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Beauty May Not Convert - Web Design Tips that Work

Tracey James - Friday, March 18, 2016

Web Design not all about Beauty | Technoledge

Two years ago, we spent a fortune re-designing our website. It was gorgeous, clever & informative - but did it perform? Not for a nanosecond. Last year, we replaced it with a plain-speaking, plain-looking website which instantly out-performed the other by 400% and has kept performing.

In the process we learned a number of hard lessons. Read on and learn from our mistakes.

Mouth-watering but useless

We had the brilliant idea of likening our content to food, making it fresh, crisp or spicy, with matching mouth-watering images of strawberries, apples or chillis. You get the idea.

Then we went further: we reworked our content to fit food metaphors too, like 'we sequence your mouth-watering content into tasty campaigns that make your audience salivate.'  We even branded our monthly marketing update 'Food for Thought'.

We were mighty pleased with ourselves. We launched the website and waited, and waited. Nothing happened. Our traffic was embarrassingly low (especially for a marketing agency) and opt-ins were woeful. We were crushed.

A chance comment

One day, I was speaking to a friend, the MD of a B2C marketing agency, who said to me: 'Tracey, I know you specialise in technology marketing but, apart from your tagline (at the time it was 'the edge in technology marketing') I can't see any mention of technology marketing on your website. I'm sure it's won lots of industry design awards, but it doesn't actually say what you do'. I was devastated but, in a nanosecond, I knew he was right.

Somehow I'd been blindsided by our brilliance. I'd forgotten that, although our prospects are CEOs of high tech Aussie companies now, most of them were scientists, software developers or engineers long before they got the top job. They're almost all left brain thinkers (logic and facts) not right brain (beauty and colour), so the lure of taste and smell might have been a bit alien.

In fact, it's unlikely that they'd 'get' the food metaphor at all, and they were probably wondering why on earth our website looked like an online fruit market. How embarrassing.

Focus and precision

Once I knew the problem, I saw the solution with laser accuracy. In a matter of weeks, we reworked all the content, revised the style and restructured the website. We also replaced our engagement funnel.

Below are the 15 elements (in 3 sections) that transformed our website from a stunning but enigmatic beauty into an energetic, tireless, reliable 24 x 7 worker. 

Essential Web Design Tips: Building your conversion funnel

There is no point focusing on attracting more traffic to a website that doesn’t convert.; you'll just waste leads.

So, your first priority is to design your engagement funnel, so it converts suitable visitors into leads. You don't want any leads, and you don't want the good ones to educate themselves on your website and then buy elsewhere. These first 3 steps show you how to do it.

1.Create your Top Funnel Offer

Getting visitors to part up with their email addresses is a major hurdle; these days you have to give them something of real value, that they can’t get anywhere else. You also have to show your knowledge, authority and objectivity. This is your Top Funnel Offer or ‘seminal piece’ as I call it. It must be a meaty, comprehensive resource, not 10 bullet points on a page. No one will trade an email address for that.

For us, it’s The Australian Technology Marketing Blueprint. It shows the marketing problems that most Aussie high techs encounter, and how they overcome them using defined, proven processes. It’s 22 slides long, it summarises lessons from 11 years of technology marketing, and it’s our top-performing resource.

2.Define your Bottom Funnel Offer

The Top Funnel Offer is the trade to gain the visitor's email address, but then you need to define the next step in the sales funnel - one-on-one contact with the prospect. Ideally this will be a phone call, during which you'll decide if you can help him - and he decides to let you - or not.

This is your Bottom Funnel Offer. It’s a vital step and it can’t just be a sales call. You need to offer something of real value, to help him solve a real problem or gain a valuable insight. It must also lead to the next step in your sales process, and help him feel comfortable to take it.  

In our case, it is a OOO Consult, a call where we explore the Obstacles and Opportunities in prospects' markets, and some of the Options to overcome them. It is a very powerful and revealing session, where prospects take away insights they can apply straight away. It is the pivotal step in our engagement funnel, so it’s well-prepared and tightly-scripted. Yours should be too.

3.Automate the process

To move the visitor from Top to Bottom Funnel Offer, you need help him get to know you and feel comfortable about the process. 

To do this, you sequence several emails (5-7 of them in 1-2 weeks) to fill in the blanks. If this sounds like a lot, don’t panic: it’s only for 1-2 weeks and it's designed to catch the buyers who are ready to engage right now. This will be a small but vital percent. 

We usually use a combination of topical blog posts, revealing case studies and feedback from real clients, so our visitor gets to understand us and how we think. If he's comfortable with what he reads and he's genuinely seeking a solution, he requests an OOO Consult. That is, he comes to us.

If he’s not ready to engage but is still comfy with us, we keep him warm and happy with a nurturing campaign - less frequent emails with an OOO Consult offer every so often, so he can reach out when he's ready.

Essential Web Design Tips: Structuring your Home page

Once you’ve built your conversion funnel, then you can focus on attracting and convincing more visitors. It's vital not to reverse these steps.

