Image and Images – for your website and everything you do!

So, what’s the best way to tell my story on my website? Let’s challenge you…

People respond and connect to a range of different visual styles. When you’re planning the formatting of your pages, also remember this paraphrased clip:

From the beginning of time to the year 2013, 5 exabytes, that’s 5 quintillion bytes of data, were ever produced. In today’s context, 5 exabytes of data were produced yesterday and mainly from consumers. (WikiBrands – Moffitt and Dover).

Why is that relevant? Because this is what you’re up against! People are very selective about what they read because there’s so much out there. Online data is free; you’re less likely to read it if you haven’t had to pay for it. You must shine through the sheer volume of ‘noise’ to get noticed.

The temptation is to dump everything on the home page of your website. Don’t crowd your page. Use your menu bar and add links to the landing pages of each subject, then decide what the best images or video link should be. You are very close to your own product, so please don’t be tempted to do this alone.

Rationalize every image and take as many of those shots yourself with your smartphone – good quality and unambiguous – to tell your own story.  Then readers will see original shots from you alone. That’s also what will segregate you from all the others.

Be guided by what your competitors are doing, use some of the common language within your business to demonstrate expertise, then be ORIGINAL. If you have tools or special equipment, show them at work maybe in the background. That will demonstrate your capacity and expertise.

All images can be cropped to take out irrelevance. Crop out distractions, anything that diverts the attention of your readers from the main story within the image.

Mike Butters Photography in Winchester gave me some good advice about personal/ staff portraits. He endorsed the notion of diversions and added that things like bumps, blemishes, moles, double chins (as if) can all be softened with the right lighting. It is certainly worth using a studio for lighting, backcloth, and the eye and the skill from a portrait photographer. He will show you how to look through the lens, too. He will fill 80% of the frame with face; this must be YOU, the person/ the people I’m dealing with!

For the rest of the website, use light and breezy smartphone shots which tell your business’s story in context.

Library shots

There is a great danger for small businesses to dress up their company to over-impress and to look ‘corporate’. You must think through and characterise your brand to prove yourself to be reachable and human, not corporate. Stay clear of wistful, aspirational characters.

Library shots to avoid:

  • Images of flood-lit, hi-tech offices brimming with beautiful, scrubbed people.
  • The boss looking like a second Messiah showing benevolence to his staff.
  • Unless it really is your team, clusters of immaculate, multi-ethnic under 25’s.
  • Ridiculously smart actors/models smiling inanely at each other and shaking hands like long lost friends as if they’ve just won the lottery.
  • Painted toddlers. Fluffy dogs running for a stick. Characters on the edge of a cliff with arms spread-eagled. Unless of course, your business is toddlers, dogs or hang-gliding!

Opt for a faithful representation of your product in a clever way – some serious, some funny. Show yourself as human and sincere but not as a clod.

Images should do a Ronseal – always do what they say on the tin. Let them tell your story with no ambiguity in image form.

 ‘A picture paints a thousand words.’

Image and Images – The best, clean van image and the best company name I’ve seen for a while was in Brighton on 12 March – SpruceSpringClean. A stroke of genius. How can you forget that? Your website must live up to your image, of course.

Photo LibrariesDreamstime.com and others will offer some free library shots, but istock offers one of best ranges. Anything free will be widely used, of course. Avoid photographic clichés, if there is such an expression.

Keep it real, keep it about you and what you do and where you’ve done it. Yes, take shots on site, ‘real time’, with your client’s permission. Before and after shots.

Images should be memorable or why bother?

Show that you’re human and that you love your work – practice smartphone shots to show off your best achievements. Then deploy!

SET THE BAR: use images that people will remember and tell others about.

Your website – beef it up with images

If you want to bring your website alive, remember…

Images – sell products. You cannot feature text alone.

Ask yourself and others how to best portray your product or service in multi-media. That is, in an ideal world, what would be the best way to prove your product is real? We live in an increasingly distrustful world and recent political events do not help this situation.

‘You have to prove to me that you’re legitimate, that if you’re taking my money, it’s for a product I will be pleased with, that my money is well-spent and my personal details are 100% safe in your hands.’

If you are demonstrating goods, say clothing, arrange them attractively so that they appear desirable. Scrunched up or just on a hanger and the value is diminished. Let the client understand the ‘look and feel.’

