Search the internet and you’ll find all kinds of articles and questions about how to design a website, how to get the site indexed in search engines, how to drive traffic to that website, and how to effectively use social media for business.
But that’s not really what you want to know, is it?
You’re not staying up till 3 am searching Google to find out the latest search engine optimization technique — guaranteed to get you top rankings on even the most competitive keywords. You’re not even looking for the best Facebook business page applications to entice your friends and network members to your website.
If you really think about, you’ll realize: You and all the other Internet marketers and ecommerce store owners out there are really looking for one thing:
How do I make money from my website?
You’ve heard stories from people like me, who tell you how easy it was to get web traffic in the early 2000s. Back then, you just needed to find your target market’s favorite online hang out and let them know what you offer. That’s how I built my web design and hosting business. As one of just a handful of ecommerce providers in my market, people flocked to my service.
Today, many of those large communities have fragmented and are already full of people offering almost exactly what you have. In order to get your market’s attention, you have to rise above the noise and get their attention. Not only that, you need to build their trust and encourage them complete a purchase.
So what’s a savvy business owner like you to do?
Here are the things I’ve learned over the years that can help you build a website that sells:
1. Build a website with a design that appeals to your target market.
An enthusiastic small business owner recently asked me whether or not I would trust his business, based on his site design. So I took a look at the site. The first thing I noticed is that the name of the same (and the domain name) was free gold watches. This was my first clue that something wasn’t right with this site. If you’re trying to sell an item, you don’t want your visitors to think that you’re giving it away for free.
When I arrived at the site, the design instantly reminded me of those old Mac computers from the mid-90s. It was all shades of gray and really bad, blocky graphics. Not a bad thing for a mid-90s computer — but certainly nothing that would give anyone a reason to buy from this guy’s site.
After questioning the business owner, I found out that he just thought the old Mac style layout was really cool.
Do you see the problem with this picture?
You can’t design your website so that it looks cool to you.
You can’t put your kids pictures all over it, even if they are the most beautiful kids in the world.
You have to remember this #1 rule: Design your website for your target market. Design it so they understand what you’re offering and what you want them to do. You can figure this out by surveying your market, checking out your competitors and asking for feedback from buyers.
And then just remember that you can have fancy graphics, you can have an awesome color scheme — but every element of your website needs to send one message to your target market: “You need to buy what I’m selling!”
2. Offer products and services that your target market needs.
While you’re researching your target marketing about your site design, find out what they really need. There’s no sense in trying to sell golden widgets to people who are gnashing their teeth over the scarcity of green widgets. Visit forums and blogs, read magazines, talk to people. In short, find out what it is that your market needs.
A client from many years ago was a member of a work at home mom knitting crowd. She and her friends knitted wool pants for their babies to wear over cloth diapers. As she was getting to know this market, she realized there was a shortage of really soft, good quality wool.
This client was really good at online research, so she did her homework and found a supplier of wool that met her market’s needs. Soon, the word spread like wildfire about her wonderful wool.
My own story is similar. I joined an online parenting group back in 2000 — just after having my son. After several months, I realized a couple of things: I didn’t want to lose my writing and design skills that I’d learned from working for newspapers and studying design in college and that my friends were selling cloth diapers and baby slings and they all needed websites. They couldn’t afford the big online marketing companies and didn’t want to hire complete strangers to build their online presence.
Yep, you guessed it! I taught myself HTML and started building — and later hosting — websites for my community members. As one of them, I understood what they needed, and they trusted me know know what they needed. Soon, the word spread beyond my small online community and people were hiring me from around the world.
The morale of this story: Pay attention to what your target market wants, what they’re clamoring for, and what they aren’t getting. Then be the person that they trust to provide what they need.
3. Write copy that outlines the benefits, not just the features.
Once you’ve figured out what your target market wants, it’s so easy to just offer it to them straight up. Your market wants a better paintbrush, so you talk to them about all natural bristles, a real wood handle, and handmade craftsmanship.
That’s all great — but not everyone in your target market is going to understand why your product is so much better than everyone else’s.
So you have to spell out the benefits for them.