These next 7 steps show just how important your Home page is - and why structure is critical.

4.Make your message specific

Don’t make your visitors have to work hard - to find out who you are or if you can help them. Make it crystal clear on first glance. Make your hero panel message clear and specific.

It used to be popular to have rotating hero panel messages, each addressing one of your services or audience segments, but this can be distracting and can dilute your core message. It can also rake your visitor to places where he might get lost and never engage.

Once you know specifically where your uncontested market space is, speak to those in it, directly. In our case, it was very clear, even if our hero panel message wasn't exactly brief (see above) 

At first I was worried about the number of words, but I very quickly got feedback like ‘Wow, it's very clear what you do. Your website's very direct.’. To add variety, we have the same message but 7 different technology images that alternately serve (Adservs) not rotate. This way, visitors see a new image each time, but still get the same core message.

5.Prove your claims

Right under the hero panel, you want to validate your credentials with proof, which might be client or partner logos, industry awards, media appearances and the like, depending on your segment. It’s a subliminal yet powerful message, that says: 'We’re established and these people know and trust us'.

You don’t need hundreds of logos on Home (but you can use the lot on your Clients page) because you want the visitor to get quick subliminal validation, then move to connect with you. On mobile devices scrolling is easier, but you still want steps 4-6 ‘above the fold’, that is, readable with minimal scrolling. 

If you have lots of clients, rotate their logos at the same time as your hero panel Adservs, so visitors get to meet different clients with each visit. This adds dimension and credibility, also subliminally.  

6.Grab your audience

This is really powerful. Let your visitor find himself on your website -  be it by job title or industry vertical or some other characteristics of your main buyer personas. 3 personas is the ideal number, 4 is fine but 5 is probably too many.

To do this, create 3-4 icons, one for each persona, in a horizontal line under your proof elements, headed by the invitation to ‘Find your role’ or ‘choose your industry’ or similar. Also make sure you have a main nav bar option called ‘Is this you?’ with the same personas as your icons. It’s very hard to resist and very effective in gaining engagement.

Each of your 3-4 persona icons and corresponding ‘Is This You?' drop-downs links to specific selling page, that speaks precisely to each persona about the problems he faces. Make each page 100% specific to each of your ideal customer buyer personas; elaborate on his problems, the options to solve them, the pitfalls of these options and why your solutions is the best choice. You'll engage him instantly with your understanding of his pains.

On our website, we segmented by industry, because we mainly deal with CEOs. The key difference between clients are their verticals.

7.Remove distractions

It’s really common to provide multiple links from your Home page to various other pages, but it’s a mistake.

You want your visitor to go to the one page that speaks to him directly (Is This You), not many that may or may not. Unless you have separate micro-sites for each persona (ideal but expensive) you'll have some pages with more general than specific messaging. You don't want to link to these pages from Home.

Nor do you want to link from client logos to your customer page. Tempting it is, but it's also a distraction. Focus on driving the visitor to his tailored ‘Is This You’ page where he can find himself, connect with his problems and see clearly that your solution is the answer. Once he engages, he'll come back for the other detail.

8. Give benefits with proof

About the same time that ad rotators were popular, web designers used to have links from benefits in the hero panel to specific pages. That would be fine, if your hero panel messaging could be segmented by persona, but that is rare and a bit risky. In any case, you want your visitor to engage and take action (like download your top funnel offer) not go browsing generally.

A better place for benefits is below your ‘Is this you’ section, so your visitor can scan for his problems and your solutions, and you can prove each one with a specific testimonial and client logo. This subliminally says’ this is how we solve this problem and here is proof’.

By the way, don’t be tempted to add links here either. It will be another distraction that you can't control. Let him look, but only touch the ‘Is This You’ button that takes him to the page that is 100% tailored to his problems and the CTA (Call To Action) to download your seminal piece.

9.Give a brief overview

So far on Home, you may have little text and, if you don’t have enough, Google might call up text from anywhere on Home to populate your meta-description. As this is the meta description for Home when people find your website through search, you want this message to be tightly controlled.

A way around this is to have a short section below your benefits with proof (above), that covers who you are and what you do. You only need 200-300 words, with the first 150 characters (with spaces) being the ideal meta description. Include in your overview all the buyer personas you’ve included in your ‘Is This You’ pages. That way, if he hasn’t yet clicked his persona, he’ll still feel recognised and be more likely to find out more by clicking on his persona.

10.Link to super pages

We’ll discuss super pages below in 13. but, on Home, you need links to pages other than ‘Is This You?’.  These links are further down the page deliberately, so they're less obvious and less likely to be clicked. You don't want them as a potential distraction. They are for structural and SEO purposes, not to drive visitor behavior.

These terms should be the specific key terms for which you want Search Engines to find you, and for which you can write a detailed, comprehensive authoritative web page of 1000-1500 words. We suggest you start with 10 or so of these pages, and build them over time.

Essential Web Design Tips: Structuring your website

These last 4 steps are all about building credibility with visitors and search engines, and making is easy for visitors to qualify themselves, so you don't have to chase them.

