Gone are the days when your website was just a simple web presence.
A website can be a powerful marketing and sales tool. It can help build trust with your customers, showcase your best assets and value, and generate sales opportunities. In fact, if you play your cards right, your website can be your best salesperson. Or the worst, depending on how you build and design it.
If you stop and think about it, you’re probably already investing heavily in your marketing strategy to drive people to your website, whether it’s SEO or ads. So when people finally land there, your website needs to live up to its key functions.
Sam Dunning is the Sales Director and Co-Owner of Web Choice, a digital agency focusing on website development and SEO solutions. He’s an expert in all things website build and design, and in this week’s episode of Ungated Marketing, he shared his knowledge, tips, and best practices to take your website to the next level.
Most Common Website Building Mistakes
Have you ever landed on a website and, after a few seconds of consideration, still couldn’t figure out what product or service that company was trying to sell?
The chances you did are very high, and you’re not alone.
It’s a common mistake, and for Sam Dunning, it’s also the “worst and simplest mistake” companies make when building their website, “especially in B2B tech.” Sam explains that, in these cases, instead of the homepage clearly stating what that business does, the message often goes something like “we build cutting edge, 360 degree, all angle views of this technology and this software.” What they actually do remains unclear and, as a result, from a customer perspective, “you're scrolling down the site for a few seconds, [and you] still can't work out what they do and [you’re] not sure how it's going to help [you].”
It seems clear enough that that’s not your website’s goal. So why does it still happen?
In part, it stems from the fact that a lot of businesses simply can’t articulate what they do, which results in further positioning and messaging problems. But it also boils down to the fact that, in some cases, companies build their websites to stroke their own egos rather than focussing on their audience.
For Sam, it’s another of the worst things he sees in website design and build. “When companies, whether that's the CEO, whether that's the marketing team, whether that's someone else that's involved in the web design, they design and build the website to strike their own ego, to please themselves. [...] But they're not designing and building it for their ideal clients, a.k.a the people that are actually going to spend money with your business, because the chances are, you're not your ideal client.”
As a result, customers will likely be driven away to the competition, who offer a better website experience and a clear explanation of what they do and how from the minute someone lays their eyes on the homepage.
Finally, Sam points out another common mistake he sees, namely “when it’s really difficult [for customers] to actually get in touch [with you.] So if it's hard to request a demo or if it's hard to book a consultation and the process is quite arduous.”
Website Building 101
Building a website that can fulfil its role in engaging with customers, showcasing all your product or service value, and ultimately driving sales doesn’t have to be an arduous task.
There are some guidelines to follow as well as best practices to stick to when it comes to website design and build, that Sam swears by and that are sure to help you along the way.
Research First, Design and Build Later
The first step in Sam’s framework is to do “some decent research” to be able to design for and attract your target audience.
One of the ways to do this research is by conducting customer interviews. Sam stresses the importance of talking to customers during the process to understand what’s most important to them on a website when they first land on it. Now, we all know that conducting any kind of customer interview is often an arduous task, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Sam explains that even a small number of conversations can offer great insights.
He suggests his method: “If you're an established business, grab ten or so of your best existing clients that you enjoy working with and that are [...] happy to discuss with you and grab them for a Zoom call or, worst case, do an e-mail interview. If you’ve got a website already, you want to be asking things like, ‘What do you like about our existing site? What could we do to improve our existing site? What do you feel you need to see on our new site?’”
You don’t need a long set of questions. Stick to the main pieces of information you want to collect from your customers, select those who you have a good relationship with, talk to them and you’ll collect useful insights on what’s missing or what can be improved, that you’ll then be able to use as the foundation for your new website design and build.
Depending on the size of your website, your next step can be to jump straight into the visual design. However, if you’re building a larger scale enterprise website, Sam advises doing a wireframe first, which consists of mapping out all the pages you’re going to build.
“You can map out things like what are the main pages, and that might be something like homepage, about us, services, which will have a dropdown for your main services. You might have pricing, you might have case studies, then you might have request a demo, and you might have a bunch of resource pages as well [like] blog articles, podcasts, video guides, downloadable guides.”
This way, as Sam explains, you’ll have a clear overview of your website’s structure and all elements you want to include, which makes the visual design part of the process clearer and easier.
Copy vs. Design
Now, we can’t talk about design without going back to the age-old question of “What comes first: copy or design?”
Sam’s answer is, undoubtedly, copy, but he admits it doesn’t always happen.
