If you want to get people to buy from you, you’ve got to be online. You understand that. Yet, you may believe all online properties are equal or that any one will do. For instance, you may believe that having a social media profile or page is enough, or being a member of an online group is sufficient. And while both of these — social media profiles and pages, and participation in specific online groups — can be helpful and part of a smart strategy, neither replaces the need for your own website.

You see, your website is a property owned and controlled by you. When you get your own site, such as a self-hosted WordPress website where you pay for hosting and your own domain name, then you get to have a level of autonomy you cannot have with your social media profiles and other presence on properties owned by others. Social media networks can — and do — change their rules all the time. This can mean your business takes a hit when you are suddenly operating outside of those rules. Besides the rule changes, social networks can just completely disappear! Imagine if you are relying on that site for your online presence and it’s suddenly no longer around? Not good. And of course, in addition to rule changes or disappearances, networks also switch how they operate. These changes are out of your hands, but can have a huge impact.

How Facebook fan pages operate is an example of what happens when you rely too much on a property you don’t control. Businesses a few years ago were getting more organic views on their Facebook posts than they are now. Facebook limits the number of people who see your Facebook fan page posts. even if these people have liked your page, indicating they want to see what you post. Because of these limitations, organic reach has dropped to about 6 percent, and possibly as low as 2 percent. So where once you were getting good traffic and having lots of people see your posts, you may not have very many people to see your Facebook fan page posts at all these days. And that’s because of Facebook’s algorithm change. If you were heavily relying on those Facebook fan page posts, then you’ve been stressed out and disappointed at seeing your reach get smaller and smaller.

This can happen at any time on a property you don’t control.

Which is why your website needs to be the foundation of your branding and marketing strategy, not a property you don’t control. In addition to the overall reason of control, there are other reasons why your website should be the foundation of your branding and marketing strategy.

Your Website Builds Your Credibility and Generates Sales

A visit to your website is often the first stop a prospect makes when considering doing business with you. If a simple online search doesn’t turn up your website, then how will the prospect learn about your business? Prospects expect to find businesses online. A prospect visits a website to learn about products or services, as well as to get an overall feel for the business or the people behind that business. Not having a website is a missed opportunity to connect with someone who is interested in doing business with you.

Another reason why your business needs a website is that your website is a cost-effective way to promote what you offer. You can make changes in real time, which means if you decide to offer a special promotion or launch a new product or program,  you can update the website to show that information. This is more convenient and often more cost-effective than relying only on printed material, such as direct mail, business cards, flyers, etc. If you notice a mistake on a website, you can correct it then. If you notice a mistake on a printed item like a business card or flyer, then that whole batch goes to waste. So convenience and cost are reasons to have a website as a foundation of your client-getting strategy.

Your website helps prospects see you as a serious contender. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist, as far as many potential customers or clients are concerned. They aren’t interested in doing business with a company that can’t even be bothered to put up a website. Many prospects view lack of a website as an indicator that the business isn’t credible or serious. Or worse, that it is a fly-by-night operation, ready to scam them.

You get to sell without being too “salesy.” Your website allows you to sell through creating educational, informative, and entertaining content. This allows you to reach your prospect in a comfortable way without having your visitor feel as if she is being sold to. She feels that she is being educated, inspired, informed, or entertained by your content. And because she grows to know, like, and trust your brand as a result of consuming your content, she is more likely to buy from you. Research shows that 70 percent of customers and clients have a preference for informative content over ads.

All these are reasons why your website is the foundation of your branding and marketing strategy. Your website helps you reach and connect with prospects in a space you control. And this website helps prospects in their decision-making process as they determine whether they will do business with you.

So now that you see why your website is vital, let’s look at what should be on it. It’s important to optimize your website by including the right elements because a poorly optimized website will not produce the sales results you desire. A website can be simple or even plain looking, and still generate sales. On the other end, you can have a beautiful website that mesmerizes all who visit but that misses out on key functionality and thus fails to generate sales.

You can achieve both — beauty and function. You don’t want an ugly site, clearly. But you don’t want to be so focused on beauty that you sacrifice functionality and sales goals. After all, the ultimate aim of your website is to help you create revenue. If it’s not doing that,then it’s not hitting the mark. To achieve a site that is both attractive and functional, be sure your website has these elements:

Visual Branding

Of course your website should be attractive. Choose a color scheme that appeals to your target audience and that supports the type of product or service you offer. Use your same color scheme throughout the site, so when visitors move from page to page, it feels as if they are at the same site, not that they have jumped from one site to another. Be sure to use the same fonts throughout the site, also. That doesn’t mean all your text must be in the same one font. You may have a headline font and a body copy font, for instance. What you don’t want is to change to different fonts from page to page, to give a disjointed user experience, to where there is no consistency as the visitor moves throughout the site. Also consider using a logo, as this can help to unify the site. Your visual branding can inspire trust or it can leave visitors confused and frustrated. Of course you know which category you want to fall into.

