15 Ways to Improve Your Professional Services Website
By Aaron Taylor
Over the past four years, we've talked to hundreds of professional services firm executives to find out what makes successful firms tick. We have learned a great deal from these interviews, and we've presented our findings in a series of research reports and a new book. One theme, however, surfaced again and again: the importance of a firm's website. In this article, we explore some ways your website can change how you find qualified prospects and build credibility, and we offer specific steps you can take to make your site a dramatically more effective marketing tool.
Your website can — and should — be the most valuable asset in your marketing portfolio. At Hinge, for instance, our website has become our single most productive source of leads, overtaking even referrals. Our website attracts prospects we never would have met in the past because our marketing reach was limited by the size of our firm. Just two years ago, we were barely known outside the Washington, DC market. Now we receive steady inquiries — many of which turn into paying clients — from all over the United States, Canada and even Europe. And much the credit goes to changes we've made to our website.
So here are 15 ways — broken into three categories — that you can begin turning your website into a lead generating, reputation building dynamo. We know these tactics work because we use each of them (and many more) ourselves, with great results. These ideas can work for any professional services firm, even yours!
SEO: If You Build it Right, They Will Come
If you want to turn your website into a powerful business development tool, you have to get serious about search engine optimization (SEO). Whether you try to do it yourself or bring in outside expertise, SEO is the key to attracting high quality traffic. Below we offer just a few ways you can dive into the marvelous world of website optimization. If you want more in-depth information, there are many excellent books and online resources on this topic (to get your started, here's a great place to learn the SEO basics).
1. Define your keywords. Keywords (or be more precise, multi-word keyword phrases) are the fuel pellets that power the search engines. Search engines such as Google crawl every page they can find on the Web and record the important words they find on each page. They run this data through a complex algorithm that allows them to spit our ranked results for any search term. Google indexes billions of web pages, so you can imagine the competition out there for a single word. If you search for “consultant” you are presented with 124 million results. Search for “consultant harrisonburg,” however, and you get mere 177,000 results. Still a lot, but much, much better.
In general, the more specific your keyword phrases, the less competition you are likely to face in Google, Bing and Yahoo. Unfortunately, I don't have room to go into the techniques of selecting effective keywords, but there are many great sites out there to get you started (for example, check out this keyword research primer). Ultimately, you'll want to end up with with about 8-15 keyword phrases that people search on frequently but which have a relatively low level of competition. Finding useful keyword phrases that meet this ideal ratio isn't always easy, so you may achieve better results by appending your location (state and/or city) to your keywords or making them more specific.
2. Pick your landing pages. When it comes to search engines, not all pages are created equal. Some pages will be more visible and appealing to search engines than others. To make the task more manageable, concentrate on optimizing just 3-6 pages of your site at first. If you have settled on a short list of keywords, it is easier to pick these landing pages. Common landing pages are a firm's homepage, about page, and specific services pages. For highly specific or specialized keywords, you may even want to create dedicated new pages that focus on a specific topic — these pages make particularly tasty fodder for Google's hungry spiders.
3. Add unique titles to your pages. Page titles are those plain text descriptions that sit in the top bar of your web browser. It's easy not to notice page titles, but they are one of the most important elements in an optimized page. So make yours count. Give each page a unique page title containing keywords used in the content of the page. If possible, keep the title to just a few words (six to ten). Including your company name in the page titles is optional, except on the homepage where your name (presumably) is an important search term.
4. Incorporate keywords into your page content. Work keywords into your body content, but don't go overboard. Content should be written for people first and search engines second. If possible, try to work in each target phrase 3-4 times on a page. It's usually a good idea to incorporate a 100- to 200-word description of your firm on the your homepage, as well.
5. Get others to link to your site. Google works very hard to recognize and reward (with high rankings) authoritative web pages. The most important factor Google uses to determine authority is the number and quality of websites that link to your site or page. Getting links from high quality sites is seldom easy. SEO guru Aaron Wall of SEObook.com has developed a detailed list of tactics you can use to generate links to your site.
6. Install Google Analytics. There is no point in pursuing SEO if you aren't measuring the ebb and flow of traffic on your site. How else will you know if your SEO activities are working? Fortunately, you can take advantage of Google Analytics, a free, powerful and easy-to-use web metrics tool. When you sign up, you get a snippet of tracking code that you can paste into each page of your website. Google Analytics' reporting features are very powerful, fairly intuitive and beautifully displayed.