11.Highlight  your strengths

This sounds blindingly obvious, but it’s tempting to follow fashion rather than logic.

For instance, if you have customers whose names you can't use, don’t make case studies a key nav bar option. Better to use testimonials and client logos, and  explain that that individual clients prefer to remain anonymous, and offer to connect visitors to them directly, in due course. (Alternatively, you can create detailed case studies, change the names and make sure the client can be identified. We do this a lot for our clients and their 'big name' customers are cool with it).

So, when it comes to structure, you should have the obvious nav bar options like Products (or Services or both, depending on your offering), Resources (your seminal piece, a few White Papers or Technology Reviews etc), About (including your leadership team, partners, awards, industries served), Clients (if you can name them; if not, just have a page of client logos under About), Blog, Contact Us, and News (but only if you have frequent updates; old news is a real turnoff). The simple rule is this: if you have a lot of good stuff to say, say it and show it; if you don't, don’t draw attention to it.

Don’t forget 'Is this You' on your main nav bar. Have drop-downs for each buyer persona (be it by role or vertical) and speak directly and specifically to their unique problems. See more under 7.

13.Show your knowledge

We've mentioned 'super pages' in 10 above. While these have a key SEO function, they must also read sensibly for your audience, not just be a pile of key-worded gibberish. A good sequence is to 1. Identify the term or problem 2. Provide a variety of solutions or opinions 3. Describe the shortcomings of each 4. Provide a convincing solution that avoids the pitfalls.

Like the ‘Is This You’ pages, the super pages speak directly to the visitor; they show your deep understanding of the subject, and knowledge of the solutions. They are mostly objective, but also need to provide insights into your solutions, ideally with links to your seminal piece. That way, those who find you via Search, learn about you quickly and can access your most authoritative resource. As mentioned earlier, links to these super pages need be to from Home, but they don't need to be menu pages. . 

Super pages need to be optimized for one term (in URL, title, H1 and several times in body text, but not too many) and for related terms to appear in the meta description and in your H2 headings. Super pages need to be meaty (say 1000 to 1500 words) and must have just one Call to Action, not many. This might be your first contact with a new visitor. Show him your best stuff, but don’t make it hard for him to engage.

14.Qualify in or out

You want to qualify ideal buyers in and non-ideal buyers out, so that you get to spend time with high quality prospects who will be profitable for you to serve. So, to sort out the gems from the off-cuts,  once you've addressed problems and ideal solutions (above) always include these 2 critical paragraphs in sequence: 1. Who is a good fit for (your company) 2. Who is not a good fit.

This may seem risky (or even arrogant) but, believe me, it isn’t.


On the ‘Is This You’ pages, visitors will look to find themselves. If they have the features of prospects you don’t want (size, location, vertical, culture, etc) you want them to qualify themselves out straight away. You’re better off with 2 quality leads a day than 20 low quality ones who will just waste resources and time

15. Write topical blog posts

We’ve talked elsewhere about the importance of your blog: it showcases the people and thinking behind your company, and proves that you're real. 

Your blog needs to be written as you think and speak (as a person, not as a sanitised grab of corporate speak), it needs to speak directly to the reader (second person) and state an opinion, take a stance, or agree or disagree with someone else.

It can’t be just another page of web text. It needs to be personal, interesting or challenging. Most of all, it can't be bland or boring.

Blog posts should have links to a few (not too many) external, non-competing authorities, links to your super pages and to other internal pages, to show your authority, too.

16.Use Calls to Action often

The key function of your website is to inform visitors, help them to know you and make it easy to engage i.e. provide their email addresses. So, calls to Action (CTAs) are critical. Don’t make your audience have to go through a maze. Make the desired actions easy to recognise and quick to take. Remember no calls to action means no action.

Each time you have a new seminal piece, make it easy to access it via many pages. Other calls to action would be to your Bottom Funnel Offer (for those who are ready to engage right now) or to a gentler ‘Contact Us’ so less ready visitors have a choice. For longer pages, make sure you use the same CTA more than once. You don’t want visitors to have to scroll back up to take action. They won’t.


We were astonished that, by making these simple changes over a month (by the way, your seminal piece will take the longest to create) our traffic increased 4 fold  - and has kept increasing over time. More importantly, the quality of leads has increased immeasurably.

These days, the people who download our content and move into our funnel, are mostly CEOs of Aussie high tech companies who want a full, outsourced marketing department - not just the odd White Paper created - and they come to us. Mission accomplished for us - and our clients too..




Tracey James
Chief Executive

I used to be a Biotech researcher but got sick of acid holes in my clothing. After switching to selling the equipment I'd used in the lab, I discovered marketing and loved it. I've been marketing technologies ever since - and still love it.

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The case studies are fabulous. I don’t know how you got quotes like that out of customers. They’re priceless and were written and approved in record time, so customers must’ve been happy about them. More than that, we didn’t have to worry about a thing. It was all just done for us.
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