Your Message

Your website should proclaim your message. Who are you? What are you about? You get to craft that message on your website, and get to tell it in many different ways, including blog posts, videos, pictures, even the products and services you choose to offer. Don’t make the mistake of trying to mimic everything you see in your industry. If you try to only mimic what you see, your site can have a jumbled message and it may just look and feel like whatever else is out there, which is a recipe for blending in and not standing out. It’s OK to get inspiration from other sites and see how others have built their sites, but be clear about your own message and the value you bring. Convey this message, speaking to your specific audience.

Call to Action

Your website should include a clear call to action. When you want people to do something, whether that is schedule a free consultation or hire you to do what you do, it should be clear. Your website is the property where you get to inspire action. Many websites fail to include calls to action, and this is a missed opportunity. You can’t assume people know what they should do when they land on your site. “But they see I’m a photographer. They should know I take pictures.” You may think that, but you would be wrong. They may know you take pictures, but they may not know you want to be booked to take their pictures. Adding a clear call to action increases the likelihood a person will respond in exactly the way you want. So don’t take for granted your website visitors know what you want them to do. Tell them. Clearly.

Mailing List Signup

Your website should have a way for visitors to easily join your marketing funnel. Your marketing funnel is a series of steps a potential customer or client takes from first learning about your brand, to buying from you. In other words, the marketing funnel is what helps the website visitor move from being a one-off visitor to being a paying customer or client. Most visitors who land on your site will never return. So if you don’t have a way for them to join your mailing list and go through your marketing funnel, they’ll never have the potential to become a paying customer or client.

So be sure your mailing list signup is featured prominently. To make it more likely a visitor joins it, be sure to offer a valuable free gift in exchange for the visitor giving her email address. For instance, you may offer a free how-to video, course, or challenge to visitors. When they enter their email address, they get access to the free content.

Be sure when you are offering this free content, it is something of value! If it’s junk, nobody is going to join your mailing list to get it.

Services and Products

Your website should of course show off what you sell! Share product descriptions and other information to help your prospects see if this is the solution for them. If you are selling from your site, be sure to have prominently displayed buy buttons. Be sure visitors can easily get to sales pages or other pages on the site where they can purchase or learn about how to purchase. One excellent way to do this is to make sure your services or product page is listed in the navigation. There are many ways you label the page including “services,” “work with me,” “programs,” “shop,” etc.

Content

It’s not enough just to have product descriptions on your site. That would likely make for a pretty sparse site, and one that’s not especially interesting. What would be better for your long-term success online, would be to make a strategic decision to create and share valuable content. This can often be accomplished by blogging on your site. This content can be inspirational, educational, entertaining, informative, or some combination thereof. We consume valuable content in the buying process. So consider creating content — written blog posts, video (vlog posts), audio or podcast, etc. — for your site. Regularly posting content like this can also help increase your site’s likelihood of coming up in search when people look online for what you sell, as each new blog post adds another page of content to your site. Your  content may be one of the biggest drivers of success on your site, as visitors can share your content to social media, bookmark your content pages for future reference, or even subscribe to your blog or join your mailing list to have access to new content as it is published. Creating and sharing valuable content also is a way for you to position your expertise. As you create content that shows you understand your potential client or customer’s problem, and you answer questions she has, you become a trusted resource. This can help you move from being seen as simply a service provider, to being seen as the only service provider for this particular prospect. That is the power of content.

Standard Pages

There are certain standard pages a visitor to your website expects to see. No matter how creative you are or how much you want to be different, you want to yield to conventions and be sure to have these pages. These are Home, About, and Contact pages. And if you have a blog, then the Blog page included in that list of expected pages. These are often the most visited pages on a site, and that’s for a reason. The Home page, for instance, is often the visitor’ first introduction to you and your brand. The Home page shares your message, issues a call to action, and gives an overall look at what a visitor can expect from you and your business. The About page is a popular page for visitors because this is the page they go to when they want to learn more about the company or the people behind it. They may visit the About page to learn what exactly the company does, to see who it is the company serves, or to get a better sense of if this company may be a good fit for them. The Contact page is popular because when people want to quickly see how to get in touch, they look for the contact page. The Blog page is popular because it contains the valuable content the brand produces.

Being sure to include each of these pages in navigation helps to ensure your visitor can find what he or she is looking for.

These are a few of the essential elements to an attractive and functional website. Your website works for you 24/7. Be sure it’s working in the best possible way.

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Need to design or redesign your website? Email me monica@monicacartertagore.com and let me know what you’re looking for. I take on only a few website projects, but yours may be a great fit. Let’s talk.

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Monica Carter Tagore

Monica Carter Tagore is an author, speaker, and life and business coach.

She is the host of the Chase Your Star with Monica Carter Tagore podcast, an online show on life strategy, personal growth, and entrepreneurship, available on iTunes, Google Play, and Spreaker.

Monica is the author of several books, including her most recent, "Stronger: 31 Inspirational Messages to Get You Through That Tough Time."

She helps entrepreneurs and professionals gain the mindset and skills for success. She also helps them build brands.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two boys.
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