Case study: Bytecon
This is a marketing site for a small web development company. The site
feels cold, unfinished and empty.
The main problem is that the home page doesn't promote a strong
message. The experience for a prospect browsing the site needs to be
richer, fuller, and more active.
That's why I'm going to focus on content in this case study.
The page uses a a 3-column layout,
with left and right columns that show pictures, and a centre column for
The side columns serve little purpose
other than hold blue pictures which are remote and cold. You don't
believe that the photos are anything to do with Bytecon. There are
empty boxes dividing the photos, as though there's meant to be
content should be content, i.e.
say something as part of the dialogue of the page. For best effect, it
should sit inline on the page, not added down the side. (This is a
layout issue, because the layout often comes first, and thought is
needed to create space for effective pictorial content).
Unusually, the fixed-width centre
column floats in space between the side columns. Conventional
three-column layouts would either be all-variable, all-fixed and
left-aligned, or all-fixed and centre-aligned. If a layout is going to
spread to fit the window width, the main content has to move also. The
problem caused is lots of empty white space between the page origin and
the content, which is unhelpful and helps the site feel remote and
The content area is divided into
sections with headers, but the headers are indented with bullets. This
is wrong. If the header describes the section, it should own the
section, and that means being nearer the origin, i.e. more to the left.
The logo is too weak. The pixellation
effect is harsh and geeky. It also doesn't seem to belong on the page.
Blue is not a bad colour (lots of
professional sites use it), but on its own in this way it is too cold.
It needs to be offset against something softer and warmer.
If you're selling your services as a
web agency, part of what you're selling is a relationship, which means
character. You might trust a cold, blue, hard, mechanistic programmer
to be a good programmer, but you won't want to pick up the phone and
talk to him about your web presence.
This needn't require fancy graphics.
Browse around for other sites that create the kind of atmosphere you're
after, and use those colours. Don't be shy, hexadecimal codes aren't
subject to copyright!
Opening questions bad
Never open a page, and certainly not
a site, with a question. The Bytecon home page starts with,
"What can a web site do for your
In sales technique, this is a weak
tactic, because it passes control from the salesperson to the prospect,
where the sale can easily go dead. (Of course, face-to-face, it can be
helpful to get a couple of points of sensitivity from a prospect that
the salesperson can use as leverage in a sale, but you can't do that
The Home page also asks,
"If you are selling a product and
want to try boost sales, why not sell it online?"
These are "opening" questions,
because they widen the conversation. But when you're selling remotely
via a brochure or website, you need to focus and close in on specifics.
Asking the prospect what a web site
can do for their business can only make them wonder how much they
really expect a web site to do for their business, or whether it is the
best way to spend their money. If they're here looking for a web
agency, they shouldn't really need to be convinced that they may need a
website. They need to be quickly converted from browsing to talking to
Remember your own goals!
A better approach than asking the
question would be to tell them what a web
site can do for their business
Better still, show
them what benefits web sites have brought to businesses like theirs.
Even better, give them the evidence
to make them believe that talking to Bytecon is the next step to
Your home page is where you set out
your stall, in the most economical, impacting, accurate way you can.
Front the site with a message that
Bytecon will do... for your business.
Focus the message on positive benefits
Every part of the home page's message
should give a potential client a different reason to believe they're in
the right place. That means pointing to benefits (whether directly or
by implication), and being specific enough to suggest "We're the right
place to come for these benefits
Let's analyse some specific examples
of copy from the Home page:
1) "A web site can be very
beneficial to your business"
is irrelevant. If someone is here
because they want a website, they don't need to be told that. They need
to be told the benefits of getting Byetcon to do it.
2) "Work has now begun on our
client control panel and should be finished shortly. This will enable
all our clients to have a greater control over their website."
Don't talk about what's going on,
what's not finished. That sells nothing. What sells is benefits. The
client's question is: What can these guys offer me, now? So offer, now.
All that's needed is:
"Our new control panel gives
clients the ability to x, y, and z."
