Create a Web Site That Sells!

I spent the entire month of August last year restructuring our web site. As a result, sales have tripled — not an easy thing to achieve in our highly competitive field.

Let me explain:
I own a site of resources and services for writers. As you know, there are probably thousands of such sites up, ranging from such biggies as iUniverse to small mom-and-pop operations. Competition is fierce and writers are rightly cynical of such offerings.

The problem such sites face is how to gain the trust of writers, who are as protective of their works as they are of their firstborn. Many writers have been burned by sites that promised things they didn’t deliver, often disguising their disclaimers in very tiny print. Gaining trust isn’t easy when all you have is your web site presence to convince potential clients.

We do offer hard product — books, audiobooks and online classes — and those have always sold well. The challenge we faced was to create a site that would convince writers to trust us with their works, and to convince them that what they got from us was significant and useful. The services involved are critiquing manuscripts, editing and/or book doctoring them, and, through our subsidiary, Advocate House, to actually turn those manuscripts (once in publishable form) into books. For most writers, this is equivalent to handing their precious newborn child to a total stranger.

Our increase in clients indicates that we succeeded. Here’s how we did it:

Once we were clear on what effect we wanted to produce with our site (instilling trust and confidence in us), the rest was easy. We simply had to understand the following elements, then restructure our site to include them.

How do you establish trust with someone who knows nothing about you except what you present on your web site? How do you structure a web site in such a way that it assures people that you are legitimate, competent and trustworthy?

First, by giving them information they can use, whether or not they buy your services. Our site contains loads of information about publishing today, from how to write what sells to knowing today’s publishing options and how to choose the one that is best for your work. People are grateful for this, which leaves them kindly disposed toward us. We have clients who chose us over some of our biggest competitors.

We also offer free samples on the site, through excerpts of all our products. No one is asked to buy a pig in a poke. And to assure them of our qualifications, we list our history of work positions held, publications and awards. When we sum up with “twenty five years of experience in every aspect of writing and publishing,” they have the facts to back up that claim.

Though our site contains over 40 pages, it is user-friendly. From the home page, users can go directly to their area of interest. Each page links to related pages and/or other web sites, to help users pursue their specific topic of interest without them having to wade through unrelated matter.

This is an important element for any site offering personal services. How often have you called a phone number only to be frustrated by a recorded message of options, or had a question about a web site and been unable to find a way to make direct contact? It is vitally important to make your site interactive. Be sure to include an email address (and list it frequently) and perhaps even a phone number and street address. This cuts down on user frustration and helps assure users that you are established and legitimate, rather than one of those here-today/gone-tomorrow sites.

Another important element of intimacy is, of course, trust. We make no extravagant claims.

No email to us goes unanswered for more than 24 hours. In some cases a final reply requires some research on our part so we email back, stating that we’re looking into it and will get back to them as soon as we have all the information requested.

We have no advertising on our site. We want the experience of surfing our site to be a one-on-one experience, with no distractions. The money we might earn through banners, affiliations, ads, etc., would counteract the effect we want our site to have on prospective clients.

Our clients range from housewives and retirees to CEOs, consultants and professional trainers. Our site objective is to gain their trust and establish confidence in us. While many will advise you to become an affiliate with other sites, to place banners and other ads on your site, if your service is as individual as ours, I think such things detract rather than add to a site’s credibility.

One of the big problems for sites today is dealing with the widely varying computer skills of those who enter the site. How can you make ordering swift and easy for those with sophisticated skills, while not losing those with limited skills?

We chose to handle this by adding a shopping cart. With each service and product we offer, we provide for online credit card ordering as well as mail ordering. We also have a page devoted to explaining the use of the shopping cart.

This has allowed people to surf the entire site, clicking on products and services that interest them, then to look over their selections and totals before actually placing their order. Apparently our maverick approach works. We receive several emails each week telling us what a great site we have. Some of those kudos come from marketing professionals. Our clients are now global, from as far away as Finland and Turkey. Based solely on what we present in our site, these clients have contracted with us to help them turn their works into published books.

If your services aren’t selling at the rate you want them to, consider revamping your site. Become clear on your site’s objective, then list the elements that help produce that objective. From there, look at each page of your site, asking yourself if it accomplishes what you want it to. Your objective will guide you to create a site that sells.

Patrika Vaughn is the world’s foremost Author’s Advocate, helping writer’s write better and get published.  She is listed in The International Authors and Writer’s Who’s Who, Outstanding People of the 21st Century, and has been awarded the Order of Excellence in Who’s Who in the 21st Century