Take Your Website To The Next Level with Jenna Miller
Jenna has been working with Here Comes The Guide for about ten years, and recently started her own branding and web design company, Absolute Jem. We talked about the best practices to level up your website, optimizing your website for mobile users, what you should be doing with your images, navigation, website functionality, contact forms, calls to action, and so much more! Let's dive right in.
Hey Jenna - I'm so glad you're here! Can you give yourself a little intro?
Absolutely! I work at Here Comes The Guide, which is a national wedding website, focused primarily on wedding venues, but we also have vendors, articles, and checklists, and all wedding planning things. I've been working there for the past ten years. About six or seven years ago, I moved from vendor sales into the Creative Director role. At the time, our website was blue and green and, I don't know, it just didn't give off our ideal client vibes or reflect where wedding trends were going. Unbeknownst to the staff, I decided to do sort of an undercover redesign of our website. This was back in the early days before I had a ton of experience - I designed it in Keynote. I presented it to our CEO, and she ended up loving it. She gave me the green light to go ahead and start implementing the design. At that point, I decided to go full force into my design hobby and really make it legit, and I've been designing ever since! I am still with HCTG, but I also recently started a branding and redesign side hustle called Absolute Jem, which started in February.
I would love to start with whatever your number one tip is for leveling up your website. What would that be?
I think one of the most important things to understand is that you have mere seconds to communicate with users who land on your website. If they don't get who you are, what you do, who you serve, and where you're located in 1-3 seconds, they're going to bounce off your site. If they don't immediately see an incredible visual first impression, they're going to bounce off your site. That very first glance of your site - your photos, your brand statement, the overall look and feel - is crucial to hook in those users, and to convert them into inquiries and bookings.
There's something in website design that we refer to as "above the fold." It's actually an old school newspaper term, and it refers to the headlines and stories and photos that you would see on a newspaper when it was folded in half. In website lingo, it refers to that first snapshot of content that you see filling your device's screen without having to scroll. That is the prime real estate on your website - what will hook a user in, or make them likely to bounce off.
I know that most people are designing websites for desktop, but an overwhelming amount of traffic is now coming from mobile devices. How can we best prepare our websites for mobile users?
The ratio of desktop to mobile users has officially crossed the threshold. Mobile users make up over half of all website visits. Even Google is now prioritizing mobile sites when ranking, and they use a mobile-first kind of rule. If you don't have a mobile-optimized site, there's a chance Google won't even rank you.
I get it - I have this huge iMac that I love, but most people aren't doing that. Of course your website needs to look amazing on desktop, but it needs to be equally amazing on mobile. And it needs to be equally easy to use and navigate through. Any buttons or forms need to be able to be pressed with a thumb. Even your fonts need to be large enough on mobile devices - don't go any smaller than 14 or 16 points for your body copy. It is unbelievably important now to prioritize your mobile site.
Can you talk about the ideal way to optimize images, and if there's a difference in the way you do that for desktop versus mobile users?
First, when we talk about photos and videos, I can't overstate the importance of high quality imagery, especially for the wedding industry. We need to have unbelievable, high quality, beautiful, modern, clear imagery on our sites. The thing about those photos is that it's the number one piece of the puzzle that can slow down your website. Site speed is a huge ranking factor for Google. You have to optimize those images! And what I mean by that is you need to resize them and compress the file size down.
I recommend images be no larger than 1500 - 2500 pixels on the longest side. Maybe if it's a huge splash image that fills the whole screen you can go up to 3500, but those should be used few and far between. If you have Photoshop, great, but you can also use a free website like tinyPNG.com. You can only load about 20 photos at time, so if you have a big portfolio you might not want to go that route. There's another website called JPEGmini.com. It is a paid site, but both do an incredible job at compressing the file size down after you have resized them, and the quality isn't compromised. They still look crisp and beautiful, but it's going to make a huge difference in your site speed.
When it comes to desktop vs. mobile, just make sure you're double checking the scaling of your images on your mobile device. Make sure things aren't getting cut off in a weird way and that the galleries scroll. I design desktop first, and then use my desktop design - which is my ideal design - and I reformat it for mobile.
I would love to dive into the functionality of a website. What's the best way for someone to get their consumer to bounce around and see everything they have to offer?
So I think there's a few different ways. One is the navigation of your site. Another is your calls to action. And then making sure you don't have any dead ends on your site.
Your navigation is your navigation bar at the top of your site, some people refer to it as your menu. It's simply the links you list at the very top - it usually includes home, about, gallery, contact, etc. For your navigation, I tell clients you want to keep it simple. You want to limit the number of links that you have to just a hand full of your highest priority pages. Ideally no more than 6-8 up there, knowing you can utilize drop downs and you can always list more links in your footer, too. But we want that main navigation to be clear and concise.
That goes for the names as well. Instead of "modern love stories" for your blog, just say blog. You don't want to make your website users second guess where a menu option will take them. You want to keep it really vanilla and make them confident that if they click here, they know exactly where they're going to land.
How do you feel about the term "Investment" in navigation?
I'm actually okay with "Investment" because I do think it's very clear what that will lead to. I actually do like "Investment" more than "Pricing." I think "Packages," "Services," all of that is great, but "Investment" is very clear that you're going to get pricing, and it reframes it into a value-based thing. You're making your client soak that in as "Oh, this is an investment. This is a valuable thing that I will get a lot out of," instead of throwing dollar signs at them with the word "Pricing."