3) "We make web sites just about
for any purpose, whether you are a business big or small or you are
just looking for a personal site. We can help you!"
There is no benefit to saying this.
"We can help you!" cannot convert a browser to a buyer on its own. It's
not accurate enough, not confident enough, and just not credible.
Only say what particular benefits you
bring that set you apart from the next webdev company.
Sell on strengths
Everyone has a strength, something to
show off about. It's good to work out what that strength is, and
mention it as often as you can. Work out what differentiates you. Even
weaknesses can be sold as strengths when viewed from a different angle!
You're small? That makes you
affordable, available and willing! If you're young, say energetic! If
you don't have transport, say you know the area and specialise in
serving local businesses!
Anything that you can say positively
about yourself could differentiate you from the next guy.
If you say you'll work with clients
of any size, believe me, you will not find big clients wandering into
your net. If you work with smaller clients, at least that's a
differentiator, which gives you something to sell on. This might be
excellent availability and close personal contact, a sense of humour
and personality, fast turnarounds, low price!
Remember, your customers are not
looking for the best web agency out there, they're looking for one that
is likely to give them what they need. Very often, a client's major
motivator is to find an agency that isn't the wrong one, the least
worst rather than the very best.
To make that decision, all they need
is an excuse to notice you as different. If they have a particular
need, there's a chance that your marketing dialogue will hit the spot,
or it may miss. But if you generalise, you can't hit.
Home page copy continues:
"We work in close contact with our
clients, listening to their specifications and rendering them into high
quality web sites."
Again, this isn't worth saying. A
potential client wouldn't expect a web site to say the opposite..
"We keep a distance from our
clients, ignore their needs and produce low-quality web sites" !!
...so don't waste your shot by
stating the obvious.
If Bytecon is going to be a
competitor, it's much easier if they differentiate.
How to create a message that
The following steps form a crude
exercise that help you create a message that, at very least, can hit
some of your target audience's buttons.
Even if your message doesn't hit
exactly the right buttons in a prospect, if it's presented with
confidence, it can create the impression of what else you can do. Case
studies and news stories are excellent examples of this effect. As
described later, the power of case studies lies in what remains unsaid.
If you imply that your skills and abilities helped 3 clients to achieve
different goals, by implication, there's no reason why those same (not
fully described) skills can't help the next prospect achieve theirs!
1) What's your target market?
Write down as many true
characteristics of their real target market as possible.
For example (guessing): within 100
miles of us; medium-size (5-200 people);
- marketing department of one person
who wants a lot of input in their website;
- ordering their first or second web
2) Who's the buyer?
Give her/him a name. Why not Hilary?!
We'll make Hilary a persona, with her own context, goals and
3) Five positive triggers
Write down about five
positive clues that Hilary is looking for (consciously
or subconsciously). These will give us some trigger keywords or
What will get her attention and make
her believe that Bytecon is probably the best web agency for her needs
that she'll find if she spends the next hour browsing? What's she
thinking as she browses?
Maybe she's thinking..
- "I need someone that isn't going to
baffle me with lots of technology.."
- "I need someone local who I can
phone up and speak to any time of day.."
- "I need someone accountable.."
- "I need someone who'll give us what
Let's say some suitable trigger
phrases might be:
- "excellent value"
- "you can be confident"
- "no fuss, simple advice"
- "always there"
4) Build the message around the
The last step is simply to build the
sense of all those key words into the home page. The rest of the text
is a vehicle to deliver the key phrases, so the filler words should be
minimal and focus on not giving any wrong impression.
After Hilary scans the home page, if
she comes away with nothing other than those five phrases in mind, that
would be a great success!
Build on previous successes
It's more effective to let someone
else promote you than to do it yourself. The Bytecon site has a
section, "References", which contains ONE reference! They're making two
mistakes here: the first is that the reference should be on the home
page, where it can do most good (the home page is starved of real
content too). The second mistake is that having an empty references
section gives the impression that Bytecon don't have many references.
