Sometimes people who think they need to buy search engine optimisation or internet marketing really need to buy common sense and a neutral eye.
I’ve been thinking recently about how a lot of business people don’t seem to be able to look at their websites (and maybe their businesses) from the point of view of a visitor or potential customer.
As is often the case I’ve had a batch of remarkably similar calls, this time from businesses who all work in similar fields, such as IT consultancy, business training, etc. but who all have a complete lack of identity or message in their websites. They want to be found in search engines. Their problem is not just in getting noticed by search engines but in getting read and understood by users if they do arrive on the site. The fundamental cause of their problem is they are not getting the message home about What It Is That They Do.
Their sites are usually full of business-speak – they talk about “complete quality solutions”, and “business focused learning” but don’t tell you what they are there to solve or teach you about! They are so lacking in real information that you sometimes wonder if they take their site text straight out of a generic marketing book which doesn’t actually mention the product.
Talking to potential clients the first question I ask is frequently “what keyword phrases do you want to be found for?” With these companies they often don’t know! If I can’t suggest keywords from looking around the site then I try to tease out of them what the business is about. In the worst cases they still don’t know!
But the important thing here is that the site has already failed! I’ve been designing and studying sites for 12 years – if I can’t work out what a site and a company is about in a few minutes of study what chance have they of capturing the attention of a user comparing a number of sites looking for information to justify spending money and probably making up their mind in a few seconds? (Studies have shown that users generally decide whether a site is any use after about 10-15 seconds.)
An ex-colleague was once working on a site about change management and had to re-write the content to focus the pages more efficiently. He asked the client to describe what it was the company actually did since it wasn’t clear from the existing site. He was sent some freshly written text to explain it but having read it he was no further forward and the situation wasn’t improved after three phone calls. The client may well have been excellent at what he did but since he couldn’t describe it to someone who really wanted to understand it his chances of selling himself were pretty low.
If you have a site that doesn’t seem to be working for you then try to look at it from the point of view of a user who knows nothing about your business. What impression does it give you? What phrases stand out? Can you immediately tell what the company does, what its specialities are, what it can do for you? If not then the design is already flawed and needs a rethink. Read the main text further; does it give a clearly stated idea of the main elements of the business or is it full of generic marketing language with no real meaning. If it’s the latter then you’ve missed the chance to tell people what you do and why you’re different enough to be worth giving the contract to. Worse still, if it’s not getting across the message to the user then the search engines won’t see it either because there are obviously no keywords in there. Result – very few visitors, very few conversions.
If you really are in a business like change management then you have to realise that if you want to be found in search engines you’re going to have to find some more specific search terms to go for – those two words are so generic that there are 53 million competing pages in the UK alone on Google. Fortunately most businesses have much more specific subject areas and talents – make sure the management committee or the marketing department don’t hide the specifics under loads of compromises and/or worthless jargon on your site.