I've seen some people use the word "Experience," which isn't as clear, but I get where they're going with that. They want their potential clients to view their services as an experience they're providing, and people are much more likely to invest in experiences. So the psychological aspect is something to think about.
Calls to Action is another biggie. You need to tell users exactly what you want them to do. I heard something recently that I thought was hysterical - not having a call to action on your website is like meeting the man or woman of your dreams and not giving them your phone number. You really need to have a relationship, and how are you going to get there without that middle step?
Every single page of your website should have a call to action, and it could have more than one. By calls to action I mean a button that invites them to view your portfolio, or check out your packages, or sign up for your freebie, fill out your contact form, schedule a site tour, things like that. Those are actions that you want your website users to take. A nice homework assignment is to really go through your website and on every page there should be a clear call to action. Put your website tour guide hat on and ask yourself, "On this specific page, where do I want the user to go next?" Or, "What is the next logical step to move them closer to an inquiry, or sale, or booking?" Make sure you have that laid out. One of the biggest things about websites is you don't want your users to have to think. You want to tell them exactly where to go, what to do, and make it a no brainer.
If you don't have a call to action on a web page, I refer to that as a dead end. Your website page just kind of ends! There's no call to go anywhere else, there's no strategic flow, there's no next logical step. And that can leave your website visitors to go, "I guess that's it, bye!" It's a missed opportunity to connect with your clients. Even if you don't have a big, clear call of action that makes sense on a page, that's where a footer can save the day.
I'm such a fan of footers! It's prime real estate because it exists on every single page of your website. Get creative with it! Really look at it as your website's secondary navigation and your saving grace down at the bottom. If you are lucky enough to have a website user scroll all the way to the bottom of one of your pages, that's a big deal. In your footer you can have the same links as you have in your main navigation, but you can also include other pages that didn't make the main cut. I also like including a Back To Top button since, as we mentioned earlier, over half of our users will be on their phones. You don't want them to have to scroll all the way back up to the top.
Earlier when we were talking about calls to action, you mentioned contact forms. Do you have specific advice for how to format contact forms?
I do! That's another thing I'm so passionate about. And I feel like such a dork when I say things like that, but it's true! Contact forms are the final piece of the puzzle. They're the thing that connects you with that potential client. I believe that contact forms - just like your navigation - should be clear, concise, and actionable to be effective. Only ask for the information you absolutely need to know - Name, Email Address, Wedding Date. You don't need to ask for budget range and guest count. Just the contact information you need, so that the barrier to contact you is as low as possible.
If you have your pricing displayed on your website, which I am an advocate for having some idea of what your pricing is like, you can already feel confident that that is a pre-qualified lead. And let's flip it back to mobile - you need to make sure that on your mobile device the experience is easy and seamless. Bigger fields that they can easily tap with their thumb, maybe even drop down menus and radio buttons to save space and keep their typing to a minimum.
You put so much effort and thought into your website - the perfect images, web copy that shows off your personality and passion - and then the client is amazed and goes to your contact form, and it's a super lame, embedded, dry, technical form. You want to continue that magical feeling. If at all possible, customize your contact form!
We're in the wedding industry, and we know that not all couples are brides and grooms. We need to be inclusive. I was on a wedding photographer's website a couple weeks ago and instead of "Bride Name, Groom Name," they had "Babe #1 and Babe #2." It was the cutest injection of personality, AND it also showed right off the bat that this is a photographer that gets it. Whoever you are, whoever you love, fill out my contact form and we'll have a good time together. Little details like that will make all the difference.
To wrap us up, I know you mentioned you're also passionate about "trust factor." Can you tell us a little more about what that means?
Trust is the first step to making the sale. We need to make sure that our website visitors and potential clients know, like, and trust us. There are so many different things you can do to add to that trust factor. Your branding is one of them, obviously. You want to be consistent across all of your platforms. How your website looks should mirror your social media feeds and marketing materials. On your website specifically, you need to use real images of your work. Don't use generic stock photos. Even if you're just starting out, try to participate in styled shoots.
Styled shoots are a great way for people to bulk up their portfolio, but also to show a leveled up version of what they can do to attract that same type of couple. Maybe you've done very small weddings up until this point, or only rustic barn weddings, and you really want to go for a glam vineyard wedding. Do a styled shoot that reflects the style of wedding that you want, put those images out into the world, and you're going to start attracting those clients.
And then any social proof that you have. Testimonials sprinkled throughout your website. I don't advocate having a big, long testimonials page. They can go to Yelp or Wedding Wire for that. Being very strategic, getting short snippets of testimonials and sprinkling them throughout your site will give users a little pop of, "Oh, she sounds so great to work with!" And then things like badges, awards, any press that you've landed, linking to social media accounts all add to that sense of trust. Just making sure you're positioning yourself as an authority. That's what I love about websites - they're yours! You really need to bulk up your own brand positioning on your website, putting a lot of valuable information out there, so that couples come to YOU when they have questions.
I'm starting now to ask my guests at the end of their episode - WHY are you so passionate about this topic?
It lights my fire to figure this kind of thing out. To dig deep, and to find out what we need to do to make our website stand against our competitors. It's like a big riddle almost - it's fascinating to me! Here Comes The Guide definitely stoked that fire in me. It's something I want to communicate to others, that you can do this yourself and it can actually be fun! It really does pay off over time, and it's worth the investment of knowledge and energy.
Find Jenna at Here Comes the Guide.
Find Jenna at Absolute Jem.
Find Jenna on Instagram.