All previous success is relevant and
can be used to help get more success, but you have to maximise its
impact to capitalise.
The Portfolio section is also a bit
thin. This illustrates a common trap, which this site has fallen into:
Making sections without enough content. Web sites don't *need* several
sections to be effective. They don't need navigation. They don't need a
contact us page or a page listing services. All they *need* is a
message that's bold, consistent, relevant and well thought-through.
My last web site was very effective
and only had one page, which featured 2 introductory paragraphs, a
brief write-up of my last 3 projects, some thumbnails of a few other
websites, a short blog diary, and my contact details. It followed
Razor: being the simplest answer to the problem.
I would recommend floating all the
site's content up onto a home page, until such a point that there are
enough well-defined services or case studies to merit creating new
pages. The result will be a
A note on Case Studies
A powerful business case study needs
a simple, succinct message that can be summarised in one or two points
that emphasise the success of the project, The quality of the company
is described by implication, never directly. A good structure is: Need,
- What did the client need?
- What we did
- What the result was (successes)
"Dingo Scrap Metals needed to target
new markets in Southern Asia.
Bytecon worked with Dingo to develop
a web strategy that built on DSM's flexible international development
The multi-lingual site has enabled
Dingo to compete and win new contracts in the first few months."
This write-up doesn't use any
adjectives to describe Bytecon's expertise, skills, or any other value,
yet that comes through by implication. Of course, this is a technique
for creating powerful, credible case studies, and works in harmony with
a direct sales message. Site visitors still need to find out about your
differentiating factors, quickly and directly.
The original design seemed to follow
a straight-line thought process: We want to be seen as IT
professionals, therefore we'll show pictures of IT professionals in
That simple approach quite often
works, provided the execution manages to suspend the visitor's
disbelief. That's all - remember, any real prospective clients viewing
your site *want* you to be the right company, they're not trying to
catch you out. Tell them what they want to know, with confidence.
You know what the best thing about
being a web design/development agency and doing your own web site is...
The impression that you create on your home page is, by definition,
true! If you make yourself look like a successful and professional web
service provider, then you've proven your ability and therefore you can
do it for clients. No further questions!
Unfortunately, this imagery is not
well chosen or presented, and doesn't create the right impression. The
remote, washed-out, faceless stock imagery doesn't work well here.
Personally I don't believe for a minute that these people could be
I did enjoy the two guys at the
top-right, cringing in horror and disgust at their share price
plummeting before their eyes, as illustrated on the plunging line on
the graph on the photo below them :-)
Anything that's believable. It
depends on the character and personality you wish to present, and that
should be chosen to fit the target market...
So back to Hilary. She's looking for
someone who she can call up direct, someone who'll be available and
accountable. She also needs someone who'll be very much on her side,
and help her to work out what *she* wants. She only has a few thousand
in her web site budget, so this is her only shot, and she needs to know
that she'll get cooperation with her web agency.
What will show Hilary the kind of
personality she wants to see?
- Light, bold, simple design will
- For imagery, evidence of successful
and happy clients will support the message.
- Logos are good when juxtaposed with
snippets of success.
- If you're going for a personal
look, I would show the face of Bytecon!
The face of Bytecon
This means getting someone with a
digital camera, good light, and spending an hour taking a hundred
pictures, then filtering them down and editing them into the right
image. It will be time well spent.
It doesn't matter if the person
behind the curtain is an
year old geek - Hilary might be able to trust an eighteen
year old geek if he comes across with the right tone of voice! (Note:
I've selected a random geek mugshot for the case study redesign!)
This simple one-page site should give
Bytecon's prospects everything they need to pick up the phone:
- It contains a density of trigger phrases for the
market's likely mental checklist
- The personality is open and
friendly, with a repeated emphasis on creating communication
- It uses well-written, truthful case
study and news items that imply repeated and on-going success
- Very little imagery is used, and
it's used as content to help support the proposition and brand
- The colour scheme is simple and
generic but easy on the eye, and lets the reader focus on the message