There are a lot of great posts out there that list steps to a successful website but they are more about the top levels of a website, like the about page or where to put contact information. This information is relevant, important and recommended reading but successful websites start with a solid foundation.
It’s important to spend some quality time with your website because, ultimately, you want that final click to be to contact you.
Building Block 1: It’s Not About You
One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing your website (or anyone else’s) is that it’s not about you. It is about the people who are visiting your website – your audience, your potential clients or employers. They want to know one thing: how can you help them?
One of the best places to do this is your portfolio. Your portfolio is not just pretty photos of work you’ve created or a list of clients you’ve worked for. Think of each project in your portfolio as a problem you’ve solved. When you choose a project for your website ask yourself what the problem was and how you solved it. Share a little bit about the story behind the work, what worked, maybe even challenges that needed to be overcome. Even better – share results. Did the attendance at an event rise because of your work? Did the website get more conversions? Did a project you managed get done ahead of schedule?
Testimonials – or as they are currently known ‘social proof’ – are another place to demonstrate what you can do for someone else. The best testimonials are similar to your project descriptions but carry a different weight because they come from the client themselves. They state what the problem was before hiring you, how you helped solve the problem and – always a plus – provide specific results. Something like “we get 3xs the traffic now” or “the project finished under budget”. (Bonus: ask them to recommend you on LinkedIn!)
This doesn’t mean every single sentence on your website needs to scream ‘look! I can help you!’ Some copy definitely needs to let you shine through. It’s a thoughtful balance between you and your website audience.
Building Block 2: Why Do You Have A Website?
One of the first questions I ask when working with a client is ‘What is the purpose of your website?’ Having a strong purpose provides focus and consistency for both you and your audience.
Typical purposes for websites may include building a reputation or brand, informing about a particular topic, generating revenue or, for some freelancers, getting hired by companies for long-term projects.
Keeping your purpose in mind while creating your website will inform what you include on your website from the copy right down to the calls to action. If you’re looking to get hired by a company, your call to action may say something like ‘give me a call’ and provide your phone number. If you’re looking to hire a client, you may want them to fill out a form, answering some basic questions, before setting up a call.
Most importantly, focused websites keep the customer from being overwhelmed and left wondering what they should do first. Focused audiences are more willing to act.
Building Block 3: Who Are You Talking To?
The third block in your foundation is your audience. Who are you speaking to when you write your copy? Are you looking for clients? Or are you looking to be hired by a company or recruiter? The more you know about who your audience is provides further focus to your website and its purpose. When a potential client or employer shows up to your website you want them to be able to recognize themselves in the problems and solutions you present.
If you’re looking to get hired by a company, you might ask yourself questions like: What kind of company do I want to hire me? Is it a more formal corporation or a smaller boutique agency? Who, in the company, will be reviewing my website? What kind of work is that company looking for and does your work reflect that?
If you’re looking for clients, is there a specific industry you’d like to work with? What are the biggest challenges that industry faces? What is the language they use in their own marketing?
Don’t let it intimidate you, though, and think you need to spend hours and hours doing research. Do a little digging on LinkedIn and browse websites of companies in the industry. A little goes a long way!
Please, Don’t Just Throw It Up There
I’ve heard this quite often during my time as a web designer. ‘We just want to throw something up there’. Websites have such potential to help you get clients or be hired. I consider them the full-service stations in the digital realm. All other marketing efforts typically drive people back to the website and these external avenues are important ways to broaden your reach. A website, though, is the most complete representation of who you are in digital realm, bringing all of those elements together in a context you choose.
Whether you build your own or use a platform like Behance or SquareSpace, spending some extra time up front ensures your website will work for you, not against you.
Pic: © Rayna Diane Hennen