How to Create a Website With Personality: What To Do Before You Even Start Planning Your Site

 
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Baby clothing sites.

I don’t know many mothers who wouldn’t swoon over them.

Too-cute-for words children with wide-eyed wonder on their faces, swaddled in itsy bitsy prints.

Rows and rows of fashionable bows, lovingly made for your little ones.

I recently found myself stumbling around the Instafeeds of over a dozen baby shops. I have to admit that most of them looked basically the same, and I can’t remember a single one of the shop names.

Being a web designer, I was curious what their shops looked like, so my next step was to check out their websites.

Out of all the open tabs, 2 - 3 stores had shut down or were “on holiday”. Two really stood out as high quality shops, and the other 50% or so… again, all looked the same. I wondered how much longer they would be open.

You see, half the battle of keeping your online business alive is being able to stand out from your competition (the foundations of branding, right?). If you can’t stand out from your neighbors, how will people know why they should choose your products instead of theirs, especially when they can’t see the quality of your products or make a personal relationship with you like they can in-store?

Some of the same-ness that I see in similar websites comes from the DIY entrepreneurial attitude of “it’s just better to get something up” and start your business. Yes, this is true, but having an online shop that lacks personality will quickly work to your disadvantage, as many of the already closed shops have seen.

There’s one scary stat that’s been floating around the internet that 90% of new online businesses will fail. I can personally vouch for my own struggles trying to set up my businesses, first as a freelance copywriter, now as a designer.

For those just starting an online store, the competition is equally fierce and it’s easy to get lost before you’ve really begun.

So before you even consider moving your business online -- or if you’re a new business who has a website already and you’re wondering what you can do to make it stand out -- make sure that you’ve covered these three main steps before you even start working on your website strategy.

Now, let’s dive in to what you can do to plan for a stand-out website.

++ This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase through my links, I may receive a commission.

 

1 | Know Your Worth: Branding

Okay, so before we can even more on to taking about creating a website, I want to make sure you’ve figured out the basics of your brand. This is a topic for an entire post by itself, but let’s review why it’s important.

Think of your brand as the foundations of your house. Without a strong brand, you won’t be able to build anything long-lasting on top of it.

Notice that I said a *strong* brand. I didn’t say a *great* one because the idea of creating something great can be intimidating, especially when you’re starting off or can’t afford professional design services.

But branding is SO much more than design. Design is influenced by strategy, and to create a brand that goes anywhere, you first need to know why you’re going in a certain design direction.

Here are many some things that you absolutely need to figure out from the beginning. Getting these solidified will help you create a website that has bouquets of personality to attract the right kind of customers:

Plan your Brand By Covering These Bases:

  • Explore your own goals and values, strengths and weaknesses

  • Research your target market + your competitors

  • Figure out where you fit into all of this, and how you can stand out

  • Figure out your your products and pricing

  • Create a voice that guides your content creation

  • Design an on-target visual identity

Don’t just wing it here. Do your homework. Know your worth. THEN look the part.

 

2 | Pay Attention to Tour Story

The above rough outline of brand basics is just a guide to make sure you pay attention to the details of your branding. Knowing the details of who you are and what makes you unique will help you create copy and visuals to express yourself.

Once you know who you are, you need a strong voice to communicate this. If you’ve done your homework and know who you’re speaking to, this part will not be so hard.

For example, is your target audience millennials who keep current on internet slang and hashtags? If so, use those in your writing.

Or, will you be selling to an older audience that values relationships and family time?

Knowing who you’re speaking to will guide every aspect of what you write, from your product descriptions to social posts.

You will also be able to write better copy if you know the key values behind your own brand.

Stuck for ideas on how to stand out? Here are two suggestions for improving the why behind your writing:

Find your differentiator

What is is that makes you special and unique?

Is it the way your clothes are made? Your dedication to natural and environmentally friendly production methods? Your ethically sourced stones?

Find a story that will resonate with your audience and use that as a main message in all of your marketing to guide your words and visuals, and not just on your About page.

