It was a single page dedicated to the anime series Sailor Moon and, to use a phrase from that era, it was “the bomb.”
It had everything you’d expect from a glorious web presence of the late 1990s and early 2000s, built on the pioneering, but now defunct Geocities.
There were animated looping GIFs I stole with a swift right-click save, large slow-loading images, and background music that auto-played at every refresh. Then, we can’t forget the unreliable “site visitors” count, and, of course, the same static, generic information about the series you could find on hundreds of other fan sites.
Today, it’s laughable. But, if we’re being honest here, it was pretty on-par with most websites online at the time.
Everyone is looking for a company with a product or service they can trust will actually solve their problems. Something they know will deliver on their promises, that won’t sell them what they don’t need or doesn’t work. Something reliable and worth their hard-earned money.
Especially, during the COVID-19 pandemic — when budgets are tight and so many people are feeling helpless — this trust is more important than ever. When it comes to your website, there are a number of ways of establishing and reinforcing this trust for 2021 — and no it doesn’t involve animated GIFs.
What does a great inbound marketing website look like?
Below I’ve shared nine critical elements that every great inbound marketing website should have. They not only make buyers’ journeys easier, they also help you establish the trust needed to actually make your ideal customers comfortable doing business with you.
1. Customer-focused messaging
I can say it time and time again: Your website is not for you, it’s for your customer. Your website exists solely to give your current customers and potential buyers all of the information they want and need to know to feel comfortable making a purchase. (More on this later.)
That being said, everything on your website should be catered to their needs, especially your messaging. From your value proposition in the hero section to your blog topics, put yourself in your customers shoes.
What do they want to know when they arrive on the page? What are their concerns and questions?
For many small businesses who are being discovered for the first time, this often means why the visitor should care about who you are.
What value do you offer? What problem do you solve and how?
If you’re already a big and beloved brand like Coke or Microsoft, you can get away with not selling your worth. When you’re still introducing yourself, however, and building trust with an audience, keep your messaging about them.
As my friend Ann Handley says in her book Everybody Writes, “The best way to keep readers reading is to talk about them, not you.” In other words, don’t tell them what you’ve done. Tell your story in terms of what you can do for them.
In They Ask, You Answer, IMPACT partner and author Marcus Sheridan recommends following a 5-to-1 ratio of self-promotion when writing your content. That means you should refer to the customer five times more than you refer to yourself or your company. This helps maintain an air of helping, not selling.
My friend and IMPACT teammate Nick "Nich" Bennett is a huge fan of Swoogo’s website messaging.
Not only does it keep their attention on the value they deliver to the customer, but their tone is casual and conversational, like talking to an old friend.
2. A user-friendly design
It’s not enough to have a website that looks good in form (which it should), it also needs to function well. That means your website needs to be user-friendly, or easy for the user to navigate and complete the actions they want.
From a marketer’s perspective, Marcus says to ask the question, “How do we get them to page two?”
It’s your job to fully understand what page two or the next step in their journey on your website should be on each page for a consumer. Then, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to take it, without having to think or figure things out on their own. Perhaps this is in the form of a call-to-action button or a form.
In terms of your homepage, put the most common and important next steps for your business (i.e. scheduling a time to talk, making a purchase, signing up for a trial, or even learning more about your product) front and center (or at least easily and intuitively found) in your navigation.
In fact, 61% of shoppers report saying navigation and search are the most important attributes of online shopping in the United States. The harder it is to find the things they want to do, the more likely you are to lose the sale during the hunt.
Airbnb’s website has a great user experience. When you first arrive on the homepage, their major calls-to-action are front-and-center — find a place to stay, explore experiences (online or in person), become a host, or log in to see existing reservations.
As you scroll, things get more granular, but they make it very clear and easy to determine you should navigate according to each of their offerings.
3. Optimized site speed
User-friendliness can also be heavily impacted by your site speed, or how long it takes your website to load. Modern buyers are impatient. They want trusted answers, but more so, they want them quickly.
For example, 90% of shoppers will abandon a site if it doesn’t load in a reasonable time, according to a survey by e-commerce cloud platform and former IMPACT client Yottaa Inc. That means it doesn’t matter how great your content is. If your site doesn’t load quickly enough, they’ll bounce before they ever find out.
Of course, that’s assuming they ever get to your site in the first place. Site speed and page load time are also two factors that heavily influence how well you rank in search engine results, like Google. So, the slower your site is, the lower you’ll rank.
We all know creating content is a must, but it’s not enough to just publish anything to your blog. You have to create content that your customers actually care about; that offers them value and that value can take many forms and change with time.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Bain & Company found:
“Consumers across the global value services, products, people, and institutions that: reduce anxiety, reduce risks, and provide some sense of safety and belonging."
Pandemic aside, generally marketers say brand content should either educate or entertain, but for small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs), we recommend leaning most heavily into the former to most directly and quickly impact your bottom line.
As an SMB, the best blog content is content that makes you money; it’s content that will help people make educated buying decisions by addressing questions, objections, or concerns they may have about your offering.
Answer the questions they are asking themselves and typing into Google and answer them honestly. Regardless of industry, size, or offering, we typically find these fall into five categories we call The Big 5:
When you answer these questions well on your website, your audience will naturally find you and your website and you’ll begin building trust in their minds as the brand who told them what they wanted to know.
🎬 Watch now: What are The Big 5?
You helped; you didn’t hide information just to get them on the hook.
