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by Andy Killworth on 19th November 2012
SPOILER ALERT – Bruce Willis is a ghost. Actually, I knew some people that when Sixth Sense came out on video, went into Blockbuster and put stickers on the back of every copy, a move that was simultaneously comedy genius yet cruel. But I digress, as usual.
Let me try again.
SPOILER ALERT – This post contains humiliating photos of various ‘haircuts’ I’ve had. You are allowed to laugh, to point, to mock, to tweet using vaguely amusing hashtags. But not too much though!
On to more serious issues then – let’s talk websites (seems fair as this is, after all a digital marketing blog). Let’s say your company has a website. Let’s say said website was designed a few years ago. You put your site into the hands of a designer, you signed it off and it went live. Great.
Fast forward (Delorean-styley, of course) a few years. Your rankings have tanked, traffic isn’t great and it’s just not converting. What do you do? Do you bravely soldier on and hope it will magically improve, or do you bite the bullet and invest in a redesign?
If you’re on the ball, you’ll have realised that I’m going to be using an analogy of my haircuts (notice I don’t use the word ‘style’) with your website. Yes, I know. But stick with me here. If nothing else you get to see silly photos of me. Oh, and one will be of a beard, not a haircut. It’s my blog entry, I make the rules.
So let’s get started as we take a rewind into the Grumpy SEO’s back catalogue of follicle follies:
Quite rightly the centre of much ridicule at school, the basin is a wonderfully simple, low maintenance haircut that just shouts “my Mum cuts my hair in the kitchen as she’s too tight to take me to a hairdresser.” I know this only too well, having been (somewhat justifiably, with hindsight) humiliated during my formative years for having such a hair ‘style’; here is me sporting the basin:
The ‘basin’ is harsh and demeaning – you have no choice about it and you walk around feeling like a fool (and cursing your parents). It’s the lowest common denominator of hairstyles. It’s about as inspiring as a losing lottery ticket.
The basin website, therefore, is one of two things –
1) where you work for a company with a shocking website that you know sucks but your boss refuses to change, or
2) where you run a shocking website but you don’t want to offend your designer/developer by pointing it out. Either way, you cringe any time you visit the site or when checking your traffic in Analytics. You feel trapped, you feel humiliated.
A basin website is also basic, standard and cheap. It probably seemed like a bargain when you got it done; it may have impressed you when you were less digital-savvy. You might even have knocked it together yourself.
The basin is wrong, it’s doing you no favours and people are laughing at you. It has to go and it has to go now. Sorry Mum, your scissors are no longer welcome.
‘The Side Parting’
Post-basin days, I moved on to something only slightly less vile – the side parting (its latter life featuring excessive amounts of Insignia hair gel). For anyone under the age of 30 that’s reading this, you may not have seen this abomination whilst at school. Let me tell you though, ‘back in my day’ it was omnipresent. This was another bright idea of my parents – whilst it was only somewhat less shameful than the awful ‘basin’ style, it did at least mean I got to enjoy the services of a hairdresser.
Here is me looking like a complete chump:
The side parting website, like its haircut namesake, is simply so old-school it’s just wrong. It looks naff now, it probably felt naff even at the time and it needs a complete overhaul, pronto.
Symptoms of a side-parting website include : tiled backgrounds, use of the Comic Sans font, frames, visible HTML tables, site structure built in HTML tables, ‘under construction’ images, typos and popups.
The side-parting site may well have been ‘designed’ by a friend (and that friend probably still thinks Meta keywords usage is awesome SEO).
Side-parting sites are belittling your brand, making you look foolish, and the longer you have them, the harder it’s going to be to grow that parting out. You can either (yes, another hair metaphor) shave it off, or go to a decent stylist to completely re-do it.
‘The Indie Fringe’
I’m showing my age here but aside from chart music (Tiffany et al), many of my earliest experiences in listening to new stuff came in the early 1990s with the indie and ‘shoegaze’ era. Hell, the first band I ever saw were the Cranberries at Oxford Jericho Tavern, supporting Moose. Back when they had long hair and were shy to the point of not being there (“we’re the Cranberries from Limerick in Ireland” whispered Dolores, as the entire band literally stared at their shoes/pedals before playing what can only be described as – at best – a mediocre set).
Long hair and fringes were all the rage. No, really, they were. Look, I was there, OK? They instantly made you appear coy and shy with just a cheeky hint of mystery.
“Where’s the analogy, Killworth?”. Bear with me, readers.
OK – the ‘indie fringe website’ basically lacks any calls to action. It isn’t confident. It hides behind information and reads more like a Wiki page rather than someone keen to sell their product or service.
