“We need a good website, can you just make it for us?” Agency marketers hear this all the time. Let’s face it – our clients aren’t marketers, and, since it’s outside their area of expertise, marketing-related stuff such as web design can often make them feel nervous and uncomfortable.
Great! That’s why they hired you! Talented agency marketers embrace the opportunity to gently shepherd clients through the process of creating a great website in a way that makes them feel included, invested, and that sets reasonable expectations regarding timeframes and cost.
Jocelyn Mozak, of Mozak Design, says the first question she asks a prospective client is, “Why are you changing your website?”
“Is it just because they want something shiny? – If they want something shiny, well, you have to wonder if that is a sound investment. What is the issue? Is it not converting? Does it not match your branding? What has prompted you to call today?”
“A good agency needs to get to the bottom of that, because a lot of times, the client may start off saying they want their website to look fancy and wonderful, but if all an agency does is give them fancy and wonderful, but not dig into deeper problems and questions, the site is not really going to benefit the customer.”
Joy Milkowski, founder of Access Marketing Company, says when she meets with clients who need web design services, she welcomes the chance to challenge her team as designers, with the goal of “creating positive web experiences that make people want to interact.”
All right … the meeting is scheduled and the client wants you to design a website for their company. Like a good scout, you want to be prepared, and it really doesn’t take much. Anish vonAhlefeld of Intuitive Digital says she audits the current site’s content and pages, and reviews the analytics to get a better grasp on what is working and what is not.
Milkowski suggests additional things you can do to prepare for the meeting:
- Homework – Visit their current website and review existing marketing collateral to gain a basic understanding of what the company does, learn about their branding elements such as logo usage and color schemes, get a feel for their voice and company culture, and gain other insight.
- Client’s likes and dislikes – Request the client to share examples of a few websites they do and do not care for to gain an understanding of what design elements appeal to them and what to avoid. Ask them what about those sites attracts or repels them.
- Website checklist – Send this list in advance and ask them to think about the choices that will need to be made. Then have it ready to review with clients to ensure all aspects are covered before design begins.
- Check out the competition – Take a little time to visit websites of your client’s competitors to see what they’re doing and take note of what elements are included on their sites. When you Google your client’s keywords, do they show up on the first page of search engine results? Where are they placed in relation to their competitors?
Furthermore, vonAhlefeld recommends the agency also determine in advance, and in as much detail as possible, what is to be included in the project’s scope of work, and who is responsible for what tasks.
Often, clients will contribute to the project by providing photos, videos, and written content. Mozak says to proceed with caution when a client wants to do this – provide input parallel to the design – as it can become a project-management nightmare. She said the agency should trust its experience and expertise and set firm deadlines and boundaries for the client, including saying no when necessary.
Designing successful websites for clients starts with solid communication. Whether it’s in person or over the phone, Milkowski says, “Only by sitting down and having a conversation with them will you really be able to understand their business, including how to differentiate them from competitors, and how to attract the right audience.”
After that, she said, it’s up to the agency to build the site and optimize it with marketing automation, “to identify anonymous visitors, nurture leads for conversion, and make customer retention easier for our clients.”
Typically, people don’t know what they really want until they see it. That’s why asking them show you sites they like is so important; you’ll get clues to what they respond to. It can be difficult and overwhelming for some clients to explain what they want their websites to look like, the vibe they want to give off, or even how they want the site to perform. Designing and marketing aren’t really in their wheelhouse. Keep that in mind, be kind, and do what you can to ease their discomfort by involving them in the process. Help them understand how having a website that integrates with tools such as business intelligence and marketing automation will positively impact their bottom line.
Listen to them
- Ideally, collaboration will be a learning opportunity for both sides. A huge key to successful web design lies in understanding the client’s business. “Besides talking about the basics like colors, competitors, and the target audience, find out the mood they’re going for, what they like and what they don’t,” says Milkowski.
- In our marketing and design worlds, some of us use a lot of buzzwords. Be careful that your client understands what you’re talking about; people are often afraid of looking ignorant, and may not ask what a term or acronym actually means. Make your communications as jargon-free as possible.
- Web design blogger Elaine Griffin recommends sending a questionnaire to prospective clients, with items such as: “When someone views your logo, site, and social media (your brand), what do you want their first impression to be? Please list 3 or more adjectives.” Then she encourages designers to use that information to search the internet when considering and planning the design. Says Griffin, “That’s right… use these adjectives to search in Google Images, to see how other brands have chosen to display their unique personalities.”
Work and share with them
Some designers have a tendency to exclude clients from the design process, but Milkowski believes that’s a mistake. “Taking just a little time to teach them about web design best practices helps us manage client expectations, and get projects done on time and within the budget.” She also said, “Involving clients in the design process gives them a sense of ownership over their site.”
