What's the goal of your website? To sell a product? To gain registered users? To solicit donations? Regardless of your goal, a great way to succeed on the Web is to think of your website as your online salesperson.
Whenever you are making a decision on design, site structure, content, or copy, keep this concept of a salesperson in your mind, because really, your website is your salesperson on the Web. It's your website, not you, that interacts with customers, and drives sales (or conversions) online. So make your website the best salesperson it can be by following these time-tested guidelines:
Welcome your users
In a retail setting, would you ignore customers when they walked through the door? Or would you offer a friendly welcome, give them some information about how your store is arranged, and tell them where they can get more help if they need it? The latter is clearly the more successful approach. On your website, this approach can be accomplished in a number of ways: welcoming copy on your home page should assure visitors that they've come to the right place; a clear site structure, with predictable navigation, will give them a clear picture of the layout of your site; and a prominent help or contact feature will make it clear where your visitors can seek assistance if they need it.
Once you've welcomed your visitors, you should attempt to build a relationship of trust with them. This might be accomplished by providing testimonials from past customers, or by providing them with a helpful service or resource. You can also build trust with prospects by using language that sounds helpful rather than "salesy." Most importantly, do not lie. With the Web at their fingertips, your visitors will not be easily fooled. If you're not willing to give them factual information, someone else will.
Establish yourself as an expert
People like to make educated decisions, in fact 61% of global Internet users research products online prior to making a decision. If you establish yourself as someone who is an expert, and as someone trustworthy (see above), many of your visitors will be inclined to defer to your expertise. So provide your visitors with a wealth of information (remember, keep it helpful rather then salesy) to help them make their decision.
Believe in your offerings
To some extent, the last two tips require a leap of faith. More specifically, they ask you to provide objective information about yourself and your product, and this requires a certain amount of faith in your product. But if you don't believe in your product, your problems extend much further than web design. Don't underestimate the perceptiveness of your visitors - long-term success is impossible if you're selling a solution you don't believe in.
Understand your customer
Every good salesperson knows that to be successful, you need to know your customer, including their goals, motivations, and concerns. One way to learn more is to have conversations with your customers online and offline. Take what you learn and build it into your site. Maintain a prominent place on your site where your users can leave feedback. Lastly, use your web analytics software to ascertain more about your users' behavior. Do a significant number of people go directly from your Products page to the Help page? Maybe you need more text on that page explaining what users should be doing there, or how they can move forward.
It's not about you - it's about them
Countless successful salespeople have trained themselves to replace the I's and we's in their dialogue with you's. People are self-focused, and would rather hear you talk about them than about you and your product. On your website, don't talk about how amazing your solution is - tell your visitors how it will help them.
Guide visitors to the desired choice/action/solution
Now that your visitor has been sufficiently informed, and their concerns have been addressed, they should be ready to take the desired action on your site, whether this is a sign-up, a purchase, a submitted contact/lead form, or some other conversion. All you need to do now is make it as easy as possible for them to do so. As obvious as this sounds, some websites make it downright difficult on their users. Don't make the same mistake! Make the steps of your shopping cart, user registration or contact form very clear and easy to understand. Challenge yourself to make the process easy enough for a four year old to navigate.
Take rejection in stride
Every great salesperson does. If your latest strategy, product, or marketing campaign isn't the hit you thought it would be, learn from it and move on. Good luck!