Earlier this year, we decided it was time for a major overhaul to our Collegewise website. Since our last rebuild five years ago, we’ve gone from 4 offices to over 20, from fewer than 10 counselors to more than 30. But our site hasn’t grown well along with us. It’s not easy for visitors to find what they are looking for. And while we didn’t know what we wanted the new site to do well or how to measure success, we did know it was time to rebuild it from the ground up.
So, back in March, I re-read all of my favorite books and blog posts about website design, most by my favorite marketer, Seth Godin. I put together a PowerPoint deck with my (or really, Seth’s) 12 recommendations, the three most important of which were:
1. The goal of our site should be to please our one perfect audience. We’ll ignore everyone else.
It’s tempting for a business to build a website that will please everyone who might show up. For us, that could be parents, kids, counselors, potential employees, current customers, potential customers, etc. But a website that tries to please everybody ends up pleasing nobody. We needed to identify our one perfect audience and build the website for them. We decided that our perfect audience, the people that we had to please above everyone else, was a parent considering hiring a private counselor. Parents make those decisions within families. Those are our potential customers, and they’re the ones we want visiting us. We could still have sections of the site for other people (like our “Employment” section), but the overall structure, look, and feel of our website had to connect with our one perfect audience first.
2. Every page must have a point.
Why does this page exist?
What are we hoping the visitor will do after reading it?
How can this page convince them to take that action?
If we couldn’t answer these questions, we didn’t even bother building the page. These questions also forced us to be really disciplined. It’s tempting for a company to build web pages with what they think is important. But what’s important to us isn’t necessarily important to the visitor who shows up here. Building what you like doesn’t necessarily get the results that you want. So we used these questions as our guide, all while committing to building a site that looked and sounded authentically Collegewise.
3. Make it abundantly clear on each page what you want the visitor to do next.
Have you ever landed on a webpage only to be overwhelmed with too many options, links, buttons, etc., causing you to bail out and go someplace else? Attention is at a premium on the web. Most visitors won’t spend 30 minutes digging through every corner of your site to find what they want. In fact, most won’t spend 30 seconds on a single page unless they arrive resolutely determined to get something specific. For every page we built—from the homepage, to the counselor bios, to the storefront, we wanted it to be instantly clear what we hoped the visitor would do next.
Since March, Joel and I have been working with a website design company—me writing the copy and preaching relentlessly about the goals, Joel expertly managing the project, keeping both me and the designers on track. The new site will go live this month, and when it does, I’ll announce it here and share some screenshots that show how we tried to accomplish the goals above.
In the meantime, if you or your organization is looking to build or improve your website, here are my recommended sources for guidance and inspiration:
What works for websites today
Knock Knock: Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to building a website that works
How to make a website: a tactical guide for marketers
How to create a great website
The Big Red Fez: How to make any website better
Polarize me: If you want people to like you, first decide who needs to hate you