Your web site is an advanced piece of technology. Even if it’s a few years out of date, it’s still quite astonishing that information, products, videos, music and more are all at our fingertips on a daily basis. It’s easy to lose our sense of wonder about all this – just two decades ago, very little of what we now call the internet existed. Now, most of us depend on it at some level for social interaction, shopping, research, and business transactions, among many other things.
As that sense of wonder has slowly vanished, replaced by the workaday reality of checking your bank balance or ordering a pair of shoes, it’s worth remembering that there’s still a little bit of room for fun online – even on a buttoned-up e-commerce site. I’m not suggesting that you plaster your online store with cat videos. But it might not hurt to lighten up your presentation – a dose of character, properly administered, could give you the online personality to stand out from the crowd.
If this sounds trivial, it isn’t – if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from these columns over the years, it’s that uniqueness is one of the most important traits your website can have. Unique, original websites rank better than websites that substantially duplicate one another, and with promotional products and apparel, you’re competing with thousands of other sellers offering overlapping product selections. There are numerous strategies for making your content stand out, and many of them are labor-intensive and expensive. Injecting some fun into your website is cheap and easy, and you might even enjoy it. Why not give it a try?
If you’re stomping your feet, grousing about being a “serious business”, think about that for a minute: this is primarily a marketing business, and many of your customers are marketing professionals. They love fun. They want to know that you have at least a small creative bone in your body. Jazzing up your website with a touch of personality shows them your creative, entertaining side.
Beyond that, simple, bright, easy web sites are the norm these days. Years back, you decked out your web presence out in dark, serious, corporate colors to impress potential clients and show them that you were, you know, for real. These days, few people expect (or respect) that kind of presentation – we live in an app world, where attention spans are short, technology is back behind the scenes, and unique ideas and character get you eyeballs. Drop that dark maroon and stifling gray and get with the program – fun, open, simple web sites attract visitors and reflect well on your company.
Put a Face on it
Let’s start with the easy stuff. First, think about getting some people on your site. I don’t care if it’s a stock photo (as long as it isn’t that same blonde-haired call center operator that nearly every e-commerce site uses), just put a human being out there. For promotional products and apparel e-commerce sites, this action alone can make a big difference. Unlike buying a book or DVD, an ad specialty order can be an intimidating process, and visitors like to know that a human being is there to help them.
Want to take it to the next level? Put yourself and your employees out there! This is often a business of relationships, so why not just go out there and show people who you are? Smiling faces give visitors confidence that they’ll be taken care of. If your employees enjoy their jobs – if they have fun with it – get that out there! You don’t have to have them dancing in hula skirts and playing ukelele, but a happy face can help keep a visitor sticking around a little longer.
Add Local Flavor
It’s tempting for any online business to downplay their location – you want to be available everywhere, to everyone. For some businesses, if they’re big enough, talking about where you are or where you’re from doesn’t make much sense. But most small to medium-sized businesses will benefit more from talking about their location than simply trying to be a faceless juggernaut.
Why? Because of that uniqueness factor. Everyone is selling everywhere these days, so touting your “everywhereness” (and hiding your location) doesn’t really buy you much as a business – unless you’re huge. Instead, a touch of local flavor is a great way to make your content unique and give visitors a sense of who you are. You don’t have to make it a dominant feature of your web presence, but talking a little bit about the region or city you’re in in your blog posts or “About Us” section is a good start. Even better, tie it in with your employees and let them tell a little story about themselves!
Tell More Stories
This one may seem obvious, but your customers are often your best storytellers, and you should put them on your site. But it can be hard to get a good customer testimonial, which is why they’re often dry and uninteresting. So, go beyond the “Linda went above and beyond” pull quote and actually let them tell a story – let them have some fun.
If they don’t have a good story to tell, you can always make one up and ask for their permission. Just don’t think about testimonials as a stuffy, prove-how-professional-you-are endorsement. In face, so many testimonials read that way that they’re frequently ignored. A fun testimonial, on the other hand – say, a “here’s how Jill saved my bacon at a tradeshow” kind of story – shows that you solve real problems for real people.
Make it Move
It’s hard to overrate the value of videos on your site. They make content unique, offer a means of introducing yourself to your customers, and can even kick up a little bit of social media awareness for your company if they’re done right.
A great way to do them right is to have fun with them; product usage and demonstration videos are a fabulous place to start. If you’ve got a fun product, have some real fun with it – toss a stress ball around, hit the sidewalk outside with an umbrella, or go drive a few branded golf balls and talk about them. Remember, you tell stories about your company and your people with these videos, and if you make them fun, you not only give your visitors something to enjoy; you also show them your expertise.
How’s that? Well, when you handle something with comfort and aplomb, you appear as an expert. It’s the dry, nervous, overly formal presentation that drives viewers away. The more fun you can have with product videos, videos introducing your staff and anything else that you care to put out there, the better. Start your own Youtube channel (it takes a few seconds), get out your smartphone and start recording!
Finally, while social media sharing for e-commerce is a decidedly mixed bag, having a bit of fun with your web site increases your chances of getting noticed – videos get shared, stories get likes, and you begin to build up an online character that customers enjoy. Those social signals help with search engine ranking, as does the originality of your content – there’s really no downside. So loosen up that tie and inject a dash of fun into your site!
A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.
Google has been attacking the local market in a big way – “Places” is an attempt to compete directly with Yelp in the local business review market, and their Groupon clone is rolling out slowly across the country as well. While many observers dislike Google’s philosophy of “buy it or copy it” (in addition to creating a near-clone of Yelp in Places, Google Offers is a straight riff on Groupon, which Google failed to acquire last year after offering billions), the company’s ubiquitous presence means that nearly anything they launch should be watched carefully.
Google is serious about making Places the go-to service for local reviews, and they’ve built a local presence in many markets to promote it. Here in Austin, both Places and Offers are receiving heavy promotion on social media, and it’s interesting to see Google’s enthusiasm for promoting their own services rub up against their public fight against web spam and junk content. In its aggressive promotion of review writing for Places, Google is essentially encouraging the creation of low-quality content to boost the service’s own ranking.
This promotion popped up last week: looks innocuous enough, and there’s a quick aside to discourage you from posting spam. But by holding contests to get users to post as many reviews as possible in a very short amount of time, Google cannot be serious about quality – quantity is the goal here, because more reviews beget better rankings.
If Google cared about review quality, they certainly wouldn’t encourage users to write reviews as quickly as possible. It calls into question the whole purpose of the service, and indeed Google’s attention to content quality in general. How can you downgrade content farm sites globally while at the same time encouraging a content farm mentality for services where you’re trying to build market share on your own?
Google’s webmaster guidelines for content quality suggest asking yourself “Does this help my users?” when considering the content you create and publish. In the case of contests to quickly create business reviews in as short amount of time as possible, I think the answer is clearly no.