“Oh I’m so shy,” it says. “You want MY product? Little old me? Well there is..like..a phone number in small font in the contact us page if you want it. But don’t worry, you don’t need to click.”
If you want to convert visitors into customers, you need to make it clear – very clear – what you want them do to and how they need to do it. This means taking a step back and thinking about how a visitor would behave if it was their first time on your site.
You need to be confident, bold, and have a clear way of getting that customer in contact with you/buying a product with you. Putting something like “If you have any questions about our services contact us here” doesn’t cut the mustard.
Have a nice, bold, clear call to action button so if people are interested, they’ll click it there and then. You have to dumb things down – not because your visitors ARE dumb, but because web users are impatient and it’s oh-so easy to click away and go to another site. And if they do that they’re probably not coming back. Ever.
Call to action methods can and should be tweaked over time – split testing can give you some concrete figures about what works and what doesn’t Even minor things like shifting the position of the CTA button, or the colour of it, can impact this.
Move away from just thinking about increasing traffic and think about improving conversion rate; this maximises the investment you’ve made by putting money into SEO and/or PPC. Traffic is great but conversions pay.
Be proud of your company, product and service; make it obvious you WANT people in contact with you and make it as clear as possible how to do so.
By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to the indie fringe thing, it turned into longer ‘curtains’ which in turn had a ‘trendy’ and ‘rebellious’ shaved-undercut installed, before employing the then-popular ‘uber-tight and slightly pushed up at the back’ ponytail. I can’t locate a photo – what a shame.
Picture the scene, if you will. It’s 1994. Summer. The Levellers and the ‘crusty’ scene is all the rage. Sort of. Castle Morton, Spiral Tribe and ‘new age travellers’ on the news. I’m listening to Back To The Planet, New Model Army, and Radical Dance Faction. I am so rebellious. In a sort of middle-class way. I have long hair – awesome long hair. How could I possibly improve it?
I know – I’ll go to London (Kensington Market, since you’re asking) and pay someone an exorbitant amount of money to backcomb and beeswax said hair into crudely fashioned ‘dreads’. And then spend the ensuing months desperately trying to keep them formed. And failing.
Let’s face it though, my dreads stank – both visually and literally. They had bits of beeswax in them, strands of hair sticking out as if they were trying desperately to escape the gluey mess.
I’m stretching a bit here and using a large chunk of poetic licence, but I’m linking the ‘anti-social’ nature of my dreads, to the use (or non-use) of social media in today’s business websites. (It’s my blog post and I’ll stretch if I want to).
Look – if you’re not using social, you’re missing out on a trick. And most of the time it’s a trick your competitors are all over. I don’t think that social can be seen as an optional part of your online marketing campaign any more. It should be a natural extension of your website and one you should take seriously.
Which channels you utilise depends to an extent on your industry. The core three though should normally be Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. If you have a product or service that’s very ‘visual’ though, you should be all over Pinterest too (check out Lindt’s chocloate Pinterest page for a great example).
Got videos, or could you have videos? Get yourself on YouTube, stat. Again, this is about reaching out to engage with potential customers; getting your brand out there and generating those all-important links.
What used to be niche is now mainstream; people now expect brands and companies they like to be on platforms like Facebook. Social should be a core part of your marketing campaign.
Additionally, you also need to move away from the ‘woe is me’ mentality of seeing social as a chore. Social gives you ways of engaging and communicating with your customers. Run well, a social campaign can create brand advocates who will share/like and rave about your products to your friends. Aside from time, social doesn’t cost you anything, thus the long-term potential ROI is not to be sniffed at.
What’s also great about social is that you don’t have to be overly formal or corporate. Have some fun and get away from thinking that posts/updates just have to be the same old ones about your products or services. You can (unless your industry means it’s not appropriate) post things like funny stories, competitions, relevant news stories, have profiles/interviews of your staff members, ‘top ten’ lists.
These are just a few ideas – the bottom line is, get creative and be bold. Most of all, keep it regular; nothing is more depressing in Social than a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in years.
If you’re stuck for inspiration, or think “social’s a waste of time”, take some time out to look what your competitors are doing. Check out how many followers/’likes’ they have, then tell me it’s still a waste of time.
By the way, once the dreadlocks were clippered off, I went on to use them in an ‘A’ level sculpture of a half-organic, half-bionic man. As you do.
The ‘Bright Hair Dye’
I was such a crazy, anarchic rebel in my late teens. Not only did I have dreads, ladies and gentlemen, but I took this craziness to new levels by (badly) spraying them red. This came out more of a pink but hey. I was crazy, dammit! To hell with social norms (I also had not one, not two, not three, but four nose piercings. Told you I was a rebel.)