However, he does make an evident case for why, in an ideal world, you should always begin with the copy. “There's nothing worse than a design team [putting] together all these visuals, let's say we've put together the homepage, we've got a nice hero banner area, we've got a nice section underneath with maybe some reviews and then maybe we've got some testimonials, we've got some service blocks. And then, we get the content from the client, and it's twice as much as we allocated space for. So you’re trying to squash all this content into this page, and it just looks terrible.”
For him, if you can get the content first so that you can map out what goes into each page, that’s the best-case scenario, as it can save you a lot of time.
Mobile vs. Desktop
Another aspect to consider when building and designing your website is whether to design first for mobile or desktop. And here again, for Sam, it’s crystal clear that “in this day and age [you should be doing] a mobile-first design.”
He explains that “Google Search is roughly 60% plus from a mobile,” so you should “design for mobile devices first and then do a desktop design separately.”
Nowadays, especially in a work-from-home environment, people do a lot of research outside working hours, and they do so most frequently on their phones or tablets, so businesses should ensure their website design is responding to that tendency and offering a great experience. By focussing on mobile-first, you can make sure your website will look nice and crips on any mobile device, as it’s easier to replicate on desktop than the other way round, “which [is to] do a responsive site that looks average on each device.”
Sam offers the example that “you'll see it on some sites like when you squash it down to mobile, it just doesn't look right. Perhaps the banners are squashed, or the menu's too small, perhaps it's quite tricky to scroll around, and you've got to zoom in parts.”
A mobile-first design can avoid all these constraints and, ultimately, save you a lot of time.
Pages You Need to Pay Close(r) Attention to
When designed and built right, your website can attract, engage with, educate, qualify and convert your prospects into actual customers. To do so, there are specific pages you should pay closer attention to and optimize, or build altogether if your website doesn’t already have them.
First, obviously, there is your homepage which Sam describes as “essentially a landing page” that your prospects will want to browse at their own pace. Your homepage should straight away let them know what your product or service does, as already mentioned, as well as guide them to other pages where they can learn more about it or get in touch with you to request a demo. With that in mind, “a call to action in your main menu is key.”
When it comes to engaging with customers and building trust with them, be sure to include some social proof as users as scrolling down your homepage, as well as point them in other directions they can take, whether that’s learning more or contacting you.
Some companies are still skeptical about including a pricing page on their website. Sam admits he was one of them until very recently because he thought a pricing page would scare prospective customers away.
However, he changed his mind after switching that thought around and realizing that “what you’re going to do if you don’t share pricing is, you’re going to attract plenty of the wrong customers, and your sales team are going to be furious with your marketing team because you’re getting all these leads [...] that don’t have the budget to do business [with you].”
So, a pricing page is one to definitely consider, but there are some best practices you can follow in case you’re still wary of it.
Sam explains: “You can, of course, give the three top packages that you offer. If you're a SaaS company, [you can] put a kind of recommended option with the main features. If you perhaps don't have standard A, B, C pricing packages, what you can do is a range. So you can say, look, project type A is from 5-10K, project type B is typically from 15-20K, project type C is 20K+.”
Additionally, the pricing page is another great place to add some social proof by showcasing the types of clients already paying for your services, with testimonials, reviews, or even common FAQs for each project type.
Another key page Sam is a fan of is a resources page, as it plays a part in the educating role your website can play.
What you include in it is up to you, but it can include everything from case studies, guides, and blog articles to videos and podcasts. The goal, as Sam puts it, is to “help people learn more about your product, so you can become the go-to company or person when [customers] need your help.”
Here, Sam makes a case against gating the content you offer. For him, “ninety-nine percent of content that is gated shouldn’t be.” That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it, but from a customer perspective, getting asked to give up your contact information every time you want to read a piece of content, when you may even not yet be ready to buy, is frustrating. And if one of your website’s goals is to educate people about your product, service, or industry, then gating your content would just be counterproductive.
Contact/Request Demo/Thank You
The final set of pages Sam feels most websites fall short on are the contact or demo request pages, along with the thank you page that follows.
The problem with contact or demo request pages is that they’re often too detailed. Sam explains that these “have inquiry forms that ask for name, date of birth, what school did you go to, what’s your inquiry, how did you hear about us, why would you recommend us, what’s your job.” For him, there’s nothing wrong with forms that ask for the main fields such as name, contact details, and job title, but more than that can easily become irrelevant.
