What your website says about your brand (and how to make sure it’s telling the right story)

Guest post by Seth Leonard who trains and mentors people who want to build dynamic, successful websites. 

Human beings spend their days sizing things up. Think of the last time you looked for a place to eat along a street lined with restaurants.Whether it was the well-positioned outdoor seating of a cafe or the use of neon by a deli, you probably formed almost immediate opinions about where you might want to eat based on these quick observations.

With all of the information surrounding us, we rely on these fast judgments in order to get through the day. Otherwise, we’d be drowning in a sea of data.

There is no vaster sea of data than the internet. So the snap decisions that people make about your website and what you have to offer come fast, and are most likely final.

Today we’re going to look at the key elements of your website that determine what people think of you and your brand, as well as how you can make sure these elements convey exactly what you want.

Let’s dig in. One of the first things someone looks for when they come to your website is…

A Deliberate Design
Just as you judge a book by its cover or a clothing store by what’s featured in the window, your website design is the first thing a visitor sees. It is, therefore, the first thing visitors use to assess your site.

A deliberate design indicates a brand that knows what it’s about.

And a deliberate design does not necessarily mean what some might call a “professional” design. Instead, visitors want to see a look that is in line with your brand and demonstrates that you made a choice in how to present yourself.

Take a look at http://zenhabits.net. I’ve never seen a more simple website design. Yet, for a blog that discusses minimalism, focus, and a lack of clutter, it’s a perfect representation of its brand.

Visitors want to know you made an effort, even if it’s an effort to simplify. They infer that if you put effort into your design, you put similar effort into creating something worth their time.

Tip: Find websites that you like and notice how their design reflects their brand. Whether it’s the straight lines and rounded edges of apple.com (that look exactly like their products) or the vibrant colors here at Red Slice, take note of the choices being made.

Make deliberate choices about your own design.

Evidence of Legitimacy
Have you ever been the first to arrive at a party and wonder if perhaps you should have done something else with your evening? Have you ever been the only one sitting in a restaurant and feared your food would explain why no one else was eating there? That’s because we look for others to validate and legitimize our choices. This helps us make sure we’re not alone in thinking something is a good idea.

Visitors look for evidence of legitimacy from your website, as well. Whether that’s the number of comments your blog posts are getting or glowing testimonials from past clients, they want to make sure they’re not alone. They don’t want to be the only person at the party.

A lonely website implies an unsuccessful brand.

Tip: Demonstrate evidence of your legitimacy. If you’re getting a good number of comments, make sure visitors can see that. If you have a lot of Twitter followers, make sure your “Follow Me” button includes that count.

If you’ve written guest blogs for others, include an “as seen on” section to your sidebar and display the logos of sites you’ve contributed to. If you have testimonials, get those up. If you don’t have testimonials, ask people you’ve worked with if they will write one for you.

Make sure your visitor knows that they’re not the only one at the party.

There are a lot of websites on the internet. Odds are, a number of people are doing something similar to you. And more than likely, someone coming to your site has seen someone else attempt the same thing you’re doing.

We get bored when we see the same thing over and over again. I’m sure there are differences between a Honda and a Toyota, but as soon as I see a commercial for a sedan driving along the coast, I either flip the channel or head to the kitchen for a snack. I’ve already seen what they’re going to tell me.

Visitors value uniqueness, something new. They want to know that they’ve found something different, something ground-breaking.

Uniqueness is the hallmark of a ground-breaking brand.

Tip: Exhibit something unique about yourself, your style, or your offering. On every page. Whether it’s an attention-grabbing tagline or framing your work in a way that no one else does, make sure you have something that stands out from the crowd. Imagine your visitor is going to tell their friends about your brand. What unique element of the work you do can they share after just ten seconds on your website?

Promise of Value
To overuse my party analogy: when attending one, people want to know that they’re going to gain something out of the evening’s festivities. If you walk into a friend’s house with lovely decorations and a great stereo, but are not convinced that you’re going to walk away having had some good conversation or good food, you’re going to looking for an exit.

Even if you design an attractive website with evidence of legitimacy, you need to exhibit the value you can provide. People appreciate what they might call a “good” website, but they stay for what they know is a valuable one.

A strong brand is synonymous with what it actually delivers.

Tip: This one is easy. Promote your value, not yourself.

Make sure the brand you develop speaks to the value you provide, not just how cool you are. Make it obvious what your visitors are going to walk away with.

Putting it All Together
Your unique brand will determine how to best put all of these pieces together. But it is critical that you think about all of them as you develop your website. Step into your visitor’s shoes and try to look at your website from their perspective. What do you see? What are your first

If you have a hard time doing this, ask others for help. Ask your friends what they see when they look at your website. (Editor caveat: Always wise to get an objective opinion, but take with a grain of salt if they are not your target market!)

And remember that not everyone comes to your website through the homepage. Make sure that the branding efforts you make are apparent on every page of your site. A visitor finding you through a single blog post should pick up on the same strengths of your brand as those that come in the front door.

I almost turned that into another party analogy, but I didn’t.

What do you want your website brand to be? What changes can you make to ensure that it’s obvious to your visitors? Let me know in the Comments.

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