If you are selling handmade jewellery, for example, show the process either in a run of stills or a short video. A craftsman or woman with specialist equipment, blending and bending. This creates subliminal messages –

  1. ‘You won’t be able to make this yourself, dear reader’
  2. There is real skill and experience in this process
  3. Every piece is unique, made just for you.
  4. Specialist /semi-precious metals are used in the manufacture. Plan your video to show off these metals – silver, platinum, and gold… all create desirability and affiliation.
  5. ‘It takes four hours to make each piece.’ (and that’s why this is priced as it is and it isn’t bling from Asda!)

I’m sure you take these points on board and will adapt this model for everything you make or the service you offer.

Consider if you need multiple angles or a short video clip. Take advice on video film speeds and responsiveness from your webbie. Video can slow down upload times a lot.

Images – ALWAYS tell before and after stories with your images. When you’re setting up images make sure they answer the questions from readers: Why should I buy this? What are my concerns? Who is this company?

People buy because they want to be taken to a better place. So how will you demonstrate that?

If you’re a landscape gardener, for instance, always take several pictures or short videos of the client’s garden before you started, then work in progress and at the end: the finished product. Then, as the colours change, all year round! Stay in touch with the client, go back and build a story in stages to show others on your website, to give to the client as a gift/memory and ask them to send them to all their friends. Ask them to put it on Facebook, even in development stages.

Tell stories with images and let others tell your stories for you. (It’s ideal Facebook material). More on Facebook later.

Make the story completely end-to-end by showing images of the work in progress. (WIP) Showing WIP deliberately should endorse two things.

  1. Your planning skills.
  2. The labour and effort.
  3. The scale, especially if you’re moving earth, brick, slabs, fencing, etc. Then…
  4. The joy on the faces of your clients sitting on their new patio, sipping cold drinks on a summer’s day.

Images – Affiliations

I was talking to a car dealership who were AA affiliated. I encouraged them to fly the AA flag liberally – with the AA’s permission. The AA logo has been around for 112 years; it’s deemed reliable and trustworthy. They are such a good link. The new AA banners at this car dealership are now flying in the breeze and bringing in a lot of interest. Similarly, the logo looks great on the website. With permission, whose logo(s) could you affiliate with to give you a grounding and your clients a comfort factor? Check-a-Trade? Trip Advisor?

What or who can help you to beef up your product?

Your website – tips and tricks, voice and tone

We mentioned last week that some designers and site developers can get a bit wacky and carried away with fussy designs and unnecessary site features simply because they can, not because they add value to the designs or features to your site.

It’s better to avoid giving a designer the option to ‘just do what they think is best.’ This is your brand, not theirs, they will not understand where you’re coming from or your demands unless you give them precise instructions. You must drive this or you may finish up with the wrong result and the designer reminding you that the budget is already spent.

Question at every stage how each feature of the site helps you to achieve your strategic objectives. If it doesn’t work, then ditch it. By nature of the beast, most designers get bored quickly, so do make clear what it is you want!

  • Aim for simplicity; make information easy to find.
  • Insist on a navigation system that is easy and intuitive.
  • Ensure visitors can always return to your homepage with one click.
  • Make sure that links change colour when a visitor clicks on them
  • Compare your site to similar sites.

Your logo

People generally spend too much time worrying about the logo on their website and elsewhere. Certainly, household name logos are affiliative and create a feeling of comfort and reliability. If you don’t have one yet, I sincerely recommend you do not spend more than a few pounds on a logo.

Money-saving tip: try Fiverr.com – for $5 -15, payable online, a designer or geek of sorts will create you a logo if you specify roughly what you have in mind. Go for a simple common colour and one that doesn’t clash with your text or other formatting. Avoid tricky and intricate designs. If you don’t like it, push back on the designer until you do.

But, your logo is about 3% of your total brand. Look at Nike, BBC, Amazon, Google who all work on simplicity and spent very little on their logos. (The mighty Nike swoosh cost $48).

It is absolutely vital that you get your content right.

Voice and Tone 1.  – Use one voice – yours – with one writing style throughout. Decide what that writing style is based upon. Ask, who is my kind of client? Who represents ‘typical and best type’? What do they read – which magazines, newspapers? Are they Sun, Times, Telegraph, Independent, or none of those? If you write in a language that’s foreign to them in style, they’ll click away.

Voice and Tone 2. – It’s not just your view that counts. Use any opportunity to quote succinct clips from authoritative sources, preferably leaders in your line of expertise and preferably household names. If you’re photographed with him or her, you may choose to use it. On one hand, it’s name-dropping, on the other it shows you’re taking advice from experts.

