By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
Around 10 years ago, I had to hire an attorney to help me with a dispute with a business partner. I asked around for recommendations and decided on Mr. Smith. I had never hired an attorney and had no idea what to expect. I stood to lose a decent amount of money if things went poorly – money I certainly didn’t have to spare – so I was putting a tremendous amount of trust in Mr. Smith.
When I arrived at his office, I was immediately struck by the smell of stale cigarette smoke. Strike 1. Then, I stood awkwardly in the lobby until a disheveled intern came out and curtly told me to sit down and wait for Mr. Smith. The chairs looked like 1950s rejects. I picked up a five-year-old magazine off the dusty stack of other dated reading material. Strike 2. Then I waited while reading old stories about the O. J. Simpson trial and the Oklahoma City bombing, both of which were LONG over. And waited. And waited. Finally, 30 minutes after I arrived, Mr. Smith came shuffling out. His hair looked unwashed and his shirttail was un-tucked. His pants were frayed at the bottom where they were never hemmed properly. His shoes were scuffed. He motioned for me to go back to his office by waving his lit cigarette randomly in the air. I followed in fear. Strike 3.
Needless to say, I didn’t hire Mr. Smith. I later learned that I probably should have though. Turns out he’s an amazing litigator, and his record is so good it was almost unbelievable. But the impression he made was not one that instilled even a shred of confidence in me, and because of that, I had to move on.
Flash forward to 2011. Many of us don’t even have outside offices any more, working out of our homes or shared spaces to save on overhead. We meet with clients at coffee shops, co-working spaces and even bars. There’s often not an “office” at all where our clients make that initial impression of us and our level of professionalism.
But wait, there is! Whether you want to admit it or not, your Website is your new front door. Is yours giving an impression of confidence or does it look more like Mr. Smith’s office of doom?
When you meet someone at a networking event, what’s the first thing you do when you get back to your computer? Go to their Website. When someone recommends a service provider, where do you go to learn more? Their Website. When someone starts talking about a great new product they tried, what do you do next? Go check it out on the Web.
Yes, it has become standard operating procedure, and people make strong impressions based on what they see. So if you want to leave all these prospects with a positive feeling about you, your services and products, follow these few simple rules.
- Pick an easy-to-remember URL. I know, by now all the good names have been taken. But your URL is not where you should get creative. If you are just starting out, name your company something that has an available URL. (That’s actually how I chose BBR Marketing.) If your company name is already taken, get as close as you can. People are naturally going to enter <yourcompanyname.com> when looking for you. They may not take the time to look for your business card to confirm your address, so give them what they are expecting. I recently had a gentleman give me his Web address, which was a series of random letters to me. He explained that it was his initials, followed by GA (for Georgia) then CPA (because that is what he is). It made perfect sense to him, and he seemed shocked that I didn’t “get it.” Make it easy on your visitors; this is not a place to get creative.
- Make your navigation intuitive. There are few things more frustrating than not being able to find what you are looking for on a Website. Go out of your way to make it easy to find information. This doesn’t mean have tons of items in the navigation bar, but it does mean that the information should be organized in a way that makes sense. Have an outside person try to find things on your site, and watch where they click each time. If they can’t easily get where they need to be – ideally in three clicks or less – reorganize your site.
- Brand it well. I could talk about this all day, but make sure your Website looks like the rest of your materials. Having a consistent and professional look and feel is vital to creating a positive impression for your visitors. If your business cards look completely different than your site, visitors will be confused and unsure about your company. Think about it, if your hair was a different color every time a prospect met with you, they’d begin to wonder who you really were. The same works for your company image. Create a strong brand and stick with it…everywhere.
- Content is king. Having clear, concise and well-written copy is vitally important to the success of your site. Notice I did not say “lots of copy,” but concise copy. Study after study shows that the vast majority of people don’t read on the Web; they scan. So plan for this. Use lots of subheads, bullets and key words. Make your point and then stop writing. Here’s where I recommend hiring a writer who understands the Web and can help you create the image you want. Or if you can’t do that, write it yourself then have someone edit it for you. It is well worth the money spent, and will pay off in spades in the end.
- Make it work for multiple browsers. Not everyone uses Internet Explorer. I personally use either Firefox or Safari most of the time, and I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve visited that are clearly not optimized for these browsers. Again, this is an area where spending a little money will pay off. If the site doesn’t work in my browser, I’m not coming back, ever. It’s a quick way to lose a lot of potential clients.
- Have someone check for errors. And finally, spell check is your friend, but it won’t catch everything. Have others read it for clarity and grammatical errors. One spelling error can be forgiven, but more than one will make you look sloppy and incompetent. If hiring managers are tossing resumes for one spelling error, what do you think your potential customers think when they find them on your site? You are getting tossed too.
This is really just a start, but at least this gets you on the right track and allows your visitors to easily find what they want and leave with a positive impression of you and your company. I’d love to hear your ideas for making your “front door” as inviting as possible. What do you think?