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Elements of an Effective Online Brand

« Go Back | Posted in: - on January 27, 2014

These days, the internet marketing world is a buzz with the power of “branding”.  Really, this isn’t surprising – in a digital world that’s so full of clutter you can barely click on a link for fear of a scam, it’s natural for people to seek out websites that make them feel safe.  And chances are if you’ve gone to all the effort to establish yourself as a known, reputable brand online, you likely aren’t going to waste the authority you’ve built up taking your readers for a ride.

However, offering social proof to website visitors isn’t the only reason branding is more important now than ever before.  There’s also speculation that the search engines – in their continuous effort to weed out thin sites from quality pages – are beginning to mine data related to branding metrics, meaning that websites with strong brands could be rewarded with higher search engine rankings.

According to Kaiser the Sage, a leading internet marketing website:

“With search engines mining brand related, it is almost certain that the next shift in search engine optimization is going to be mostly about branding, seeing as a strong brand presence indicates authoritativeness. Moreover, popular brands are most likely to be rewarded by search engines with higher rankings (for very competitive keywords) on their search results, knowing that they have earned their trust basing from users’ perspectives.”

So what is a “brand” and how can you use your website to build one?  Let’s explore how this powerful business building practice can be integrated into existing websites in order to attract the benefits described above…

Essentially, your digital brand encompasses what people feel and envision when they think about your company.  Think, for a second, what your mental associations are for discount chain Walmart, compared with what you picture when thinking about high-end retailer Williams-Sonoma.  Although both chains are the same in that their primary goal is to sell products, the way that they do that – and, consequently, the brand associations they’ve built around their companies – are quite different.

As a business owner, you have the ability to control and influence these feelings through specific elements of your website’s development.

Element #1 – Voice

The “voice” of your website relates to the textual content you place on your pages – specifically, the way you structure this text to evoke different feelings.

To understand how voice is deployed effectively, consider the difference in tone that would be used on a website publishing scientific findings compared to social networking sites targeting kids and teenagers.  In general, the kids’ site will be much more likely to use simple words, short sentences and quick, punchy phrases to convey a sense of fun and excitement.

The scientific journal, on the other hand, is likely to feature highly complex sentences, packed with jargon that’s unique to the specific field the journal targets.   Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with either of these examples – what’s important is how the voice used on each site appeals to its target readers.

When thinking about the ideal voice for your website, consider the following factors:

  • What is the average reading level of my readers? Unless you’re in a highly technical field, aim for content with an average reading level of grades 6-8 (as determined by a readability test website).
  • Do the words I’m using convey the emotional state I want my readers to achieve? Whether you want your readers to be excited, happy, sad or nervous, make sure this feeling comes across in the words you choose and the way you structure your sentences.
  • Should I use jargon words on my website? Be careful of using too much jargon or you’ll risk turning off readers who don’t understand your meaning.  However, on some technical websites, jargon is a must in order to make more advanced readers feel welcome.

Element #2 – Differentiation

Brand differentiation refers to making your company’s unique selling point (USP) visible across all aspects of your website.  Really, it isn’t enough to *be* different – you’ve got to make your website visitors aware of these differences and constantly reinforce them throughout various aspects of your website.

Obviously, the first step in this process is to identify your company’s USP (if you don’t already have one).  Once this is set, consider integrating your point of differentiation into any of the following areas of your website:

  • Your site’s header graphic or tagline
  • The “About me” page on your website
  • As a standalone, featured item on your homepage
  • Integrated into an advertisement on your sidebar
  • In any pop up banners you make use of

Element #3 – Design Elements

Finally, be aware that the different design elements you use can also play a significant role in how well the message of your brand is carried out across your website.  There’s no doubt that the “look and feel” of a website helps to control the way we think about the site’s brand, which is why it’s important to take the following factors account when integrating your branding message into your website design elements:

  • Color selection – We’ve talked here before about how important color theory is to conveying a desired feeling to your website visitors, but now’s the time to check your color selections to ensure they’re in line with the brand you want to build.  Think about our earlier example of the kids’ site versus the scientific journal.  Clearly, to convey the right brand message, the former would do best to incorporate bright, fun colors, while the latter type of site would benefit from more staid burgundy and forest green tones that create a feeling of maturity and learning.
  • Fonts – Many of the same associations we hold with colors apply to fonts and type faces as well.  Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, are perceived as being more formal and old fashioned, while sans-serif fonts – including Arial and Verdana – convey a more modern feeling. If you’ve gone to all the effort of identifying the right voice for your content and the best colors for your website layout, don’t diminish your branding efforts by choosing a font that doesn’t match up with your visitors’ expectations.
  • Site structure – Although the way your site is laid out may be dictated in large part by the website builder you use, alterations here can also impact the way your website (and, consequently, your brand) is perceived.  The amount of white space included, the number of images used and even how structured your layout is can all influence the success of your branding activities.

Obviously, if your company has any offline marketing materials, including business cards or pre-printed stationery, you’ll want to be sure the design elements you use on these pieces match the ones you use on your website in order to create a consistent visual experience for your customers.

On the other hand, if you aren’t tied to an offline brand, don’t be afraid to get creative here.  Put some effort into determining exactly what kind of message you want to convey, then take the time to ensure that the voice you use and the design elements you choose help to clearly explain the point of differentiation that makes your business unique.

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