One of his suggestions to spruce up your contact page is to have social proof next to the contact form, as it can serve as the little nudge people sometimes need to fill out an inquiry form. These can be “a solid customer testimony or a customer review video that shares the problem they can to you with, how you helped them, and what life is like now” that can incentivize users who are still unsure of submitting their details.
Then, there’s the thank you page that shows up after people fill out your inquiry form. Most of them, as Sam points out, most of them just say “thank you for your inquiry.” This leaves customers confused and wondering: “When are you going to contact me? What happens now?”
Sam advises having a dedicated page that goes beyond a simple “thank you.” As an example, the page can say: “Thank you very much. We’ll be in touch within 24 hours. However, if you’ve got any questions, feel free to call us on this number if you need urgent help.” In addition to the message, you can show a GIF of some sort and point users to a useful piece of content they can check while waiting to be contacted.
This way, Sam explains, “people have already got an awesome experience from your company before they’ve even spoken to sales.” For him, this can be a really valuable asset, which regrettably gets neglected a lot.
The Relationship Between SEO and Website Building
At Web Choice, in addition to helping clients design and build their websites, they also help them optimize their SEO strategy. So, if you think the Golden Age of SEO is over, Sam Dunning wants you to think again.
SEO is still the number one driver of customers to a website, followed by paid media channels and LinkedIn. It’s what works for Web Choice, their clients, and Sam, believes, for a lot of B2B companies that take marketing seriously. “They're putting out a lot of content. They're distributing a lot of content. They're building backlinks and then they're doing SEO. So SEO is not dead. It's very much alive.”
Is it the “be-all and end-all” strategy? Not really, since “putting all your eggs in one basket is never a smart move”, as Sam puts it. He adds that “if one channel takes a hit, you want another couple of channels that are going to drive traffic to your site and drive inbound. So yes, you still want to look at paid ads, whether that's Google ads or social, whether that's looking at the technology review sites like G2 and Clutch, and all that good stuff. And then also looking at other channels, whether that's webinars [or] email marketing. So you definitely want a multi-channel approach.”
However, the relationship between SEO and websites is more complex than simply the first driving traffic to the latter. The way a website is built, and everything that’s built into it, has an impact on SEO performance and search results.
For Sam, page speed “is the silent killer of websites.”
The tricky thing about it is that it’s hard to identify a slow website as the reason behind customers dropping off of your website “until you look at your analytics and get under the bonnet” of your website’s performance.
But what is considered a slow website?
Sam sees a lot of people posting on LinkedIn claiming your website speed should be three to four seconds. For him, that’s a slow website. “It should be one second or less, which is super fast, I know, but it is a Google ranking factor.”
That’s one reason why you should look into decreasing your website speed. Another one is looking at it from a customer perspective. If you’re, for example, comparing two SaaS solutions, and one takes four to five seconds to load and the next one takes under one second, chances are you’ll choose the one that offers a nice and quick experience.
Thus, page speed is very important since it affects both user experience and your Google ranking. So how do you go about making your website faster?
Design and Backend Best Practices
When designing and building your website, there are a lot of things you can add to its backend. Marketers especially love adding plugins and scripts and codes, like Yoast for SEO, that allow them to play around with a website and increase its performance more easily.
However, Sam explains that all these tools can have the opposite effect and actually negatively impact how your website ranks because they end up slowing it down.
When it comes to plugins, Sam advises having only the ones you absolutely need. “If you've got a hundred plugins, 50% are out of date, 50% you don't even need,” as he puts it. Mapping out all your plugins is a useful exercise to be sure you’re only keeping the ones that are truly in use.
On the design side, things like large images or videos can slow a website down. Here, Sam recommends compressing the images you want to use, and, “instead of embedding a YouTube or Vimeo video, what you can do is have a nice compressed image with a play button, and when you press that image, it clicks to load it.”
Finally, Sam points out the tendency companies have of skimping on website hosting, which for him, doesn’t make much sense. “[They’re] probably investing thousands of pounds or thousands of dollars on marketing [their] site each month,” but then are not willing to invest in a good hosting platform.
To make sure your website is performing well, and fast, you’ll need to make sure it’s hosted on “a solid server that's got sufficient memory, bandwidth backups, so it can actually keep your website fast.”
There are a lot of things on this list, I know, but it just goes to show how important website design and build is for your marketing and sales strategies and business altogether. Your website can be your best ally if you build it to its full potential.
If you wish to learn more about website best practices from Sam Dunning and how you can increase your website’s performance, listen to the episode below or tune in on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts.