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So you're about to commission a website design ..

.. here's the error thousands make (and you don't have to)

Let's go back to sales 101, benefit selling and the non-stick frying pan.

Sell on benefits.

How do you know you've got a benefit? The "so what?" test.

You: "I've developed a non-stick frying pan"
Them: "So what?"
You: "So your fried eggs don't stick?"
Them: "So what?"
You: "So when you have your fried breakfast on Sunday morning, your eggs have the runny yolks you like so much and haven't broken"
Them: "Gotcha, I'll take one"

The problem with that as it relates to website design is .. it's a sales technique. It's dialogue, getting to know the customer one-on-one.

Some customers will want a non-stick frying pan because it makes washing up easier.

Some will want it because when they seal meat, it's easier to get all the crinkly, tasty bits into gravy.

So now we have three different messages we want to deliver to three different people who might all arrive on our website home page. How do we handle that?

Website home page design splits into two camps and both are right.

For some situations, a zen-like web design works best. I keep recommending Octopus Energy for this.

For other situations, a busy website design really works. It seems to get people excited like it's a rummage sale. Loads of interesting stuff. Magaziney.

Both work .. it depends.

OK, back to our buyers.

When people search online to find a solution, they type a short phrase into Google and when the results are too broad, they augment their search term to make it longer and more specific until they see some good options and then they start clicking.

Short search phrases are research phrases. Long search phrases are buying phrases.

In order to design* your website onto page one of Google's search results for the long search phrase of someone with their credit card in hand, we need to write about that search phrase. *I'm using 'design' there in the engineering sense. Website design is not just about how it looks, it's an engineering task, like product design.

Remember Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People from 1936? The main lesson (as I remember it) was, ask questions and get the other person to talk about themselves. Here we are using that same approach online.

So we need to create 'landing pages' that address very specific questions, put them possibly deep inside your website, and point traffic to them (PPC, SEO, blogs, links).

Then, your prospect does their search, finds your page addressing exactly their concerns, you make sense to them, you are useful, you've proven your skill and experience, they navigate upwards and buy. Even if you explain exactly how to do something (as I start to do below), most people will go "oh, well that seems like a faff and needs skill, I haven't the time, I'll let them do it".

Google sees that purchase. Google knows when it sends prospects to a web page and they come back unsatisfied. Google lowers those web pages in the search results. The web pages people don't come back from because they are satisfied, Google raises those.

Google's Page Rank passes 'goodness' between web pages through links. If you create 100 super relevant content pages to address the concerns of your buyers that both the buyers and Google love, those web pages will be blessed with more Page Rank, and when those pages point upwards towards your website home page, they pass Page Rank to the upper pages ultimately meaning your home page gets higher in search even in competitive markets.

That's why your website design should at least consider building a hierarchy of search-related content. Don't dismiss this as "I'll just write blogs", the hierarchy is important. (Blogs work fine but for different reasons.)

Remember, the winner is the company that understands its market best.

The goal, then, is to create a website design and a hierarchy of content that gets more and more specific as people click deeper down into the website, following their nose and discovering how much you know about what you do, but where each web page is a great landing page on its own merit.

Expensive? It's an investment that gets you free traffic forever, and you don't have to do it all at once, you can build it out over time through me with a monthly content marketing budget, and you can set that at pretty much whatever level you're comfortable with (it just determines the speed of progress, is all).

Complicated? Maybe, but I'll handle all that, I just need you to understand the strategy and why this is a crucial element of website design.

Plus, that complexity acts as a barrier to your online competitors. People like 'simple', but if you tackle this you'll win against an over-simplistic adversary.

So here's how I would develop a website design.

Step one is research.

An easy step is to use Google's Keyword Research Tool.

Another one (perhaps easier, but with less quantity data) is Answer The Public.

Try Google's search autocomplete, and run through letters of the alphabet, so website design a, website design b, etc.

Another resource is your own systems. Helplines. Sales conversations. Make an effort to collect the real questions people ask.

Send out a questionnaire to prospects and ask "if we were to create a (new product/service), what would be the two questions you would need to ask me before buying?"

Check social media, try Twitter's advanced search.

It's also really important to develop a customer avatar, that is, a profile of someone we are aiming to sell to. I need to know who they are, what they enjoy? Who do they respect and listen to? What are they trying to achieve? I would use my own software, The Twitter Growbot to help with that, but obviously all of this is in collaboration with you.

Finally, no website design is complete without Use Cases. This is a usability technique and it recognises that people are usually goal oriented when they use the web. A Use Case says This Person Wants To Achieve X, how would they do it? What is their path from having the need through to it being fulfilled on your website? (I check websites from this perspective using my own Open Power System).

Note that this is quite similar to the level of understanding that a graphic designer will need in order to create a meaningful design, but also note that this is all before we even start to talk about what the website design will look like.

In fact, we don't get to talk about that even now.

In step two, we need to agree some form of website structure, a sitemap.

In step three we can put together a prototype website design, which is a working website without any design elements or content.

It's only at this point that we can start talking about the graphic design (I work with Mandy at Sail for that) and supporting photography, video, graphics, copy and custom coding that would support that customer journey.

Throughout, we are considering customer journies and starting to flesh out what messages prospects need along those journeys to persuade them .. that could be adding sales psychology such as social confirmation (testimonials) or scarcity, or it could be understanding what level they are at with us .. are they repeat customers or cold visitors who don't know us at all?

Ideally, we want people to have a defined need and through search to find our page about how we solve that defined need. Considering (we assume) they've never heard of us, we would normally try to make some sort of low price offer or swap something for their email address but it's enough to 'pixel' them so that we can advertise to them later.

We would then upsell to try to move them along our sales funnel. So, they get on our mailing list, which is a machine for turning cold traffic into ardent fans. Or we can retarget them (place relevant ads in their social media).

It's in this follow up sequence, after they've interacted a little, that you have the opportunity to introduce yourself. Literally "hi, I noticed you stepped by, I just want to " .. set your expectations, let you know about my best selling stuff and send you to my social media accounts etc.

So you website is just one part of an automated sales machine.

It's an easy mistake to make to jump from wanting a new website design straight to wondering what that design should look like. After all, that's the dreamy, fun part.

But this website design process is rarely followed in my experience. Using it gives you a very real competitive edge.

If you want your website to be an asset to your business, follow this website design process. Take account of search. Develop appropriate content to support the customer journey.

Once you are over the hump with it, you'll likely get free traffic more or less forever.

Let me know when you next need a website designed and built.

PS. if you think you can cope with even more writing from me, you could check out my page on customer focussed websites.