Before we move on, let me get one thing straight: Not all of your content should be sales or bottom-of-the-funnel focused. I’m 1,000% an advocate for a healthy content mix, but answering buyer questions on your website is a box you must check.
Before the internet, you would make sure to have brochures and catalogs with all of the information about your products and services to field questions.
We call this “premium” content because these offers go beyond basics and provide some advanced knowledge or engagement with your organization. They also, typically, take more time and dedication to consume.
These pieces also offer higher value to your audience than blog articles and showcase greater expertise on your industry.
Including this on your website instills the fact that you are a trusted authority in your area and (from a selling perspective) tends to show greater engagement and intent from a prospect.
Our friends at Vidyard, obviously have amazing video content, but on top of that, you’ll find an extensive library of webinars, research reports, and articles on their website.
6. Equal mix of text and visual-based content
Another part of a healthy content mix is having a mix of mediums. Some people are voracious readers who will gobble up every 2,000-word article you publish. Others, however, may be visual or auditory learners, they simply may not have the time to sit down and read article after article.
This is proving to be increasingly common as the demand for video content continues to increase. In 2018, 54% of consumers demanded more video content from brands and 80% of reported purchasing a piece of software or an app after watching a brand’s video.
Plus, studies show that information shared in a video is much more likely to be remembered, not to mention the humanization that comes with seeing and hearing members of your team on film.
All that being said, a great inbound marketing website includes both text-based and visual content. Every critical page on your website should include both ways to consume your content. This extends the reach and effectiveness of your content by not only aligning with customer preferences, but also offering another level of accessibility.
7. Having a self-selection tool
Modern buyers don’t want to be sold. They can spot sales pitches from miles away and have learned to drown them out.
That’s why, with Forrester and SiriusDecisions estimating that 70% of the buyer’s journey is completed before someone ever talks to a sales person, great inbound marketing websites enable people to sell or disqualify themselves.
They give them pretty much everything they need to feel ready to buy or to go ahead and make the purchase without ever speaking to someone at that company. Aside from content, one powerful way of doing this is through a self-selection or self-configuration tool.
The quick-and-dirty explanation of a self-selection tool is that it is any type of interactive feature (i.e. a quiz, form, etc) that customizes the experience of the website to your user, for example, guiding them to the information or product that best matches their needs.
These usually fall into one of three common buckets:
A pricing/cost calculator: This is exactly what it sounds like; a tool that helps you evaluate how much an action, product, or service will cost you.
A build/design tool (or what I like to call a “finder”): This helps you create or identify the right solution or product for your needs. For example, take WIX’s site builder.
Customer onboarding tool: An experience that gets things set up correctly for a new user. Think of how when you first sign up for Twitter or other social media platforms, they ask you for a few interests so they can suggest people for you to follow.
Overall, what these tools do is create a “seller-less” experience. It puts the power into the hands of the consumer and frees your sales team up to work on the leads that really need that one-on-one attention.
One of my favorite self-selection tools right now is makeup brand Il Makiage’s Power Match quiz.
This quiz (the subject of many viral makeup videos on YouTube) promises to guide you the perfect shade of their foundation based on your answers to a few multiple choice questions. From there, they even let you try the product before you buy it for 14 days.
For something that can be as difficult as choosing the perfect shade of foundation for your skin (especially online and from a new brand), this quiz offers a fun, easy, and risk-free solution.
8. Real-time conversations
Similar to how users won’t wait around for your site to load to get their answers, they often won’t wait around to talk to you for them either.
In an age of push notifications, informality, and constant connection, people have come to expect the same from interacting with brands — quick, simple answers.
With this in mind, your website needs to be able to support real-time conversations whether that be in form of live chat, Facebook Messenger, Slack, or even a chatbot. But where do you start?
Test the waters by first including a messenger on your website pages that show the highest intent (i.e. shopping cart, a landing page to request a demo, a pricing page). Try tools like:
This gives you the opportunity to start a conversation and hopefully ease any objections to converting in the moment or to let prospects to start one with you.
From there, you can consider branching out to other more early-stage pages (like FAQs, general service pages) where people may commonly have questions.
Considering the omnipresence of live chats and messengers in our day-to-day lives, you can even try delivering calls-to-action via a live chat window rather than a pop-up of tradition button or delivering helpful related resources.
No matter how you use it, embracing this new form of communication will help you connect with your potential buyers in a way they find comfortable and useful.
9. Social proof
You can praise yourself as much as you like in content, it will never hold as much clout as praise from an unbiased, third-party.
In order to establish trust and credibility on your website, buyers need to see that you actually deliver on what you promise. They need to see that real people have seen results and gotten their money’s worth.
That’s why social proof is so important (and I don’t mean the bogus visitor count I had on my website). Share case studies with real data, customer testimonials, and reviews. Share ratings from reputable authorities and relevant awards.
All of this tells prospective buyers that you’re not just making empty claims; you live up to the hype.
HEY by Basecamp does an awesome job of leading with customer testimonials on their homepage. Just below their hero section, you’ll find quotes from real customers with full names, headshots, and Twitter handles.
Make websites great again
If the elements mentioned in this article didn’t surprise you, honestly, I had a feeling they wouldn't.
These features are things you as a consumer look for when you’re researching a purchase online and things that make you trust the brand that you ultimately buy from. Your buyer is no different.
If you can implement these pieces onto your website in 2021, you will be well-equipped to not only establish credibility with your audience, but also have your product or service sell itself and increase your bottom line.