Mozak said she schedules weekly 20-minute meetings between the client and agency as a way of controlling the status, keeping track of next steps, and addressing any concerns that have popped up or may in the future.
Email communication is fine for smaller projects, according to vonAhlefeld, but for larger ones she will use project management tools such as JumpChart or GatherContent. She also recommends creating communication templates and/or guidelines for the different phases of the project (design, review, launch, and so forth).
By offering numerous opportunities to weigh in and comment, it serves you both in the end by ensuring a smooth sign-off process. You can also identify and short-circuit designs that are going in the wrong direction. We all want to avoid that very bad day when we unveil our creative results and the client looks surprised – and not in a pleasant way. .
3. DESIGN TO ENHANCE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
“Me, me, me” is out, out, out!
Static, ego-centric websites that just talk about the company and its offerings are old-school and no longer acceptable for today’s tech-savvy, educated buyers who expect interactive experiences.
“Without useful content and interactivity, people visiting the site will simply move on. Besides, there’s no excuse for that sort of ‘me-focused’ design anymore since technology now enables marketers to be more other-focused,” says Milkowski.
Help your client understand that the website isn’t just all about them, it’s about meeting their customers’ needs and expectations and providing a pleasant experience for them that’s mutually beneficial.
Customer lifecycle marketing covers all the bases
Today, the ideal website is “a listening salesperson… it watches customer behavior, sees what a visitor is most interested in, and pays attention to what info they’re drilling into,” says Milkowski, “and this informs the funneling and segmenting process.”
For example, “If you’re a car salesperson and someone tells you they’re interested in looking at minivans, you’re not going to show them a convertible,” she says. “It’s up to the designer to provide site visitors with multiple opportunities to interact – links, buttons, landing pages, forms and calls to action – because they invite people to express and reveal their interests, tell you what they want and segment themselves into different funnels. That allows us to send relevant content and enrich each visitor’s experience on a very individualized basis.”
Below is just a small sampling of ways to invite prospects to interact through a client’s website in each stage of the buyer’s lifecycle:
- Links: Send visitors to pages with content = Attract anonymous visitors.
- Forms: Allow unknown visitors to opt in to receive resources = Capture visitor contact information.
- Dynamic segmentation: As potential customers interact with the website, their interests and preferences are identified and so they can be automatically added to segments of like people, setting them up to be nurtured.
- Send those segmented prospects content that’s relevant to choices they’re making on the website = Nurture prospects to get them ready to buy.
- Request Demo/Trial: Allow prospective customers to indicate when they’re ready to invest time and attention = Nurture and Convert.
- Live chat/phone call: Milkowski calls this option “the king of conversions” = Convert hot prospects to customers via the sales team.
- Customer newsletter: Send exclusive content and product/training updates to existing customers = Expand retention and loyalty.
4. WEBSITE DESIGN
Template vs. original design
Either way, the days of cookie-cutter, pre-fabricated website design are over. Truthfully, many people can set up a basic website. It’s up to smart, contemporary marketers to create tactical, engaging sites that strengthen integrity, communicate with specific messages to specific visitors, and encourage visitors to become customers and advocates.
Whichever way you go, make sure you’re using responsive design and accommodating mobile users. And skip Flash altogether. It’s not mobile-friendly or SEO-friendly. Don’t forget to test across multiple platforms (mobile, PC, tablet) and browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Bing, etc.). You want the website you build for your client to function flawlessly and make you look good.
What about SEO?
For on-page SEO: “We all know SEO is important, and all of the websites we build allow companies to build a solid foundation while being SEO-friendly. But it’s important that you don’t focus so much on SEO that you lose the friendliness of the site,” says Milkowski. “Ultimately, you have to think from a human consumption viewpoint – what’s going to be compelling and engaging for them? So… human element first, search engine second.” And as search engines continue to improve in semantic search and relevancy, this human-focused approach will appeal even more to them.
Mozak, who send her clients an SEO eBook, agrees that good web design includes being an expert on the technical SEO of the website (site architecture, site speed, compatibility on different internet browsers and devices and so forth). She suggests that you consider the content on the site, and whether it’s aligned with your client’s targeted keywords. Sometimes you might need other SEO experts or additional writers on a project.
Great (even better than average) SEO will get prospects to your site. But are they converting once they are there? Are they downloading a white paper or datasheet? Are they requesting a demo? “Whether and how a page converts is incredibly important,” says vonAhlefeld, “and should be considered throughout the design process.”
…A FINAL THOUGHT
“Marketing is hard work, says Milkowski. “There’s no magic bullet.” In the end analysis, “you and your clients make the magic happen through collaboration, strategy, targeted content, and interactivity.