The ‘bright hair dye’ website uses the ‘distraction method’ of including eye candy (think animations, overly bright colours, too much Flash, scrolling thingies) to try and cover up the fact the site has no real substance.
It’s bells and whistles, but misses the point; it doesn’t strive to deliver what the visitor wants, and panders more to the web developer’s ego and perhaps that of the client, along with their naivety.
If your site employs on-site ‘pretty things’ that don’t serve a purpose, or most likely, detract from the user experience, ditch them. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with a simple website with no animations, nothing at all. It’s your business and your profits on the line – remember that the website needs to look and ‘feel’ good for your customers, not you.
So with your website, take a good, hard, long look at it. Ask someone who hasn’t seen it before to look at it. Ask for honest feedback (and not from your Mum, as she’ll undoubtedly say “ooh that’s nice dear” before making sure you’ve wrapped up warm). Then be prepared to take action (not against your Mum). If your website has too much ‘hair dye’, wash it out!
My bright hair dye days were short-lived; some time afterwards I realised that not only were my dreads pathetic, but they stank, whilst the hair colour had deteriorated into a weak orange, like an anaemic satsuma, . After a fruitless attempt (which was frankly a triumph of ambition over common sense), I attempted to comb them out. Strangely, this proved futile and the poor things were goners.
My extensive, arduous and prolonged research for this blog post reveals (according to Wikipedia) that ‘…since the 1990s goatees are popular to this day’. Really? Where? Not on my watch, son. Not in the SEO world, oh no.
If you’re reading this going “a goatee isn’t a haircut and thus you’re spoiling the novelty/concept of an otherwise genuinely awesome blogpost” you’re absolutely right, but stick with me. Or you can write your own, as I hold no copyright on the concept.
In the late 1990s, however, goatees were all the rage. And yes, I had one, check out the non-awesomeness of mine:
Yes, mine was lame beyond all doubt; it looked like someone had stuck a bunch of spider’s legs to my chin and upper lip, there was a weird bald bit in it, and there was even a hint of ginger in it. But I stubbornly stuck to this bad-boy during the heady days of 1999-2000 before realising that, well, it sucked.
So what is a ‘goatee website’? Well, this is a website which has picked up on a short-term trend and stuck with it, demonstrating entirely inappropriate stubbornness; think splash-screens, hit counters, pixelated fonts, and so on.
A goatee website desperately wants to be trendy, edgy and to look like other sites. It puts a ‘feature’ on there that the owner has seen elsewhere. It wants to follow, not innovate. My grandmother once said that a beard ‘is for men who want to cover a weak chin’. The goatee website is covering a metaphorical weak chin; perhaps poor content or usability.
The goatee website, simply, needs to shave and accept that ‘grunge’ is no longer fashionable. Ditch the gimmicks go back to basics and put the visitor first.
‘The Shaved Head’
Nowadays I’ve done away with hair entirely; “hair today, gone tomorrow”. Ha. The truth is, once the dreads had gone, things were never the same for my head. Then, after several years of clippering it, I finally manned up and took a Mach 3 to it and I’ve never looked back. The genius of this decision though, is that it will lessen the blow of actual baldness once I hit, say, 40.
The ‘shaved head website’ is simple, low maintenance, classic and feels nice to the touch.
A good, modern website isn’t about the ego of the designer or website owner; it’s designed with the customer in mind. It’s simple, it’s intuitive and it’s congruent with the brand. It’s regularly updated (shaved) and tweaked (moisturised). It ties in with social. It isn’t garish, it’s usable and accessible.
Like a shaved head, a well designed, well structured website is smooth, looks great and just needs occasional attention to keep it awesome. Like me (cough):
The shaved head site is what you want to aim for; your site doesn’t need spray colours, it doesn’t need messy dreads, and it certainly doesn’t want a side parting. It has a cheeky shine to it in certain lights.
Hair aside, my point is this: reviewing and updating your website should be seen as an on-going job. Going for a re-design or site overhaul is a natural part of the e-marketing process. A website is never ‘finished’, in the same way an SEO campaign isn’t.
And in the same way that hair needs trimming or restyling, so does your website. Stay stubborn or too proud and you risk stagnating and losing business.
Use your experience, your staff, outside professionals, and any other resource you can. Remember that what was a winning strategy or design five years ago undoubtedly isn’t today; let go of your pride and move with the times – your customers and bosses will thank you for it!
Let me end on a light note, however, by providing you with a genius hair-related joke, which is simply “a lorry load of wigs has been reported stolen. Police are combing the area.”
Now it’s over to you, the loyal reader – feel free to either regale us with haircuts you used to have (photos welcome), phases of websites that sucked.. bring it on! Hair puns and analogies are not mandatory.