The all natural bristles mean the paint flows from the brush without any streaks or globs. The wood handle will last longer than other cheap materials and the brush will hold together without losing its hairs in the middle of your painting, because it’s handcrafted.
See what I mean?
Make sure you turn your features in to benefits, so your potential buyers will understand the value of what you’re offering.
Not sure how to do this with your product? Here’s a simple excersize: Write down all your features on the left side of a piece of paper. Look at the first feature and ask yourself: Why does this matter? How will this make a difference in my ideal client’s life?
Answer those questions, and you’ll have your benefits.
4. Market your site via SEO, social media, partnerships and more.
You’ve built a website and written copy that speaks to your target market. So where are they?
This is a question that kept me up at nights back when I first started building websites and hosting them. I’d have a client hire me to design and host a website. Then, six months later, she would come back to me and say she wasn’t getting anyone to her site. I had taught her how to read her website statistics, so she knew that few people actually found her site.
I also saw that other clients hired me to build their websites — and then hit the ground running. They’d build traffic over that same six month period and end up with thousands of visitors per day.
So what was the difference?
After interviewing my successful clients and conducting my own online investigation, I realized that the main difference between the two was promotion. The first group of clients got their website and then waited for people to show up. When no one did, they felt victimized, as if I’d taken them for a ride. They didn’t do their own research and understand that my job was just to build their website.
The second type of client did understand: It was their job to promote the site.
That said, back in the mid-90s, things were a lot different. You could get a feature story in a major newspaper just by building a site. Why? Because back then, few websites existed, and even fewer people were selling anything on them.
Today, almost everyone has a website. As a matter of fact, when I talk to people and find out they don’t have a website, even if it’s just a Facebook profile or a Blogger site, I think they’re a bit strange. Or really old, like my grandmother, who is still scared of the coffee maker.
So you can’t get traffic to your site these days by just building one. You have to promote your site. And you have to start before you even build the first pixel of your site.
The first thing you need to do when planning your site is research your keyword phrases. This way, you can organize your site around major keywords phrases that your market uses to find your products or services. This is the beginning of on site search engine optimization.
Second, you need to develop a marketing plan that includes social media, partnerships and offsite SEO. You’ll want to research your target market — yes, again — and find out which social media sites they frequent. Why? If you’re marketing to teenagers who are into the latest music scene, you’ll most likely find your market at MySpace. Yes, people do still go there.
On the other hand, if you’re marketing to thirtysomething successful small business owners, you’ll find more of them at LinkedIn.
Stay at home moms tend to congregate on Facebook, where they find everyone they know, or have ever known, and play games on the site with their friends.
Once you get yourself out there and start meeting people where they’re at, you’ll want to behave properly. NO overt selling. You’re here to get to know people — but more importantly, to let people get to know, like and trust you. People will buy from those that they know way before they buy from the guy who has the best website or the cheapest product.
While you’re getting yourself in front of your market, you can also look at getting to know potential partners. These are people that are serving the same market, but offering a product or service that you don’t. These are also people offering a similar product, but maybe a more expensive, feature rich version. When you partner with others, you can work together to create more income for both businesses.
5. Provide amazing customer service
We’ve talked about building a website for your target market, offering what that market is looking for, talking about benefits and promoting the site. Once you’ve put all those puzzle pieces into place, the traffic and sales will follow.
But that’s not the end of the story. That will get you initial sales and traffic, but it won’t keep people around. As a matter of fact, if you don’t follow through, you could end up doing your business more damage than if you’d skipped this entire article and played Farmville instead.
Once you have people on your site and buying,the real work starts. You need to answer questions, fix problems and smooth ruffled feathers. In business, as in life, you’re not going to be able to please everyone. But if you provide great customer service, you can prevent many issues and deal effectively with the rest.
If you can impress even the most cynical person who needs your product or service with your customer service, you’ll have an invaluable advocate.
And that’s exactly what you need to grow your business: People who will buy from you — and who will tell everyone they know how wonderful your business is.
Michelle Waters is a small business web consultant specializing in helping internet marketers and web designers build websites that work. You can learn more about what Michelle can do for your business at http://www.michellewatersonline.com.