Text

  • If you do write it yourself, bear in mind that ‘less is more’. Good business writing is always simple and direct, and this is never more the case than with web copy.
  • Use as few words as possible to make your point.
  • Avoid large clumps of text. Hook the reader with compelling titles and opening sentences.
  • Make it inviting and welcoming, show that you know your subject without rambling. Avoid too many adjectives or adverbs used only for effect.
  • Use bullet points to break up text, use bold to highlight.
  • Involve them. Answer their likely questions – those you are most frequently asked about your product or service every day.
  • Clear up misapprehensions. (“some people believe that … but we recommend…”)
  • Use an UK-English spell-checker, not a US version.
  • Put a note in your calendar to review text monthly with a view to improving it or bringing it up to date with new lines, ideas, or to add an image of work you’ve done, to add testimonials, etc. If it gathers dust, or it’s out of date, it will look like it.
  • Google tracking spiders will notice if your site is being updated or changed regularly. It helps with your rankings rather than it being seen as a dormant site.

More on text, voice and tone later. Let us know what you may be changing on your website

 

Your website – Visual appeal and Content 2

Templates – Visual design

There is a huge choice of templates. Many see the appeal of a backcloth of an open road in Canada or a wistful skyscape with the Northern Lights and say ‘That’s for me!’ But ask yourself, ‘Is there a link and does it honestly have any bearing on my product or service?’ Your ideas of what may be attractive or relevant may not be how others see it.

What else is important with templates?

Decide on the best characteristics – it must be modern and full screen, wide, not cramped. Creating a sense of space helps the eye to feel rested, that you’re not in a hurry to throw product at them.

Check all the back-pages beyond the home page, too. Some website designers can get pretty wacky with their ideas and have no notion what you need, of course, or what your layout needs to be.

Think carefully as to whether the back-page formats work for you. The home page may be great, but the back pages may bear no resemblance to what you want or what ‘fits’. You need to tell your story in a progressive format that you want, not what the designer locks you into.

Consistently check that it’s responsive and that it looks good on smartphones, too.

If you’re selling stock through the back pages, (from page two) can you get a wide enough range of goods on the page in each product group or do you need to split the range?

Consider rich media

In the planning process, bear in mind that website content need not be purely words. Broadband speeds have improved so much that many websites are now using a lot of audio and video. People read and absorb in different ways. Consider this: ten per cent of people in the UK are dyslexic,* that means those readers may prefer audio or video. (*British Dyslexia Association).

Audio and video allows you to bring products or people to life. Consumers can inspect them from every angle, view fine details, close-ups compare colours, watch how electrical products work, what clothing may look like, what a gadget can do, how bi-fold doors let in the sunshine, etc.

So what’s on your Menu?

You want your customers to be drawn towards their interests and to make it easy for them to find it. Sure, you can use pointers within the text, but snapping their attention to your menu and making that process clear will help.

Menus can drop down to multiple pages, creating multi-choice, of course. Avoid too many menu tabs, go for drop-downs rather than more than 5-6 menu tabs.

Use generic product headers that work with Search. Check your competitors so that you are comparing like with like on headers. Keep headers simple and short, one or two words only.

It is cheaper to do it early in the building process rather than later unless you’re doing it all yourself.

Homepage – your whole story wrapped but with hyperlinks to encourage readers to ‘read more’ by clicking on pages that flesh out more detail. Look for the chain symbol to create a link. Your webbie will demonstrate.

Product headers – split them as you see fit but you should have pages that are fairly standard to most other sites.

About Us – Here is your chance to show your plumage! This is another spot where you can show a good quality head and top of shoulders shot of yourself and others in your team. Face into the page, make sure face(s) are well-illuminated, with no shadows. Smile and radiate confidence, not a social shot. (Mouth open a bit and make sure your eyes are smiling, too).

Smart shirt/blouse. Polo shirt, preferably with your logo, not overalls. Then three or four lines of text only to say who you are and that you’ve been trading or been ‘in the business’ for X years.  Use your badges and affiliations underneath but above the fold. (i.e. What you see-to-view). Give them reasons to feel confident with you. Do you look like the sort of person they would let into their house? Understand their scepticism!

Contact – offer your business address, if you can and a Google maps link, so they can find you easily; an email address and a tele number that will be answered quickly and with the right attitude. All the promises you make on your website about friendly and great customer service will be put to the test on the response. Make clear your opening hours. If you’re using a mobile number (if you’re out on site all day) promise you’ll call within 2-3 hours. (Well, how long do you wait before you look elsewhere?)

