How to design a business website: A great book
As a web developer for the past 17 years, I have had a range of success in helping small business owners understand how a website can work like a machine to attract people who are searching for your offerings, and then guide them into becoming your customer.
Sometimes, business owners already grasp these concepts, or pick up on them quickly, so that it takes just a few suggestions to spark a solid strategy for their own websites. Other times, a client will insist upon some fixed notion which, although wrong, must be obeyed in order to complete the project.
While trying to offer the best possible guidance, I often wish there was some sort of short course — a “Website Strategy 101” — which could give those of you who are not web developers a solid grounding in concepts like keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), conversion funnels, and so on, so that we could better work toward our common goal.
Convert! Designing Web Sites to Increase Traffic and Conversion, by Ben Hunt, is as close to the perfect answer as I have ever seen.
Written in plain English, with no computer code and very minimal jargon, this book offers a clear outline of how a website should work. In “Part 1: Designing for Traffic,” Hunt starts with the typical small business website (Home Page, Products, About Us, Contact Us, etc.) and then introduces a much more powerful and effective strategy. His approach relies on developing a far richer assortment of content over time, targeting and attracting traffic tactically into an ever-improving funnel. You develop a website which casts a wide net, and then leads visitors — from wherever they happen to be in their quest — along the correct path to your product or service.
Visitor searches, of course, begin with keywords, and Hunt provides an outstanding summary of how to use a keyword tool to determine which words and phrases people actually use when searching for your goods. Then he shows you how to employ a spreadsheet and some very simple math in order to sort these keywords according to which ones offer the most bang for the buck. These would be your most relevant keywords with the highest popularity and yet the lowest competition.
From this list of optimal keywords, you can plan individual pages of your website, and the author also walks you through the process of incorporating these words into your page content and titling. There are also sections on improving your SEO via inbound links from other websites, and on basic advertising principles like stressing “benefits” rather than “features.” Ben Hunt has a keen mind for marketing and persuasion, and these fundamentals are the underpinning of the entire book.
Of course, visitors who search for your keywords and arrive at your website will vary in their familiarity with what you do, so Hunt builds a concept called “The Awareness Ladder,” a six-step track from “I don’t even realize I need anything” to “I am going to buy this now.” By anticipating these different levels and addressing each one, you can more effectively lead readers to the desired goal — a “conversion.”
“Part II: Designing for Conversion” zeroes in on exactly how to encourage visitors to take the next step, and the next step after that, toward the goal. On a mechanical level, this involves using web analytics to study how visitors moving though your website’s piping, allowing you to spot and repair leaks. From a psychological standpoint, it means understanding how to get your visitors’ attention, how to keep them engaged, and how to call them to action. Hunt offers a remarkably thorough introduction to these advertising basics in what turns out to be to some very quick and easy reading.
Throughout Convert!, there are clear, illustrative screen captures taken from Hunt’s own work designing websites, as well as spreadsheet examples of keyword research. He sprinkles in plenty of useful tips, pointers, and short bullet lists, and emphasizes important points in indented, italicized notes.
While the book is a couple of years old, none of it is out of date nor likely to become so anytime soon, because it deals with fundamental marketing principles rather than technological details.
Convert! Designing Web Sites to Increase Traffic and Conversion was a pleasure to read the first time, and a book I’m sure I’ll be returning to repeatedly. Whether you’re considering your first website, wondering how to improve your existing site, or a web designer yourself, I think you’ll find it packed with useful information.
You can follow Ben Hunt on Twitter at thebenhunt.