11 Things You Can Do Right Now to “Fix” a Business Website

“A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.” – Leo Burnett

The bigger the Internet gets, the more important it is to have a website that works. And I’m talking not only about sales websites but also about editorial-style websites. Here are the 11 best ways I know of to do it:

1. Define the site’s purpose in five words or less. Is this a sales site? Then the goal is: “Sell ______.” Is its purpose to build an e-zine’s mailing list? Then the goal is: “Get names for mailing list.” The purpose needs to be that simple. Pick the most important result, make it narrow, and stick to it. The more you try to accomplish, the less the site will accomplish in terms of quality results. You can always create other websites to serve other purposes.

2. Get a headline at the top of the first page. Forget big logos. Forget splash pages. Get words up top in type bigger than you think you need. And not just any words. You need a powerful emotional “hook.” A big problem identified. A shocking statement. A huge benefit.

3. Get a big benefit “above the fold.” If your headline at the top of the page is benefit-driven, you’ve done this. If your headline is fear-driven or something other than a clear benefit, apply the “no-scroll” rule: Make sure the reader sees the benefit before he starts scrolling down the page.

4. Get rid of “click here to continue” page breaks. For a fluid, more effective reading experience, you need one long scroll. The less clicking your readers do while soaking up your message, the better. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

5. If it’s a site for building a mailing list, get your signup box “above the fold.” If you’re after e-mail addresses, the sign-up box should be featured prominently in one of the corners. And it should reassure readers that there’s no risk to their privacy when they sign up (which had better be true).

6. Strip away pointless graphics and links. Don’t risk having readers miss what you have to say by obscuring it with unnecessary links and graphics. You don’t want images that aren’t relevant to your message, no matter how cool, cute, or stylish. Nor do you want to give links to other websites (at least, not on a promotional page) or anything that does not further the sale. Stay in control of the reader’s attention.

7. Eliminate technological “tricks.” Flashing banners, java-programming, flash-programming or frames are not only distractions, they take too long to load. Worse, they could crash your website or the user’s Web browser. Obliterate them.

8. Reread all your subheads. Skim through the document and read the subheads. Not all of them have to sell, sell, sell – but it’s a mistake for none of them to do so. You need subheads to keep hooking the interest of the page skimmer, which is what most people are when they read both online and printed direct mail. Subheads are there to pull the reader back in. Well-crafted subheads offer a path that the reader will want to follow.

9. Check and recheck your offer. When sales websites go wrong, the offer is often the reason they flop. Is it the best possible offer you can make? Is there an aspect of the sale that can be fulfilled online (to cut costs and motivate the buyer with instant-satisfaction urgency)? Can you offer a better guarantee? Is the guarantee featured close to the push for action? Have you reassured your readers that your reply page and their information are secure?

10. Read the copy out loud. This old technique still works. Print the page and read the copy out loud. You can even record it and listen to the playback. Do any phrases sound dull? Are there sections that are boring or long-winded? Or parts so good you realize they should land closer to the front? You’ll discover flaws and opportunities this way that you’ll completely miss otherwise.

11. Run a local usability test. Get at least three people who know little or nothing about the product you’re selling. Let them read the Web page without giving them instructions on how to navigate. Provide no warm-up about what to expect. If they all have similar complaints, fix the problem. If their best response is that they “like” it, you still have work to do. If they start asking questions about the product and how to get it, you’ve got a winner.

(Ed. Note: John Forde is a popular presenter at AWAI Bootcamps and seminars. He writes extensively for Web promotions, and is the author of AWAI’s new copywriting program, Secrets of Writing for the Internet.)