Listen to your customers

Talk to them. On the phone. Send out surveys if needed. Read their reviews.

What do they like about your product? Dislike? Why did they buy from you? How has it helped them in their lives? Do you see a common thread that you can weave together that defines their feeling about you as a brand?

It may be hard sometimes to process all of these answers, but I guarantee that it will help you grow. (I do this with my own clients!)

Also, be sure to ask customers if you can use their testimonials in your marketing copy because you need their approval to quote.

If you don’t have customers yet, read the reviews of your competitors to see what a similar audience would like. Joanna Weibe of Copy Hackers calls this Review Mining and has a great post on how to use Amazon reviews to write your copy. And she is a well-trusted industry pro. So use her tips, and try to find ways to improve upon the ideas you find in those reviews to help your business stand out. This is useful practice for improving your copy everywhere you write!

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3 | Create Great Visuals

Use what you’ve discovered about yourself to guide your visuals, too.

While this extends to all of your visual marketing, let’s just take the example of photos today.

Did you know that 90% of Etsy shoppers rate images as one of the most important factors they use to judge a store? (Listen for more insights on the Etsy Success Podcast.)

That might be because 90% of the sensory information sent to the brain is visual, according to 3M.

And even though these kind of stats have been floating around the internet for years, I’m still shocked by the number of shops that use mediocre product photography or stock images that don’t give them personality.

After all, if you’re going through the trouble of creating an online store, you need to go all the way or you won’t get the kind of returns you’re hoping for.

So what should you do to make this 90% count?

On your website (and in catalogs and everywhere else), you will need two kinds of images:

  1. Product photos (product imagery)

  2. Supporting imagery (usually lifestyle photos)

Let’s take the example of a store that sells handmade baby clothing. When you land on their website, you won’t know that it’s all handmade unless it’s in their messaging. The first thing you see will probably be a picture like this:

 
 
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Now that’s super cute and would definitely stop me from clicking away for a few seconds.

But… if you scroll down and that’s the only kind of imagery you see?

You might be a little put off because you want to browse for clothing, not wonder if your own baby would look as cute as all those models!

You might want to see more white box product shots that make it easy for you to browse the items.

Of about a dozen stores I found, a few only had cute kid pictures on the homepage. A few more only had white box shots like this:

 
 
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Also, since you’ll be taking the time to make sure you have both kinds of images, make sure that they’re really great. It’s surprising the amount of stores that have mediocre imagery but may have great products. I usually pass these by because they don’t look professional.

Usually, better quality photos = the ability to look more high-end (and charge higher prices).

In the example of the stock photo bow that I posted above, you can see that the quality could be improved by removing the white background and adjusting the colors.

It’s relatively inexpensive to find someone to do this for you on a site like Fiverr. You can also bulk order better-looking pictures from Pixc and get a 24-hour turn-around.

So take both kinds of pictures and use them all over your email marketing, your social channels, and in print or online catalogs.

AND, on a side note, make sure that your About page has an actual photo of you alongside your story. You need a face to the brand.

 

4 | Start Planning Your Website

Now that you’ve done some of the basic leg work towards understanding your brand and how you’re going to present yourself verbally and visually, you still have a long way to go towards creating a unique website.

You’ll need to take all of the knowledge you’ve gained from the previous steps and find a way to tie it together.

If it sounds like a lot of work … it is.

Can’t you just use a template to get started selling?

Yes, you can, and I suggest this approach to many business owners who are just starting out and don’t know their positioning well enough, or who don’t have the funds to invest in a custom design.

It’s easy to find great-looking templates for Shopify. But don’t make the mistake of starting with the free Debut theme: Invest in a premium template that has the features you need, and then customize the fonts and colors.

With your unique images and the copy you’ve written in your own voice, you’re on your way to creating a stand-out website.

 

Wrapping It Up

If you have a generic shop - don’t run out and change everything w/o thinking it through. Do your homework. Find what’s unique about you. And show it.

And if you need any help planning, please get in touch! I love helping indie shop owners make a name for themselves with standout websites.