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Pretty, Vacant [pt 2]

This continues our look into website design as a fully-rounded discipline that engages communication and experience, and is not confined to mere decoration. (See the other parts of this series)

Per our explanation in the previous installment, well-designed communication needs to be engaging, well-structured, and possess good flow. A site that looks great, but lacks these characteristics of well-formed communication begins to edge into the dreaded “pig with lipstick” category. You need to make sure that your site doesn’t just have nice packaging (which it undoubtedly should have), but that the substance of your communication really delivers as well.

Make Content Engaging

Your marketing website is intended to connect with prospects and get them interested - educating and enlightening them toward a decision to work with or buy from you. What is shown and said on your site needs to unpack the particulars of what you offer, where you fit into the business universe, why you’re better, and more - in a way that directly connects with the prospect’s needs, hopes, frustrations, and preconceived notions. The content may be intended to soothe, to challenge, or to intrigue, but it needs to engage the audience by connecting with things that are meaningful to them.

Everything your site has to say should be filtered through the understanding of what your prospects care about - in general, as well as at the moment… what is the need driving them to your site that you must address? It can’t get bogged down in talking all about your business from an insider perspective. We need to step outside and look at what you offer from the view of an enthusiastic client/customer. Which aspects really spark interest? If we speak the prospect’s language and touch the things that motivate them, there is a “click” that happens when they connect with what you have to say.

Additionally, we must communicate in ways that are alive. No one like to read dry corporate-speak that feels more like filler than substance. Content should come from a “what’s interesting about this?” perspective. If you just phone it in, it does you no favors. If it’s not engaging, you miss the opportunity to connect. The engine may be running, but the transmission is not in gear.

Well-Structured Messaging

Your marketing communications are a form of narrative. It’s non-linear, because visitors will self-direct, digging into things that interest them most, but it’s still a type of story. By thinking about it this way, we can take inventory of what needs to be included, and how the elements of the story can be sectioned up. What are the major points? What are the supporting ideas? We need to group and prioritize things so that the key ideas are easily understood, and nothing gets lost.

Two key areas where structure comes into play are the overall sitemap, and the contents of the homepage. The sitemap sections and groups your narrative in meaningful ways, breaking up the big picture into component parts whose relationships make sense and create a feeling of cohesion. A well-structured site gives people the sense that what you are doing makes sense. It’s the difference between the rapt attention garnered by an organized presenter who punctuates a lucid unfolding of his ideas with clearly articulated key points, versus the unfocused feeling created by a disorganized one who meanders.

As for the homepage, that is a microcosm of your overall narrative map. It must cherry-pick the most important aspects of your story and offer a number of brief encapsulations in parallel to provide different possible entry points into the overall whole. These are carefully selected and prioritized based on your audience segments. It’s also key to remember that the intent is to stake out territory and invite exploration, not fill in all the detail. Don’t try to put everything that’s in the catalog into the shop window.

Your Site Flow

Once we sort out your messaging structure, and how it breaks into its various components, it’s important that the way the concepts are presented has a natural flow to it. Information isn’t a fungible good that can just be shoveled into your pages in whatever arrangement. Information best gels into understanding when there is a thoughtful progression of ideas leading to meaningful conclusions.

Additionally, movement from overview content into material with more detail should feel like a natural expansion that builds on what has been laid down, while not presuming too much for those who may use the detail level as their entry point.

Finally, it’s necessary that the messaging has good continuity. Movement between the various parts should not feel disconnected. If a visitor begins reading about a particular set of ideas and follows a link, then the receiving page should pick up and expand on those ideas. This continuity combined with meaningful interlinking weaves related ideas together and helps to form a sense of completeness and integration in the message.

Pretty, Present

In conclusion, it’s key that the design of your site includes a holistic approach which makes sure the communication and experience created merge with good packaging to form a resonant destination that puts forth a solid, meaningful, and digestible understanding of how your business will benefit the site visitor. Don’t just look great, show prospects that you actually are great.

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