Blog and Case Studies/Testimonials for websites – subjects that need special attention later.

More tips and tricks next week.

Your website – Visual appeal and Content: 1

Our guidelines on website building will make a difference to your site, for sure. We’ve trawled around for the best advice and used our own experience, too. That is, often our own experience of wasting money on webbies who gave poor advice and still sent their bill. (The acid test, or ‘moment of truth’ is seeing how many calls you get from your website, of course.) If you haven’t read them already, look back at the last two blogs on the subject and save yourself time, effort and expensive mistakes.

Visual appeal – First impressions help to make people stay on your website. If readers are repelled with clashing colour schemes, their eyes will strain and they’ll click away from you. (That ‘ouch’ moment). 62% of people over 45 and 92% of people over 58 have glasses or need them. (Specsavers – they may be biased, but you get the idea).

Design – what looks good?

We’re not saying that you don’t have an eye for design. But if you do choose garish colours – yellow text on a red background, white text out of purple, red or yellow out of black – please bear in mind that this is not a statement of your artistic calibre or The Tate Modern. It’s all about what the client feels is easy on the eye. Their eyes need to rest comfortably on a well-formatted layout with visuals and text that are set to interest them and to lead them to find out more. Isn’t that really what you want, too?

Do take care with visual appeal. It must be sensitised to your reader not to your preferences. Remember the phrase KISS – ‘Keep it simple, silly!’ It’s easy to overcomplicate things and to try and create a Masterpiece: a Canaletto rather than a simple line-drawing.

Flow

On all English language sites – people read top to bottom, left to right so you’re better off leading them that way either with a sharp, poignant visual of you, your product or something eye-catching in the top left corner. (*Research, IT team, Southampton University, 2014: Following eye/reading trends)..

Photos and logos

I’m often asked if a photo of the small business owner is appropriate. Well, not necessarily at the top of the page, but when you’re doing business, do you like to know who you’re dealing with? Is it a face you can like, get to know and trust? Also, your logo should not dominate unless you’re Nike or Amazon. More on logos later.

Remember, this is your Brand on display and at work. Don’t compromise quality over price. And you will have to pay for updates. See this as an investment.

Readers must sense some affiliation to you. I’m a brand, you’re a brand, David Beckham’s dog is a brand. As your shop window, your website matters. Do you want a Selfridges front window with a clever, neat, appealing layout or a corner shop with every bit of window space crammed with today’s special offers? There’s a corner shop near me where there are so many offers and clichés, I’m baffled, I never read them. And I’ve never seen anyone stop to read them.

Designer or developer

Your choice of designer or developer can have a huge bearing on the success of your website, so take care with your selection. I recommend someone who understands software and code, not a self-taught gadget fan. Always look at examples of their work to check that they produce work that fits your brand and your objectives. Call their clients to ask them if the work was well-executed. Ensure that an easy-to-use content management system is built-in so you’re not reliant forever on the designer and developer when you want to make text or image updates. Agree a plan in advance on how the site will be optimised for search, how it will be secured and how it will be hosted. E.g. will they charge for changes to code or formats? And as the host will be adding software developments every month or so, will they need to approve appropriate plug-ins or updates? Not all plug-ins or updates need to be installed. That’s where you need the judgment and skill of a good developer.

Your Website – set up and framework

Whether you are setting up a new website or reviewing your current site, designing your site architecture is critical. Thinking through the whole story of your product or service and loading those thoughts to your site is one of the most important yet challenging things you’ll ever have to do. Last week, we talked about objectives, strategy and putting yourself in the shoes of your readers. Your site is for them; not for you! If they cannot read it or easily navigate it, you’re sunk! So let’s tackle this in bite-sized chunks.

Site architecture

Once you are clear about what you want to achieve and what your visitors want from your site, you’ll be able to set your site architecture. If that sounds a bit high-brow, it is still a good parallel. After all, you wouldn’t design or build a house from the roof downwards.

From your homepage you should offer visitors several options and from this they will be able to click on a second and maybe a third level. Beyond three, their attention will wander and they may leave your site. Provide visitors with a logical structure that gives them the information they’re looking for and you’re well on the way to producing an effective website.

