Microstock: the designer’s dirty little secret

I’m constantly going on about stock photos and why they should be avoided as much as possible. Fair Trade Photographer has written a great post which illustrates the point perfectly. From it:

Companies need to think more carefully about the images they use. I suspect many businesses are unaware that the photos their designer has sold them are spread a-dime-a-dozen across the web. There is a good reason that microstock’s original catchphrase was “the designer’s dirty little secret”.

Well worth a read.

Your Product Photography Must Accurately Reflect Your Products

I’ve blogged before about how important it is to use professional photographs on your website. In fact I can’t emphasise enough how strongly I feel about this. That said the photographs must accurately reflect what you are selling. If your products are crappy then perhaps you should do something about them instead of just putting gorgeous photos online.

Unfortunately I’m talking about this from experience. I recently bought something for my son online. The product photographs looked great so I ordered with confidence only to be bitterly disappointed when the package arrived. They had obviously used a professional photographer, which was great, but the product was nothing like the photographs.

Having your products or service photographed professionally is the best way to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward but whatever you do take a step back and make sure what you’re selling is as good as what we’re seeing.

Website Health Check 101

We’ve had a lot of enquires lately from website owners who are receiving plenty of traffic to their websites, but little in the way of sales or leads. There’s been so many I felt it would be a good topic for this month’s article.

The goal of any business website is to convert traffic or visitors into some sort of action whether that be to generate sales, leads, subscriptions, advertising, newsletter sign-ups, and so forth. The general wisdom is that the more traffic you receive, the more conversions you should achieve. That’s not always the case and here are just some of the reasons why this could be happening.

Does Your Website Convey Trust?

Offline we judge a business by it’s outward appearance – whether that be the location, storefront or premises or the appearance of it’s employees. These factors help us determine whether we feel we can trust that business enough to hand our cash over to them. Online one of the first ways we judge a business is by the look or design of their website. We look for “pointers” such as:

  • A professional looking logo;
  • A clean, well designed website;
  • Navigation that makes it easy for us to move around the site; and
  • Consistent brand identity throughout the site.

You can often get too close to a design or may be unintentionally focusing on a design that you like rather than one that suits your customers. For this reason it’s a good idea to take a step back and get some independent feedback on the design of your site. Focus on trust and credibility asking if the user would do business with you based on the site design.

Is There a Face To Your Business?

Again your website is the face of your business online and the more prospects feel they know you, the more comfortable they will be doing business with you. With this in mind it is important you tell your prospects about your business and the people behind it. I always recommend incorporating an About Us page that provides information about your business including history, strengths, testimonials and information on the key people behind the business.

It’s also important to provide contact details – at a minimum email, phone and postal information. If you are a shop front, I also highly recommend providing maps of your locations, opening hours and any other relevant information.

Are You Using An Appropriate Domain Name and Email Address?

If you are an Australian business targeting the Australian market, the best possible domain name to use is one ending in com.au. This signifies you are an Australian commercial entity. If you are targeting an international audience you may want to consider a .com domain – although bear in mind .com is generally used by US companies as well as international ones.

Your email address should use your domain name. For example if your domain name is mycompany.com.au your email address should be myname@mycompany.com.au. I see far too many businesses using an Internet Service Provider (ISP) email address such as mycompany@bigpond.com. There are many reasons why this is not recommended but the main are (a) you are promoting your ISP and not you, and (b) the email address is not transportable — if you change ISP’s you will have to change your email address, something you don’t have to do if you use your own domain name.

Domain names are inexpensive these days so it really pays to choose one that accurately represents your business.

Are Your Products and Services Professionally Photographed?

I see far too many websites that use poor photography to showcase their wares. Your products and services are what your business is all about so they should be enticing your prospects to do business with you. They should look professional, be the right resolution and display colours accurately. In a store you can pick products up for a closer look, so if you are selling products online make sure your prospects can enlarge the photo for a closer look and even view the product in different colours if applicable.

If you are unable to take professional looking photographs yourself it’s highly advisable to invest in a professional photographer who will ensure your products and services are showcased at their best.

Are You Asking For The Sale?

Online you need to guide people through your site encouraging them to take a desired action. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use Call To Actions (CTA’s). Call To Actions are words and/or graphics telling your visitors what to do next. Examples of these include:

  • Order Now
  • Buy Now
  • Add To Cart
  • Checkout
  • Contact Us
  • Subscribe

As well as providing relevant information about your offerings make sure you guide your visitors to take the desired action by implementing strong, enticing CTA’s.

Do You Provide Clear Shipping and Returns Policies?

If you are running an e-commerce website it’s vital that you make your prospects feel as comfortable as possible when giving you their credit card details. For this reason clear, easy to find shipping and returns policies go a long way to make people feel comfortable doing business with you.

You should also consider making it easy for customers to return or exchange items easily. One of the big drawbacks to buying online is not being able to see and “test drive” the product prior to purchase. Time and time again I’ve seen sites double their sales by being flexible with their returns and exchanges.

Are You Targeting The Right Keywords?

Just because your website is receiving lots of visitors, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right visitors. A poorly researched keyword strategy could mean that you are targeting a market that is not looking for what you are selling.

I always recommend reviewing your keyword strategy on a regular basis to make sure you are focusing on the right keywords and are not missing any vital ones.

The above issues are just some of the major stumbling blocks that could be stopping your website from converting visitors into customers. If this is happening to your website it’s worthwhile reviewing the health of your site with an eye to the issues addressed here. It might also be a good idea to get an independent review of your website – it’s amazing how a few tweaks can make such a difference to your bottom line.

