“I know I have to dumb down my website,” a business owner told us yesterday. He had built his own website, and it contained some good information. We had some suggestions for ways to make the site communicate better with search engines and perhaps also with prospective customers.
Dumbing down wasn’t actually what we had in mind. However, I could see where he was coming from. The highly technical language on his homepage was not, we felt, what people would type into the search box at Google or Bing. We also though that his site visitors might not actually be staying to read all the good stuff he had on his website.
Does that mean it has to be dumbed down? I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. Clear, strategic, and responsive to the needs of your visitors doesn’t equal dumb.
Here’s another way to look at it:
- You need to communicate with robots. Before you even get a chance to share your knowledge with human visitors, you have to make it clear enough to search engines that they’ll offer the site to people. If you’re offering geothermal heat pumps, “high efficiency home comfort systems” isn’t really a smarter way to put it — but it’s harder for search engines to figure out.
- You need to answer “Am I in the right place?” before you answer anything else. Visitors who reach your website via search will spend a few seconds (5-12, typically) deciding whether they’re in the right place before they settle in to read what you have to say. That means that you have to show what you offer immediately. Your homepage is greeting visitors, offering them a seat, maybe giving them a cup of coffee — not dumb, but different from meeting them at the door with a disquisition.
- You need to provide plenty of the information your visitors want. Give your visitors what they want: your knowledge and expertise, whether it’s knowledge about the new shoe styles or about the relative safety of competing hip replacement devices, but make sure they can find their way to the things they want to know. Your navigation and site search tools should lead people to their destination quickly without requiring them to read through lots of varied information to find the answer to their question.
Organize and present your information to your visitors in ways that will be useful to them. Make sure, too, that your website does its job for your company as well by offering your goods and services to visitors along with that useful information.