A consultant's web site can no longer be an afterthought. It must play an integral role in marketing your practice to new and existing clients. Too many consultants overlook the potential of a compelling Web site to help them stand out in a crowded market.
According to a 2005 study on how clients buy professional services conducted by analysts at RainToday.com, 69% of prospective clients are at least somewhat influenced by your Web site when deciding whether or not to make contact with you. And almost 80% of decision makers visit your site before making a purchase decision. You need a great Web site to swing those decisions in your favor.
Of course, all great Web sites share design characteristics--like ease of use and consistency. But the design of a consultant's site has some important differences.
Unlike a retailer's Web site, for example, a consultant's site sells talents, skills, solutions, and experience, not products. With a world of information at their fingertips, consulting clients will not be satisfied if your site churns out nothing but marketing hype.
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Even prospective clients who have referrals are likely to gather intelligence from your Web site before calling you. Without a Web presence that unequivocally shows your unique capabilities, clients will pass you by--referral or not.
As you build, maintain, and enhance your Web site, keep these eleven guiding principles in mind:
1. Exchange value for time. Clients will gladly exchange time for value and insight. Provide relevant, valuable, and usable content, and prospective clients will keep reading and will likely return to your site. Clients look you up on the Web for one reason: to solve a problem. They expect your site to be worth the time it takes to find out if you can help
2. Create client-focused content. Don't limit your site content to describing who is in your practice and what services you provide. A tip-off to a consultant-focused site is if the navigation bar is dominated by choices such as "Our Services," "About Us," "Our Qualifications," and "Our Clients." Prospective clients rarely care about your business until they're convinced you can help. Focus your site's content on the client's problems first, and then tell them about your qualifications.
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3. Eliminate jargon and buzzwords. Many consultants use jargon as an easy shorthand. Unfortunately, most jargon either confuses readers or turns them off and sends them scurrying from your Web site. Use simple, descriptive language on every page of the site.
4. Content trumps design. Some sites rely on design, rather than content, to engage visitors. Using gimmicks like flash introductions and pop-up windows may work for some businesses, but don't waste your visitors' time waiting for the home page to load. These design features are interesting once, but they get old fast.
5. Interact but don't intrude. Consultants can use their sites to start or nurture relationships with clients. Using simple tools like e-mail, e-newsletters, webinars, and blogs, the consultant can easily stay in touch. Communicating with clients electronically demands that you know where the line is between being helpful and being a pest. Sending clients high value content at regular intervals can be just what's needed to convince them you have the right stuff. Go overboard and you'll lose clients' interest.
6. Communicate with personality. Many corporate Web sites are written by a committee of marketers, consultants, and executives. The resulting prose is stilted and lifeless. Use your Web site to give visitors a glimpse of the personality and culture of your practice.
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7. Know your visitors. The content and design of your site evolves over time. The best way to understand what works on your site--and what doesn't--is to regularly monitor your visitor traffic. Learn which pages are accessed, what downloads are most in demand, and how many people are visiting your site. Search the patterns of your visitors' behavior for clues as to how you can improve the site.
8. Make everything easy. The hardest task in building a great Web site is to make everything easy. Visitors should quickly understand the purpose of your practice and what action you want them to take, whether it's to download a special report or make contact with you.
Visitors want to be able to navigate through your site and locate information easily. Most people scan Web pages, so every page must be easy to read. And simplify sign ups for newsletters or other offerings. Visitors should not have to fill out pages of information to receive a download. Make sure all pages load quickly.
9. Your site is a marketing hub. Your Web site should help convey your visual identity and be the marketing hub of your practice--equal parts front office, demonstration lab, resource library, and publicity machine. The content, appearance, and usability of your site reflect your style and show your competence as a professional and how you treat clients.
Your site serves as a showroom to demonstrate how your firm makes a difference to clients' businesses. Your Web site gives you a platform from which to tell your story, describe your mission, list your clients, and educate. It also provides you with visibility in and out of your industry.
10. Keep up with the times. Web visitors assign credibility to sites that are current, or at least demonstrate that they have been recently reviewed. Don't let your site get stale. At a minimum, refresh content once a month.
Technology is constantly changing. Keep up with the latest and greatest developments, but pick and choose only those that will enhance your Web site's effectiveness as a marketing tool for your business.
11. If you build it, will they come? In the end, what makes a consultant's Web site great is all about results. And results begin with attracting visitors to your site. A great site is worthless if no one knows it's out there.
You have many options for driving traffic to your site, including optimizing the site to generate high search engine rankings and using Pay Per Click advertising. Some simple steps will help boost qualified traffic to your site with little investment on your part: Integrate your URL with all of your marketing communications, including business cards, stationery, printed materials, and your e-mail subject line. If you're listed in business directories, don't forget to get your URL published along with your practice profile.