Building a Website On a Budget

As a web designer one of the most common questions I’m asked is “how much does a website cost?”. Unfortunately the answer isn’t that simple and my answer usually is how long is a piece of string. The cost of a website is determined by your requirements. A small four page brochure website will be significantly less that a website that sells 4000 products online. You’ll also find the costs vary from one web design firm to another.

When building a website on a budget it’s important that you spend time researching your requirements and planning your website. This will help give both you and your web designer a clear idea of what you are after and what steps to take to ensure a successful online presence.

Define Your Online Goals

The first step in building your website is defining your online goals. What do you want your website to do for your business? Is your goal to sell online, collect leads, inform people or to promote your brand? You may have more than one goal for your site.

So what are the goals of your website?

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

Everything about your website should be geared towards achieving these goals. When deciding on the goals, keep in mind that not all goals need to be achieved at once. It’s often a good idea to prioritize your goals to ensure they are achievable within your budget. For example, you want to sell women’s fashion online but your budget will not initially cover a whole e-commerce store. Consider starting with a site that provides reviews of your latest fashions, a newsletter for people to sign up to, contact details and directions to your offline store. As your site grows in popularity you can add additional features. A really good web designer will have insights into how you can build a website that can scale and support your long term goals. Defining your goals is the first step in realising a successful website. The clearer your they are the better the strategy you will develop, and the easier it is to measure your online success.

Look At Your Budget

Once your website’s goals have been defined it’s time to start looking at your budget. When building your website you’ll need to looks at all the costs involved including the website design, content creation, website hosting and the promotion of your website.

The design of your website can include logo design, graphic creation and photography, such as product photography. Take a look at your current marketing materials and determine what can be used on your website and what will need created from scratch. It’s important to keep in mind that your online image should reflect your offline brand. This can be achieved by using the same logo and colour schemes as well as utilising other elements used in your existing marketing materials.

Content creation more simply refers to the text on your website. This text includes information about your business and the products and/or services you offer. Are you able to write this text yourself or will you require someone to do it for you? The text on your website will also have an impact on your search engine rankings. Incorporating keyword phrases that people would use to search for your products and services should be included within your text. This is part of what is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). It’s worthwhile discussing this with your web designer. Many web designers offer this service or if not should be able to recommend a specialist firm. If you have the time you could also read up and have a go at doing this yourself. At the end of this articles are list some resources to get you started.

Look At Your Website Hosting Options

Your next consideration is choosing a website hosting provider. There are hundreds of thousands of website hosting providers which can make choosing the right one a daunting task. When researching your available options keep in mind the following:

1. Reliability
2. Speed
3. Storage Space
4. Scalability
5. Support

Once again your web designer should be able to help you choose a website hosting provider to suit your budget and requirements.

Website Promotion

The final consideration in developing your budget is the promotion of your website. A common mistake is the assumption that if you build it they will come. Not so. The internet is huge, and growing every day, if you want people to visit your site you need to promote it, just like you would an offline business. Website promotion can include a multitude activities including:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
  • Link Building
  • Newsletter Creation
  • Blogs
  • Promotions
  • Forums

There is far too much to cover here but I’ve provided some references at the end of the article to get you started.

When it comes to setting your online budget I often find it’s better to look at your budget in terms of what you are prepared to spend in the first 12 months as opposed to just budgeting the initial development of your website. By having a budget for the first 12 months you and your web designer can look at the best way to allocate your money. It may be that you spend 60% building and hosting your website and the remaining 40% to promote it.

Talk To Potential Web Designers

Once you have defined your website’s goals and set a budget it’s time to start talking to potential web designers.

Don’t be afraid to let the web designers you’re talking to know what your budget is. Even a ballpark figure is better than keeping them in the dark. Any professional web designer will work with you to ensure that you get the maximum bang for your buck. By keeping your budget quiet they have no way to ensure they are giving you their best possible advice or recommendations. Consider the analogy of buying a car. If you’re in the market for a new car you need to give the salesperson an idea of what you are prepared to spend and what you want in car so they can make the best recommendations. It’s the same when building a website.

When talking to potential clients I always say when choosing a web designer – don’t just go with the cheapest designer. Go with the one you can relate to. The one who makes sense and seems to be on your wavelength. As long as your budget is reasonable a professional web designer should be able to work with you to develop a successful solution. You and your web designer should be a team working toward the mutual goal of building a successful website within your budget. The more you work as a team the more likely that your end product will be a success.

Summing It Up

In conclusion in order to build a successful website on a budget you need to spend some time developing your site’s goals and setting a realistic budget that will allow you to meet those goals. Armed with this knowledge you are ready to choose the right web designer who can help you realise your vision and help you build a successful website.

Stock Photography Can Be a Bad Idea

I was reading an article on the pitfalls of using stock photography recently. Basically a Chicago based online pet business bought a stock photo of a pet to use on their website only to discover:

I bought a stock photo of a dog for my website and it has become our unofficial mascot. Recently, I discovered that another pet site is using the same photo. Can I stop the site from using it?

Unfortunately unless you have an exclusive license or have contracted a photographer to take the photo for you you have no exclusivity to it and anyone can use it. And therein lies the rub. What may seem like a cheap option (stock photos can be bought from as little as $1) can end up being an expensive lesson.

More and more businesses, including large corporates, are going down the stock photography path and are being embarrassed by finding images they’ve used in campaigns being used by competitors, making it difficult for consumers to tell brands apart.

When using photographs in your website or marketing materials it often pays to spend a little money and have them done by a professional photographer. Not only will they look better, you are guaranteed that all the hard work you’ve spent in building and promoting your brand can’t be undone by a competitor simply buying the same image/s and muddying the water.

Uniqueness is important in business – don’t drop the ball by making it easy for others to copy you.