Strategic Design: Make Your Website Tell a Story

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Did you know that your website should tell a story?

Ever land on a website and feel like there’s no clear route you should be taking? That’s because the website is not telling a story.

When that happens, do you get frustrated and leave the website?

What if that’s happening to people when they visit your website?

This is such a common problem that I see all the time, even on websites that are absolutely beautifully designed–but hard to figure out what I should be doing or where I should be going.

There’s actually a big name in the business world where every time I end up on her website, I go, “Oooh, so pretty! Wait… where is her shop? How do I get to the course I bought?”

Her website looks stunning, but it’s a mess. I frequently get lost and have trouble finding the pages I need, which leads to frustration every time.

It’s also very confusing to say what she does. If someone asked me, I’d be like, “Oh Sally? She has a blog and podcast and some courses on lots of things… TBH I have no idea what she’s an expert in or why you’d want to work with her.”

YIKES.

That is NOT what we want people to be saying about us.

Your website isn’t a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You should be leading visitors toward a specific goal and having a clear path laid out for them. Here’s how to do that!

Figure out the ending of the story

If you really want your website to tell a story, you need to figure out the ending first. Like the ending to a book, this is where we want visitors to end up last. This is the action we most want visitors to take on our website.

If you have a newsletter, your ending might be to get readers to subscribe or even sponsor your newsletter.

If you have a business your ending might be to get visitors to buy a specific product.

Sell services? You probably want visitors to book your services or fill out an inquiry form.

Whatever your ending is, figure it out and keep it in mind when planning your website.

Note: Your website goal or story ending may change in the future. You might be growing your newsletter subscribers now, but if you launch a product, you might want to change the story where the ending is that your visitors buy your product. Simply come back to this post to update your story and ensure you don’t miss a step!

Create your chapters

Let’s say your website’s story ending is to get newsletter sponsors. What actions do you need your visitors to perform before they’ll be ready to sponsor your newsletter? It will probably go something like this:

  1. Read my newsletter articles on the blog
  2. Get to know me
  3. See sponsorship stats and pricing
  4. Get in touch with me

That gives us our navigation outline and order, as well as tells us what content we may be lacking and need to fill in. Here’s how that translates to pages:

When visitors first land on your website, they should see newsletter articles. This will be on your Home Page. Let readers dive into your articles straight away and see what your newsletter is all about.

The next thing you’ll want readers to do is get to know you–this will play a role in determining whether they want to sponsor your newsletter or not.

Use your About Page to tell readers what your newsletter is about, how it benefits them, and a little about yourself. If readers are clicking with your articles and now feel like they know you, they’re much more likely to want to check out how they can sponsor you.

Use your Sponsor Page to show off how many readers you have, the page views you get, and the benefits of sponsoring your newsletter. You can even use a platform like Passonfroot to sell ad spots directly on this page!

Finally, you want potential sponsors to get in touch with you, either with sponsorship opportunities or questions about sponsoring you. Make your Contact Page simple to use by installing a contact form so your visitors don’t have to open an email client. The simpler things are, the more likely people are to do them.

No matter what your ending is, consider how the pages of your website can lead visitors to take the action you want them to take and end up where you want them to end up.

Guide on every page

To really make your website tell a story, you need to include a clear call to action at the bottom of each of your website’s pages. Do NOT make visitors scroll back to the top of your website to take the next step. They won’t.

Either link to the next page they should visit, or have them skip ahead to the final chapter (the action you want them to take).

If you want them to get more information first, you might say, “Learn more about how we help copywriters get booked out,” and link to your About Page.

If you want to skip ahead to the end of the story, you might say something like,

“Want to get in front of our audience? Book a sponsor spot now!” or,

“Ready to work together? Schedule your free discovery call now!” or,

“Get our newsletter in your inbox. Subscribe now!”

Consider what makes sense for the story you’re telling, and include a call to action and a link at the bottom of every single page of your website that guides visitors where you want them to go.

Create shortcuts

I found out that some people who read mystery books read the ending first, and then go back and read the entire book. I guess they can’t handle the suspense and want to see how it all ties in as they read?

Well, some people also want to skip to the ending of your website’s story.

Maybe they already know you, or know of you, maybe they are in a hurry, maybe they want to reach out first and then dive deeper into your website.

Make it easy for these website visitors to skip ahead by creating shortcuts for them throughout your website.

You can do this through the calls to action we talked about above, by highlighting the action you most want them to take in your navigation bar, or by showcasing the product or service right on your home page.

Make your shortcuts clear and easy to find.

Edit your book

If you’ve been online for a while, you may have website pages that don’t add to the story or that don’t lead readers to the proper ending. You can either remove these pages entirely, edit them to fit the story (which may mean combining parts of the content with other pages) or move them to a separate navigation area on your website.

Sometimes combining pages is a great idea. Do you need an entirely separate Testimonial Page? Probably not–most people don’t click on them or read them. Could you instead include testimonials throughout your website give more impact to your story?

Yes, the answer is yes. 😉

Don’t be afraid to try different things and find what works best for you. It’s your story, you get to tell it!

I like to put secondary navigation items in either a sidebar or footer menu. For example, maybe you have a great page of resources that your readers find useful, but that doesn’t work in the main navigation. You could add a link in your sidebar, link to it from your About Page, or drop the link into your footer.

And finally, if it just doesn’t fit, get rid of it. Don’t have pages just for the sake of having pages–if it doesn’t fit with your blog or add to your story, cut it out!

Publish your book

Now that we have our chapters written and organized, we need to lay them out on our website in the form of navigation. This will really help your website tell a story and keep visitors on the right path.

While you’re at it, make sure your navigation is easy to find, and keep your navigation consistent across all the pages of your website.

In the example above, your navigation would look something like this:

HOME – ABOUT – ARTICLES – SPONSOR – CONTACT

This simple navigation structure walks visitors right through the steps you want them to take and keeps them from getting lost.

Bonus: Build a StoryBrand

If you really want your website and your entire brand to tell a story, I highly recommend the book, Building a StoryBrand.

It’s a must-read for anyone making websites or selling online!

This is an easy-to-follow framework for creating a brand (therefore, a website) that tells a story and guides visitors on their journey. Grab your copy of Building a StoryBrand here!

Tl;dr:

Have your website tell a story in order to guide website visitors where you want them to go.

Choose an ending to the story–whatever you want them to do on your website. Then, create your chapters to support that ending.

Guide visitors to the next step or a shortcut to the ending/goal on every single page of your website. Don’t make them scroll back up or think about where to go next. Create shortcuts for visitors who are ready to take action.

Edit your website to remove anything that doesn’t add to the story. Cut the fluff, combine content, and simplify the path from beginning to end.

Finally, organize your website navigation in the order of your chapters. This creates a clear, consistent path on every page of your website.

Keep reading:

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    About Erin Flynn

    Erin Flynn is the founder of Design Bread and has been making websites professionally since 2012. Erin has made it her mission to help web designers raise their rates and create profitable web design businesses that support the life of their dreams!