Content Strategy: Write Stuff People Want to Read
Every high performance website needs a content strategy. After all, people come to your site for one of two reasons: 1) to learn about your firm and its services; or 2) to educate themselves. Here are some proven strategies to address both needs.
7. Write content for your target audiences. When you write about issues that are relevant to your audience you benefit in many ways. People will come to your site to seek out valuable information, and if they like what they see there is a good chance they will come back again. When you publish how-to articles, forecasts, technical papers, research summaries and other informative pieces on your website, you build credibility with people in your target audience. In addition, you get the added benefit of creating content that is rich in keyword phrases, potentially drawing in new prospective clients who have an immediate interest in your knowledge.
8. Use more video. Cisco forecasts that video will account for 57% of Internet traffic by 2014. That's a trend that businesses simply can't ignore. Today, many people prefer to watch a short video rather than read a page of text. In addition, video is a rich medium that can communicate aspects of your brand and personality that can't easily be described with words. Try introducing online video to describe your company and services, introduce staff members, liven up your blog or even send a holiday greeting.
9. Start a blog. It's one of the best ways to add valuable content to your site on a regular basis (Googles loves to find new pages and text), create “long-tail” content for those keywords that are infrequently searched, and build your reputation as a clear-thinking industry authority. If you can make the time to keep it up, publishing a blog is one of the best things that can happen to your website.
10. Put on webinars. With easy-to-use tools like GoToWebinar and WebEx, putting on a webinar is cheap, straightforward and fun. If you've made live presentations before, delivering a webinar isn't a whole lot different. Promote it on your website, then when you are done post a recording of the event to your website or blog. It's a terrific credibility building tool and generates awareness of your expertise.
11. Write a white paper. White papers are a very specific type of educational (often technical) writing that can drive a significant amount of qualified traffic to your website. Choose a topic that would be of interest to your target audience and write a 5- to 12-page article. The result should be a practical, detailed guide to the subject matter. Be sure to promote the white paper on your website. You can even use it as an effective offer for direct mail or Google AdWords campaigns. Michael Stelzner's WhitePaperSource.com is a great resource if you want to learn the ins and outs of writing and marketing white papers.
12. Write an e-book. Then give it away for free. Writing a book-length piece can be a lot of work, but nothing builds credibility and gravitas faster. E-books (especially if they are free) make great offers, incentives and linkbait. If you can find the time to write a book, by all means do it. Electronic self-publishing is cheap and simple, and you can use one of several excellent on-demand publishers when you need a few hard copies to distribute to clients and prospects. Be sure to check out David Meerman Scott's website and blog for insights from the king of viral self-publishing.
13. Add calls to action to your pages. Your website exists because you want interested parties to be able to find you and make contact. So why do so many professional services firms make it difficult for interested parties to take the next step and enter the sales pipeline? You can remedy this problem by adding prominent calls to action to your web pages any place you want to encourage someone to do something — fill out a contact form, download a white paper, request a quote or sign up for your newsletter. Calls to action may seem “consumery” at first blush, but they really work, even for professional services.
Brand Identity: Looking Good Matters
14. Design for credibility. Research has shown that a clean, professional web design can dramatically improve the way a visitor perceives a company. Often, critical impressions are established in less than a second. And that's all it takes for a visitor to decide to click away from a site if they aren't impressed by what they see. Studies also suggest that design influences the way people perceive the content on a page. If a page's design is appealing and professional, the content is often perceived to be more credible and authoritative. So next time you redesign your website, be sure to hire a talented designer or web firm to give your site a clean and modern layout — and a potent, subliminal boost.
15. Dare to be different. Clean design alone may not be enough to compete in a crowded marketplace. The more you can distance yourself from everything familiar, the more likely your website is going to be noticed. Use your brand identity to set your firm apart. If your industry is dominated by the color blue, take a different tack: consider orange or red or green. If your competitors load up their sites with stock photos of chess boards, puzzle pieces and handshakes, go wild and do your own thing. A colorful illustrated approach or a black-and-white photojournalism vibe might create a look that people remember.