Domain name

You must have a domain name from a domain name registrar and, to make sure that your domain name isn’t copied or abused, it must be hosted. (e.g. GoDaddy, Nominet, 123 Reg.) If you already have a domain name which is well known by your target audience, you’re best sticking with it. If you have a blank canvas, then put some thought into your choice of name. Make sure it describes what your company does and is sufficiently memorable. (Remember Ronseal) There is a cost – anywhere from 99 pence upwards. But always look for the hidden costs or how the costs may escalate after a 1-3 year introductory deal. Changing your domain later is not helpful; the impetus you gain will be lost if you have to start again with another domain later.

Templates

Are the templates free? There is no such thing as free, without strings. There are some site builders who claim to offer free templates such as Wix.com, weebly, Websitebuilders, etc.

The more intricate the template, the greater the number of images and banners at the head of the page, generally the slower it will load. Slow-loading sites are an irritation and once a reader has selected you, how frustrating is it that they cannot access you quickly? If you make it hard for them, quite simply, they’ll click elsewhere.  Ask your webbie for advice on which templates are ‘Responsive’ and quick to load.

Your website must be Fully Responsive. That is, it must be able to automatically format in desktop, notebook, tablet, and smartphone formats. If you opt for too complex a format, with pages too busy, when compressed to a smartphone, it may not be readable at all.  Typically, most people flit to a smartphone in the evening after using a desktop or laptop during the day. (By tracking email opening preferences, it is proven time and again, that after 6 pm there’s a swift transition to handheld devices).

Draw up an initial list of keywords

We’ll look at search later, but with website design, it’s never too early to think about Search. Search engines rely on keywords and key phrases to identify websites and direct traffic to them. So, before you begin to write any of your content, draw up a list of the words and phrases that are key to your business. Try to use them when you name your pages and in your copy. It will make the process of optimising your site easier when you get to it.

Next week, we’ll look at visual appeal and content. Call us for advice on your website.

Your Website – Got one? Does it work?

Whether you’re building from scratch or re-building, or just want to make sure you’re making the regular changes you need to keep your website fresh, this sequence of articles will help you to minimise your costs, use your time well, and avoid the mistakes millions of others have made.

If you do not have a website, ask yourself if you really need one. If you’re trading with a small cluster of local people, then don’t bother. If you’re looking to expand your network, or work with people you don’t know, or you have an e-commerce site where you sell to the world, then it’s clear that your prospects will want to know who, what and where you are, and how to buy.

A business website is the foundation of every online marketing programme. Not so long ago, websites were seen as optional for businesses. Now it is hard to find a business that doesn’t have one.  However, while the business world has been quick to see the potential of this new marketing channel, it has been slow to use it well.

Give most a simple project – like a website – and many will go off and create a monster; carried away but a false sense of freedom and creativity. Things have moved on from simple brochure sites, involving acres of dense text and a lot of scrolling down. The shift towards making sites easier to read and to give up on Flash-based sites that took too long to upload have been welcomed.

Why is it important to get your website right?

Well, consider it as your shopfront. Most people who aren’t buying impulsively, will instinctively check websites for endorsements and to check that you’re a ‘real company.

The ‘Recession’ and the ‘Everyday-is-a-sale’ culture means that we Brits are now far less trusting and much cleverer shoppers in the last five years. We’re game for a bargain, far more aware of ‘cowboys’ and things like E-bay bidding have made us better bargainers.

Many set out on the Web journey as if it’s their life’s work. But, considering these points will help you to decide on balance, flavour and how to give it a chance to succeed.

 

Ask yourself – what is the purpose of my website?

Define your objectives – too few websites are properly planned. Businesses decide they need a site because their competitors have one, because ‘everyone else has one’ or because they fear being left behind in a digital age. The result tends to be websites that fail both to give visitors what they want and to provide the business with the results it needs.

So, what’s your strategy?  The Why and the How?

How can I get readers to respond or call me? Is it to get people to call to ask for more information? Is it an e-commerce site where I want them to buy stock off the page?

Your site is there to convert the traffic your promotional traffic drives there. But what do we mean by converting them? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to pick up the phone and arrange an introductory meeting with you? Do you want them to sign up to an event or to download a pdf or a free e-book? If you begin with this kind of clarity, you will have a much greater chance of producing a website that achieves these goals.

However, you must avoid the trap of making your site all about your business. You want it to achieve those goals but you also want to make it about the readers and their goals, too. What do they need to find? What do they want from it? Put yourself in their shoes. This isn’t a platform to be flamboyant or to exude, it’s there to move them closer to you. Give them what they want and they’re more likely to give you what you want.