Randall Murphy

Before we dig into the intriguing and profound world of the word “free,” let me first say that I’m a sales trainer/consultant. I’m not a Web designer, but there’s a common oversight when it comes to designing a Website. All companies want a Website that’s going to bring in so much business they won’t know what to do with it all. However, they rarely, if ever, consult with a sales or marketing expert. There are four major components to Website design: coding, graphics, search engine optimization (SEO), and the sales pitch. Coding and SEO professionals are now a dime a dozen. A good graphics person is harder to find, and great sales gurus, or Web copywriters, are rare.

It seems too many companies offering Web design services are very heavy into coding. They’ll say, “We can make your Website do this or this automatically; you don’t even have to think about it again once it’s launched.” This is awful advice because any Website that remains unchanged stagnates. Search engines and their hungry robots and spiders feed on new content, which is a major piece of the puzzle that influences Web search results. On the flipside, I’ve had clients recommend Web designers they consider strong at marketing, but when I visit their Websites and look at their portfolios, the graphic design generally is lackluster and looks cheap. The graphic design creates the “vibe” and if it’s not right, it can produce an undesirable impression with visitors, sending them away. Remember that 93 percent of communication is visual; 7 percent is verbal (or written). Therefore, the graphic elements play a major role in creating the “warm and fuzzy” feeling. Keep in mind that buying decisions are based on emotions, and if we don’t provide the right triggers, they’re gone.

Okay, so now we’ve got a Website we feel pretty good about, and we’ve done our due diligence; we’ve got the color scheme just right, the graphics are inviting and pleasing, we’ve simplified our messages and navigation, and we’re using engaging and motivating verbiage. At this point, we believe we’ve hit the mark, so we launch it, sit back and wait, but guess what? We’re only halfway there. Unfortunately, this is where many companies put on the brakes and never get to the final step, which is testing. Testing? How can you test a Website? Pour over Web stats and try to decipher what they mean? Nope. I mean REAL testing.

The two biggest “why” questions you can ask when it comes to the effectiveness of your Website are: 1) Why am I not getting enough traffic to my Website, and 2) I have traffic, but why aren’t they buying or placing a call? Your SEO provider can answer the first question, testing can answer the second.

Before we get into testing, let’s first explore the word “free.” We all know that people love free, but unless you’ve observed people who have been motivated by the word free, the words “people love free” don’t really hit home. It’s a little known fact that when the human brain hears the word free, an amazing physical reaction takes place and the hands actually excrete pine sap and they become incredibly sticky and start grabbing onto everything in sight. I’ll never forget when I was nine years old, we had a garage sale and towards the end of the day, we still had half the inventory left. Granted, most of it was, well … junk, but we still wanted it gone. Not five minutes after my mother put up the “everything is free” sign, there wasn’t a scrap of junk to be found. They even tried to take our display tables. I remember this event so vividly because it was my first encounter with the expression: Everything was just a blur. I would have needed a super high speed camera - you know, the ones that film the wing beat of a hummingbird - to actually see their hands and faces clearly as they gorged like a pack of hungry hyenas on the Serengeti.

Several years ago, my roommate was watching Montel (okay, it was me) but the story intrigued me and that’s why I watched it. The segment was about people and how they react to “free.” At a strip mall, they placed a card table on the sidewalk with a basket on top filled with ordinary rocks and a sign that read: Take one, they’re free. What the hidden cameras caught on film was not only interesting, but hilarious. People acted as though they found something of extraordinary value. Several would take a rock, walk a few feet, come back, and grab another one. One lady not only completely filled her hands with rocks, but her children’s as well. What this means is we should never underestimate the power of FREE.

The beauty of offering something free on your Website, like a report or how to advice or a newsletter or ezine, is that visitors WILL take it. Most importantly, they will have something to remember you by and this is a powerful advantage because when Web-surfing enthusiasts ride the virtual waves, most of the journey is a blur and it’s soon forgotten. When developing your free offering, remember that a good downloadable piece will be kept, but a great one will generate business. If you aren’t a writer, don’t fret; hire a writer. Post a job request on elance.com or guru.com, or a similar Website, and you’ll have dozens of hungry, talented writers offering their services at often ridiculously low prices. Problem solved.

Once your free gift is ready, now you can capture visitor contact information. In most cases, you’ll be getting a name and an email address. In order to automate the process, you’ll need an auto-responder installed with your webhost. What this software does is take the information, record it to a database, and send the visitor an e-mail with a link for the free gift or an opt-in to get the link. It’s best to use an “opt-in” feature to be compliant with anti-spam laws. It’s important to gather visitor information because you’ve invested time and money in attracting visitors and chances are good they’ll never return. You need to be able to contact them again. For many businesses, gathering contact information is a vital part of their success.

At my business-to-business Website, in addition to gathering a name and e-mail address, I also ask for the company name and, with this information, I can get a phone number and I can contact them directly. If you’re doing business with consumers, if you need more detailed visitor information, offer them a second gift later with greater value and have a more detailed information form. For the first offering, keep the required data simple; a name and e-mail, otherwise, they might back out. By gathering visitor contact information, you’ll also gain the ability to conduct testing to get visitor feedback. If at all possible, try to get phone numbers because this is how you’ll get the most accurate feedback and it will happen quickly.

At this point, we can learn the REAL truth about our Website’s effectiveness. When you contact a visitor, thank them for visiting your Website and remind them of the free gift you gave them. This does two things: 1) They’ll know who you are, and 2) If they saw value in the gift, they’ll generally feel obligated to give back and they’ll answer your questions. Let them know you’re trying to improve the visitor’s experience at your Website and you’d like their advice. Again, they’ll help because people like to consider themselves as experts and they’ll offer their “expert” opinion. Now it’s time to ask highly targeted questions: Did you like the Website? If you could change certain aspects about it, what would you change? How could we better serve our visitors? How could we motivate them to come back? (And last, ask them) Let me ask you, are you interested in [blank]? (Whatever it is you offer.) What was it about our Website or offer that didn’t inspire you to pick up the phone and call us or click the buy now button?

The powerful advantage of this strategy is you not only get your questions answered by your best, practical critics to vastly improve your Website, but after your questions are answered, you’ll have the opportunity to sell them your products and services while they’re on the line. Talk about maximizing your efforts! Always remember that no matter what you’re working on, whether it be a Website design or a marketing piece, it doesn’t really matter what you believe is important or engaging, it’s all about your visitors and what attracts them and gets them interested and excited about your offering. Always focus on the visitor because after all … they’re the ones who are buying!

Publication date:02/08/2010