• July 2015

What Would a Website for the American Revolution Have Looked Like?

From “PR Rules: The Playbook — The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Supersizing Your Small Business”

By Hope Katz Gibbs,
With Kathleen McCarthy
PR Rules: The Playbook

You know you need a website, and that it has to be virtually perfect. How do you knock it out of the park? That’s the million-dollar question.

For insight into how to create websites that impress customers, colleagues, and reporters, here’s a peek at “The 8 Steps to PR Success,” — Part 2 of our book, PR Rules: The Playbook.

Scroll down for details, and click here to see more examples of our Inkandescent Websites.

Website Rules

What it is:

  • Your website is your little black dress. Your Brooks Brothers suit. Or, depending on your business, your best T-shirt and jeans. You want it to look as fantastic as you do. But this is why it’s also often a painful process to create it. You are looking at your business, and yourself, in the mirror. You know it will be viewed, potentially, by the world. And that can make you feel vulnerable. Don’t let it. Let this process be exciting — just like dressing up for a big event.
  • At a glance, your website has to let customers know who you are, what you do, and how to contact you. When you’re creating it, the phrase to keep in mind is: “What’s in it for the reader?”
  • Your website gives you an important opportunity to tell your story in-depth. Your website is the spot where you flesh out your answers in clever, useful, educational ways to: “Who are you?” “What do you do?” and, “Why do you do it?” The goal is to make customers and reporters want to do business with you.

What it’s not:

  • Your website is not the hamper into which you toss everything your company has ever done.
  • It’s not the place to showcase your favorite songs. Tempting as it is, please don’t put music on your site. Not everyone shares the same taste in tunes, and you don’t want your visitors to tune out!
  • It’s not the place to cut loose in your use of Flash. Be restrained! Embedded videos are great because they let readers learn more about you — if and when they are ready. But no one wants to watch a flick about a firm more than once. If potential customers are taking the time to visit your site, they want to access the information immediately. Don’t make them wait.

Why it’s important:

  • Did you wear your high school prom dress or powder-blue tux to this year’s big office party? We hope not. Like that formal attire from yesteryear, websites have to keep up with the times. Clearly, these online portals have evolved to such a degree in the last decade that if your site is so static that it functions only as an online brochure, you are missing an opportunity. Just as you make sure that your business stays current with the trends in your industry — make sure your website does the same.
  • How much time do you spend visiting a website that is ugly, poorly written, or filled with broken links? Exactly. Us, too. According to User Experience Stack Exchange, you can expect someone to stick around for 10 to 30 seconds — less if the site is particularly bad. In fact, most website visits last only a fraction longer than a politician has to bring forward an opinion before voters check out.
  • Do you have a tough time breaking up with a bad boyfriend or girlfriend? That’s a topic for another book. But please don’t carry that behavior into your website — or your business. We know too many entrepreneurs who refuse to break up with their dysfunctional websites. They know the websites aren’t good representations of their company — but they don’t know how to fix them, whom to turn to for design, or which program to use to make managing the site easy and efficient. That’s a bad excuse for staying in a bad relationship with your online presence.

PLAY WITH IT! Here’s how:

Inkandescent Rule of Thumb: Having a stunning website that is easy to navigate is not a luxury — it is a necessity.

But it’s easy to get too close to your website to be objective about it. To ensure customers understand your business in the way that you want them to:

  • Ask someone (or more than one someone) who doesn’t know your business to give you feedback. If they aren’t immediately engaged and asking you a million questions about what you do and why you do it — it’s time to rethink what you’ve got posted online.
  • Think logically through the structure of your site. Building a website is like building a house. No matter how many options, there are only so many essentials — you have to have a kitchen, a bathroom, living space, and somewhere to sleep. See “The Nitty Gritty” section below for suggestions on how to structure your company’s website.
  • Understand that people learn in different ways. Create your website so that it reaches people no matter what way they like to take in new information. We use psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences to guide our sites, and we know from research that most people are “picture smart.” That is, two thirds of people learn from pictures. Be sure your site has plenty of excellent images — and incorporate as many of the “intelligences” into your site. [For more information about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, see, Smart Stuff: How is your child intelligent?” in the January 2010 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.]

The Nitty Gritty

Most websites only require about 10 pages and include two sets of navigation.

The top navigation offers information that is static and tends not to change often:

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Contact Us / Directions (to your firm)
  • In the News
  • Testimonials

The sidebar navigation allows you to get creative:

  • This is a good place to show off your products, services, and details of your business that set you apart from your competition.
  • If you offer several products or services, this is a great place to outline them for your customers.
  • If you have diverse customers (some who buy products, some who want information), this is an opportunity to provide specific content for each audience.
  • The sidebar navigation also gives you the opportunity to showcase a page of your videos, highlight secondary offerings, and demonstrate to the world why you are unique in your market.

Other navigation options are also effective.

Check out the snapshots of the websites featured in this article. And here’s an example of how our art director and illustrator Michael Gibbs showcases his portfolio of work at www.mglenwood.com

  • Grab your markers:
  • Ask yourself: “What do I want people to know about my company?” Make a list of your answers.
  • Now get creative and find interesting ways to describe your products and services, and the details of your business that set you apart from your competition.
  • Remember: Content is king when it comes to Search Engine Optimization — making your website show up high on the list of “hits” when someone searches for terms relevant to you or your company. So be sure that you have created a place on the homepage of your site where you can regularly update the content.
  • Make another list of all the articles you’d like to write, or have written, that should be posted on your site. Think big! Then prioritize the list so you can see what you can realistically tackle, especially if you have several articles to write before you take the site live. Three articles should suffice.
  • Give yourself homework. You are the expert, so be sure to share your wisdom. Try to write one article each month to add to your site.
  • Be realistic about what you have time to do. The articles on your site don’t have to be long. Sometimes short-and-sweet lists that provide valuable action items to your customers provide more value than a 500-word article.

Make sure the look of your site matches what you do.

  • No nature scenes for financial planners. No stock photos of people going to conferences for brain researchers. Mine down into the essence of what you do, and choose the proper images to reflect that.
  • The sky is the limit when it comes to design approach, so you’re not limited to top and sidebar navigation bars — that’s just one option. We’ve developed sites with slideshows in the main section, which is especially great for restaurants as a way to tempt customers with great photos of your mouth-watering menu items.
  • Slideshows are also a great feature in some banners. For ITShowsInc.com, a client that works in developing countries, we chose to highlight a series of 15 images that show off the population their services support. It was a dynamic way to get the message across about what they do, because in this case, especially, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Click here for examples of great websites: www.InkandescentWebsites.com

For More Information

  • Order “PR Rules: The Playbook” from amazon.com
  • The book is 176 pages and available for $24.95. Bulk orders of 25 books or more receive a 10 percent discount. For more information, email Hope Katz Gibbs at hope@inkandescentpr.com.
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