3 legged stoolWe all know what happens if you take away a leg from a three-legged stool – it falls over!  But what has this got to do with your website?

Successful websites have three main ‘legs’ on which they stand.  They are:

  • The design and development – what makes the site look good and work efficiently so that the visitor’s perception and experience is positive.
  • The message – so that the visitor easily understands what’s on offer and how it benefits them without having to make too much of an effort.
  • Traffic – a website that has few visitors is an expensive tool.  The more visitors that have a real interest in the services or products on offer, the better.

Some people will argue that design and development are two separate issues – and they are – but they are both part of the construction of the site and closely integrated.  The design needs to reflect the business brand, whilst also making it easy for visitors to find their way around without unnecessary distraction, confusing layout or too creative use of graphics.  The developer is responsible for making the design work so that links go where they are meant to and the site works as the designer intended it to.

The challenge arises when the designer hasn’t sat in the shoes of the potential site visitor and makes assumptions about how they behave.  Actual testing with real users almost always reveals that their behaviour is rarely what the designer envisaged.

  • They expect things to be in certain places and often can’t find them if they’re not where they’re looking – even if they are actually on the page somewhere else.  
  • They’re easily distracted and quickly irritated by intrusive graphics that stop and start, or blinking boxes the keep drawing the eye from what they wanted to look at.
  • They are lazy and won’t work very hard to find things that aren’t immediately obvious and give up quite easily (men quicker than women usually!)

Then there’s the message.  The writer needs to thoroughly understand the potential customer; what they are interested in, what they want, what their problems are, what will make them feel good.  The content needs to reflect this – and in terms that are completely reader-focused.  So not ‘we do …’, but ‘you get …’ and the language needs to draw pictures in the mind of the reader of themselves experiencing what is on offer.  We all have that internal ‘video’ that runs the moment the word ‘you’ is mentioned!

The message does not need to explain exactly how the site owner does what they do – any more than most of us want a blow-by-blow account of what the mechanic is going to do to our car to get it back on the road.  We just want to know by when and how much.  The important issues to us is getting around, getting the kids to school, arriving at meetings on time, getting to the station in the morning – and that’s what a really smart garage will focus on.

Then there’s getting traffic – lots of visitors arriving at the website.  Not just any visitors, but visitors who have demonstrated an interest in what the site offers.  SEO uses lots of clever behind-the-scenes activities to tell the search engines what each page is about as well as working with the copywriter on well-written, specific and relevant content.

A good SEO expert is worth their weight in gold, but to a layperson identifying who is good and who isn’t is a difficult decision to make.  I’d advise asking to look at 3-4 sites that they have recently worked on and also asking to talk to the site-owners about the performance.  Try putting yourself in a potential client’s shoes and see if the site works for you as a visitor.

Of course, there are other means of bringing traffic to the site – and you can influence these yourself including:

  • Social media posts – with links
  • Regular blogs on your own site and on others – with links
  • Your web address in your email signature and on all your stationery and marketing material, paper and electronic
  • Make sure that all your social media profiles and forum signatures also have your web address and links where possible too.

None of this is difficult – but consistency is essential.

So – how strong are the legs on your stool?