Your website can be your 24/7 sales force, but it’s a gentle sales force, helping your visitors make decisions. It’ll be most effective if it is directed toward the decisions your visitors are actually making.
This week, in a surprising coincidence, I’m working on three websites about energy. One, which I’m writing for WhatIf Creative, is a new website for a traditional heating and cooling company which has never had a website before. One, for Oyova Software, is for a custom electronics company which also installs solar panels; they have a website for their company, but it has a much narrower focus than their business currently has. The third, a Haden Interactive site, is for an alternative energy company which has had a homemade site for some years; they’re solar energy activists with 30 years of experience and special certifications.
The three sites are in different areas and not in competition for the same customers, but for the sake of discussion, we could pretend that they were in the same place. If so, then they would in fact be in competition for exactly the same customers — but at different points in their decision-making process.
Imagine that I’m the customer: it’s spring and I’m thinking about my electric bills from last year’s air conditioning season. I decide that a new AC might cut those bills enough to make it worth the cost of the new system, and I go online to look for that information.
Since I already have a traditional system, I might very well look first for a traditional heating and air company. When I find the traditional company, I’ll need information like this:
- Am I in their service area?
- Are they competent and trustworthy?
- Are they in my price range?
The traditional company’s website needs to show immediately where they are, their proofs of expertise and trustworthiness, and some hint about pricing. Contact information in the upper right hand corner, a mention of the region they serve in their first paragraph along with their years in business, and a clue like “Compare our prices!” or perhaps “When you want the very best” will give me what I need to know.
The traditional website doesn’t need information about what air conditioning is, technical details about the specifications for their systems, or persuasive copy about how nice it is to have air conditioning. People who need an air conditioner naturally go to sites like this, and an initial positive impression plus a phone number is the primary information their visitors need to make a decision. Something about energy efficient systems would be a plus for our example customer, but most people will be aware that modern systems are more energy efficient than old ones. In our geographic region, there is no need to make a/c sound enticing.
Perhaps, though, I’ve been thinking about alternative energy, and my concern about my electric bills has me wondering about solar energy. If I find the alternative energy website, I’ll probably be comparing it not with other solar energy sites — I’m not at that point yet — but with the traditional heating and air site I’ve just visited. If I’m a typical consumer, I need information like this:
- Will solar energy save me money?
- Will it work as well as what I have now?
- What kind of system would work best for my home?
Depending how much I already know — and I might not know much — I may also have uncertainties about how it will look, or whether it’s safe, or how long it will last. I’m probably not going to check where these guys are and call them up and set up a service appointment, as I might with the traditional company. I’m likely to have a lot of questions and concerns.
This website needs to have a clear message about the benefits of alternative energy, and it’ll save the company some time if the site also has the answers to most of the questions consumers usually ask them. It must also have contact information, service area information, and perhaps some hint about pricing, but that won’t be enough. The typical visitor to this website is at an earlier, less certain stage of decision making.
Let’s imagine, though, that I (the imaginary customer) have decided to add some photovoltaic modules (solar panels) to my roof instead of replacing that a/c system. Now I’m looking for a solar energy company. I find the third site, the custom electronics company’s website. This company makes ordinary houses into smart houses, with automatic temperature settings and remote control that lets me turn on my air conditioning as I board the plane home, and have my stereo playing relaxing music when I arrive home — they’ll install a retinal scanner for me, too. Obviously, my primary focus here would not be on saving on my electric bill or being more energy conscious. They’re selling a lifestyle, not meeting a basic need. As a prospective customer, I need information like this:
- Why should I upgrade to a smart house?
- Would the benefits of this change be worth the price?
- What other systems could I integrate into it at the same time?
Of course, the website still needs the basic contact information and service area, but it has to be more focused on selling the benefits of the luxurious service it offers, rather than providing general information for people needing a solution to a problem. The content for this site should be more enticing than informative.
Depending on your business and what you have to offer, your visitors may be looking for general information as they consider what you’re offering, looking for someone who does what you do, or trying to convince themselves that they should go ahead and spring for the goodies you offer. In fact, depending on your business, you might get people at all those points in the decision making process.
For the alternative energy company, we’ll make sure that there’s plenty of information at the website, we’ll make the gallery as alluring as possible, and we’ll also be sure to emphasize the company’s impressive qualifications, for those who come back to the site after deciding in favor of solar energy. Our design will shepherd people at the various stages to the right spots.
As you build or rebuild your website, think about where in the decision making process your visitors are likely to be: interested and needing to learn more, ready to buy, or wanting your stuff and working to give themselves permission. Tailor your site to the stage or stages in question.