- shop!

It’s clear what Simply Curated wants you to do — shop!

3) Distraction or entertainment. We’ve all been there. Maybe your visitor is up late at night clicking anything in their Facebook feed that looks interesting.

If you’re a content or gaming company, your audience might just want distraction.

A cute little game I bought when I couldn't sleep last night.

A cute little game I bought when I couldn’t sleep last night.

3. How do I get it?

Online, all the information, products and entertainment you could ever want is available at your fingertips. If you can’t find what you want right away, it’s easy to click away from the site you’re on and find it elsewhere.

This is why it’s so important to understand what your audience is looking for. And give it to them.

Right away. At the very top of your site.

In other words, if your audience is coming to your site comparison shopping photographers, you want them to immediately see your product. And have a chance to opt in to get a free download that really shows them what makes you the best choice.

Or, if your audience is in the midst of a crisis, let them know right at the top that you specialize in fast turnaround times, and give them a way to contact you.

And finally. If your visitor is looking for a little distraction, ignore the marketers who say you should always ask for the email. Give them the entertainment they’re looking for. Let them buy your online game now, not sign up to get info on how to buy later.

Then, once you’ve understood what your audience is looking for and figured out how you’re going to deliver it, you can add more elements to your home page.

Once you’ve helped your site visitor decide that you do have what they’re looking for, you’ve got a little more leeway to add in more of your story. As they scroll down your home page, you can help them get to know what sets your business apart, what else you offer, and make a second call-to-action.

What’s Your About Page Really About?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the about page on your website is about, well, you.

What's Your About Page Really About?

The words are right there at the top, after all. About. About me. About us.

So I can see why so many about pages focus in on your experiences, your likes and dislikes, and your favorite hobbies.

But there’s just one problem.

Making your website’s About page all about you wastes one of your best opportunities to connect and convert.  

To understand why, let’s imagine the journey of your reader.

Let’s say you just published a blog post and shared it on Facebook. One of your fans loves your post so much she shares it on her personal feed. And one of her friends is intrigued enough to click over to your site.

This is a likely scenario, since Facebook now accounts for 1/4 of all website traffic.

Let’s continue this scenario by imaging this new visitor is right in your target market. She’s read your blog post, and she’s starting to think that you have what she needs.

What does she do next?

If she’s like most website visitors, she checks out your home page. And then your about page.

Your home page. And your about page.

As she lands on your about page, she’s really intrigued. She wants to know more about your business, of course.

But what she really wants to know is what your business can do for her.

Visitors to your about page are looking for information on what you can do for them.

But what does she find instead?

I’m a blogger, a mom and a coffee lover…

My paintings use an ancient technique called…

We came together to found the Cupcake Factory out of a deep desire to…

Copy that’s clearly not written with your audience in mind.

So instead of converting into an email subscriber, she clicks the tab closed and disappears.

Telling a personal story on your about page can be effective, but is the story you’re sharing relevant to your audience? Does it make the case that your website visitor should like like you and trust your business to deliver what she’s after?

Sharing your approach to your work can give your customer a treasured glimpse behind-the-scenes, but is your artist’s statement focused on what your customer values? Are you making it easier or harder for her to say yes to what you create?

Talking about the mission behind your company can help your customer understand what makes you different in the market, but are you burying your uniqueness with jargon and vague language?

Reading your about page now, is it more focused on your or your audience?

The X-Factor that Sets Your Content Apart from the Competition

In the 20 years since Bill Gates declared, “Content is King,” only one thing is certain.

There’s a whole lot of competition to wear the crown.

In 1996, when Gates wrote his prophetic essay on content, only 20 million Americans were online. To give those numbers some context, 271 million Americans are online today.

In those early days of the world wide web, there wasn’t all that much to do online. Creating a website wasn’t half as easy as it is today, and most news sites barely even registered online. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, 1996 was also the year the New York Times launched their first website.

I’m sharing this, because I always shake my head in wonder when people now go around claiming, “Content is King.”

This is obviously true, which begs the question. Does this claim really give you any clue on how to set your content apart?

I would argue no.  It’s not enough to just put up a blog or publish white papers and ebooks (remember those?). It’s not enough to be insanely useful.

Creating content does little more than meet the bar for entry.

I was listening the other day to a podcast about a lone phone booth in the Mojave desert.

This phone booth, out in the middle of nowhere, should have lived a long, obscure life out in the desert. Instead, it captured the public’s imagination, to the point that it attracted so many visitors that the National Park Service removed all traces of the booth to discourage people from visiting the site.

The Mojave phone booth’s remarkable story starts in 1997, when Godfrey Daniels became fascinated with a report that there was this random phone in the desert. He became obsessed with calling the booth several times a day, wondering if anyone would ever pick up.

After a month of daily dialing, a woman answered.

Because Daniels was an Internet entrepreneur, he created a website for the booth. And to his complete surprise, his obsession spread to people around the globe.

Although the phone booth is no longer there, the fame of the Mojave phone booth begs the question.

Why did it inspire such a devoted following?

The reason people were so attracted to the booth was that it was just so unexpected.

It wasn’t located in a city, like most phone booths. It wasn’t at the side of a major interstate, which might have been understandable.

It was 8 miles from the nearest paved road.

mojave phone booth

Remember 1997? Not only was the Internet not all that populated yet, but also the Nokia was the hottest thing happening in the world of cell phones.

As Daniels said, “When you were out in the desert in those days you were on your own. You couldn’t contact anybody. The idea there was this phone booth just sitting out in an uncontactable place, it was sort of like somebody was on the moon. You could contact somebody on the moon.”

Coming across a story about a phone booth in the middle of Los Angeles would have been unremarkable.

But a booth in the Mojave?


Yet many businesses and organizations model their content on the competition.

It’s natural to look around and see what’s out there. In fact, we generally start client projects this way!

But the goal of this landscape survey isn’t to build just another phone booth.

It’s to figure out what is unexpected about your brand.

This might sound obvious, but I’ve worked with product designers who leave out their company’s commitment to green practices, because they think, “No one cares,” and coaches who can’t articulate what their special sauce is to customers.

This is a big problem, because the way to set your content, and by extension your brand, apart is to drive home that difference.

Consider your audience. When they first find your website, they have a predetermined set of expectations and questions that are all driven by past experiences. You can probably predict exactly what they would ask if you got on the phone with them.

Click here for our audience swipe file, and never wonder again what questions and topics your audience cares about most.

You absolutely should answer their questions (that’s being relevant and useful), but there’s incredible power in subverting expectations.

This is something Brené Brown does beautifully.

Her audience, as do all of us I expect, brings questions like, “What do people think of me? How can I feel more loved? How do I feel less alone?”

Instead of telling her audience that they shouldn’t worry about what people think, or giving them tips on finding a partner, Brown gives an unexpected answer.

“If you want to feel more connected to others, first you must allow yourself to be vulnerable.”

Standing out among the competition isn’t about being the loudest voice or the most controversial. It isn’t even about being the best at self-promotion.

It’s knowing your audience deeply, understanding what their questions, concerns, hopes and dreams are.

It’s taking the time to find out what else they’re being exposed to.

And consciously putting forward the products or ideas that offer an alternative point of view.

When you create your next piece of content, ask yourself:

  • Who does my organization serve?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What do I represent that’s different than everything else they’re finding in the market?

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