More Than Just a Pretty Face: How to Build a Website for Conversion Jessica Lunk Imagine that you are unhappy with the way your small business’ website looks. You also don’t like how it’s performing as a sales generator. You think if you just get a pretty looking website with the latest design bells and whistles, not only will visitors love it, they will buy more of your stuff.So you hire a talented designer. You pay a small fortune and get a beautiful website redesign – complete with a trendy background video on the home page. Exciting, right?But soon, disappointment sets in. Even though you’ve focused on SEO and drive traffic to your site, no one is joining your email list. No one is contacting you to find out more about your business and the work you do. In other words, your website is not converting. So what is website conversion? In the digital marketing world, conversion, or Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the art and science of persuading website visitors to take the next step you want them to take – this could be anything from subscribing to an email list, to requesting a one-on-one consultation, to purchasing a product or service. The whole point of having a website is to drive sales, and optimizing for conversions is a must. Don’t Prioritize PrettyIt’s easy to get caught up in how your website looks as compared to how it performs. But your site doesn’t have to look pretty to get you the conversion results you want and need. It can be plain, homely, and downright ugly, and still be a sales-generating machine.Your website’s job is not to look pretty. Your website’s job is to help you sell more of whatever it is you sell.Now, of course you don’t want an ugly website. Just know that it takes more than a pretty website to convert site traffic into sales for your business. So what are the elements of a high-converting site? Design and copywriting.Even though your site doesn’t have to be beautiful to convert, design does matter. Your high-converting site will typically have a design scheme that is simple, clean and logically laid out. It will respond gracefully to different devices – from the flat screen monitor down to the smart phone.Clean design is augmented by engaging, persuasive copy.Legendary copywriters use the concept of the “slippery slope” in their writing (more on this in a moment). In other words, from the start of their written message, there is an easy, smooth progression until the point of conversion.Likewise, there should be a “flow” to your design that aids in the conversion process. And, your design will deliver the first impression of your business. It’s the first thing visitors notice, even before your copy. It can either make visitors want to stay, or it can drive them away. If it’s complicated and confusing, you can bet it will cost you conversions. Website Conversion Pitfalls to AvoidThere are a few cardinal sins of website design you’ll want to avoid. For instance, use images that are relevant to your message and product – but avoid generic stock photos. Use real pictures of real people and real pictures of your product, if possible. Humans are visual. We are drawn to pictures, especially pictures of other people. At the same time, we can tell at a glance if your images are authentic or not, and will quickly bounce from a website full of stock photos.Another pitfall of an under-performing website is a lack of directional and call-to-action cues. These are design elements, either blatant or subtle, that persuade readers to notice what you want them to notice and take the next step in your sales process. For example, a highly visible red arrow that points directly to your call-to-action button. Or for a more subtle variation, a picture of a person looking in the direction of the call-to-action button.Finally, websites that only appeal to visitors who are ready to buy right now are missing out on a huge opportunity for conversion. According to Kissmetrics, 96% of people who visit your website are not ready to make a purchase. That’s why call-to-actions that address the top of the sales funnel – an email signup or resource download, for example – are an integral part of a conversion-friendly design. The right online marketing and sales software can help you capture top-of-funnel leads who reach your website, and then nurture them until the convert into paying customers. Are Words “Just Words”?“The difference between the almost right word & the right word…it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning” Mark TwainYes, design matters in conversion. But your words matter just as much. The right words can draw readers to you like moths to a flame. The wrong words can turn them off and drive them away. To convert well, your site needs not just words, but solid copywriting. Copywriting is selling in print. It’s a specialized skill that bears little resemblance to the papers you wrote in high school English. It’s a valuable skill you can learn. Or if you prefer, you can hire a professional copywriter. Either way, copywriting is critical to a high-converting website.Even if you hire a professional, it’s good to know copywriting basics:Good copywriting bears little resemblance to formal, academic English. It has a “conversational” quality to it. Imagine having a conversation face-to-face, an informal talk with the goal of selling a product or persuading the other person to take a specific action. Good copywriting has this conversational quality. It also isn’t directed at a large audience, but to an “audience of one”. You want the reader to get the feeling you are speaking to him only.It’s natural to try to persuade and impress potential customers by talking yourself, your business and your products. Don’t do this. Focus your message on your reader. You want to “talk” to the reader about his or her wants and needs. You want to write in vivid, emotional detail about a problem the reader is facing and offer hope that you can solve it.And good, persuasive copywriting that converts is simple. Short sentences, short paragraphs and a basic vocabulary are the norm. When it comes to copywriting that sells, your high school English teacher would not approve. So be it. You’re not trying to get an A on a paper, you are trying to win new customers.Here’s another tip to help make your copy more effective, especially when it’s long form. Use what legendary marketing consultant Bill Glazer calls the dual readership path. Use plenty of white space. Have a compelling headline. Have sub-headlines. When appropriate, without overdoing it, use italics and bold text to drive a point home. In essence, the dual readership path enables you to deliver the bulk of your message to “skimmers”, those readers who may be interested in your product, but aren’t interested in reading a lot of copy. But whether they read all of your message or only skim through it, you want to produce the “slippery slope” effect I mentioned earlier. From your compelling, eye-catching headline down to your powerful call to action, make the experience of reading your copy an interesting, enjoyable, almost effortless experience. Test. Measure. Repeat.When you are working hard to build your online marketing machine, it’s easy to get antsy. You want results now. But please be patient, especially as you optimize for conversion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the old saying goes. And your high-converting website won’t be either. You’re in this game for the long haul. Websites are fluid, they aren’t set in stone. So A/B test constantly. Even the most minute details – fonts, colors, etc. And you definitely want to test bigger things like headline copy and image captions.When it comes to website conversion, focus on what will help you make sales, not on what’s going to look pretty.