Does anyone other than me remember when nobody had a website?
How did you EVER get along, says everyone who doesn’t have a sense of it. And honestly, my answer for them is “I’m not sure!”
I do remember what was fun about buying something in a pre-website reality though. It was more about what was right in front of you, at the store you that could get yourself to in real life, than what was in the rest of the world. Only the most tricky, fussy, or achingly specific needs launched us into a get-on-the-phone-and-call-people, all-points national hunt. The local shopping experience certainly involved more walking too – so different from the armchair and office desk buying I enjoy now. (Actually, if I am honest it is more often in bed as I am heading off to sleep – ticking those list items off before turning out the light. But I digress…)
One of the delicious things about looking for what you needed back then was the sensory experience of the act – entering a store and finding that it smelled a certain pleasant way. Or finding a visual feast – arriving and taking in all the exciting and cool things you could buy beautifully laid out in front of you. Even, perhaps, an interesting and attentive someone there to listen to your needs, help you take a closer look and assist your purchase – hopefully without the hard sell. The feel of fabric. The fun of an unexpected gadget. The pulse-increasing rush of fantastic craftsmanship. Being front and center with all these visceral experiences helped you make an informed consumer choice and feel good doing it.
If you think of your website as a showroom where you strive to draw your customers and clients into the great consumer experience that is your business, you have to carefully consider the way your potential customer will interact with your site. It needs the virtual equivalent of that big, bright, enticing and confidence-creating storefront we walked into back in the day. Creating that perfect website environment can be a real challenge, especially for a business with a smaller in-house marketing department doing triple time on a bunch of different projects. Working with a full-service marketing agency to create an immersive site style is fantastic – if you can afford it. But even if you have to do it yourself, there are some key factors you can easily use that can make the display windows of your online store as inviting, exciting and competitive as they can be. I’ll share a few of my favorites:
MY OVERALL MANTRA IS KEEP IT SIMPLE:
- Make your headlines brief and clear. As much as I hate to say this, being a commercial photographer and all, its a proven fact that the first thing someone pays attention to on a webpage is the heading, even before they look at the image. SO BE BRIEF! Get to the point.
- Avoid clutter and needless navigation. In the same way a newly paved road without traffic back-ups or construction is a pleasure to drive on and a quick and easy trip, the navigation on your site should be simple, clear, and fast.
- Did I mention fast? Beware what I call the Beachball of Peril. Getting stuck too long on a loading page is the kiss of death. Make loading files smaller, or get someone to optimize your site, but no matter what, make it load in a blink.
- Pay attention to clarity and calmness in your overall design, too. You’re starting to see a theme here. Do your research on what types of color schemes instill confidence and why. Here’s a great article.
- Use Directional Cues. I love this one so much I used caps, and its another one worth researching – using cues that draw a viewer’s eye to what you want them to see really works. A picture of a dog looking at the viewer? We look at the dog. But use a picture of that dog looking at your headline instead, and guess what we look at? Yup. Of course, arrows and boxes and other graphic tricks work well too, but I’ve just given you permission to use a dog on your website, so if I were you I’d run with that…
- Customer Testimonials. In this age of online opinions, a great customer testimonial or two front and center goes a long way towards building trust. We want to know who we are working with or buying from, and since we can’t see you in person it is great to know beforehand that others have enjoyed great customer service and a fulfilling business relationship with you. Don’t be shy. If you’ve got charms, let your prospective client know.
- Limit options and sell more. My last little piece of advice is my favorite – you can actually sell more by selling less. Help your customers avoid decision fatigue by offering the best choices you can create from a fulfillment, economical and ease standpoint, and stop there. You can always customize for the special client. But most people will choose from what you offer, have their needs met and be satisfied not only because you’ve sold them the perfect thing but also because they didn’t have to fight to figure out what the perfect thing was in the first place.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
And of course, your images should be all of the above as well! Clear, uncluttered, fast loading, integrating well within the site, supportive of your product or service, trust-building and used with discretion and clarity.
Once you have created a clear, functional, inviting website for your business, you automatically raise the bar on every initial interaction, and set the stage for a flawless start to finish consumer experience that keeps them coming back for more – just like stepping into a wonderful storefront in real life.