It’s 2011, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, and almost every business has a Web site. We are living in the digital age and people expect you to have one too. If your mortgage company does not have a Web site, do you think your business is suffering? In order to compete in this crowded marketplace, you need a site specifically designed to attract, guide and capture your prospects’ attention. If your site doesn’t do that, it is costing you valuable leads. Most mortgage business owners are not Web design experts, and even if you are, you hardly have the time to build an entire site. That means most of you outsource this work. “Too good to be true” pricing is out of control in the world of Web design. It’s tempting business owners every day. If a company you are considering has a much lower quote than everyone else, you need to proceed cautiously as they may not offer all of the services you will need. There are five essential elements to Web site design. I call them essentials because if you are missing just one of them, your site could collapse. Make sure your design team is fully capable of handling each of these essentials below—or it’s time to look for a new one! As we go through the list, I’m going to show you how these elements impact your site through a hypothetical example in the IN ACTION section. 1. Design A high-quality, aesthetically appealing Web site makes your mortgage business appear top-notch—even if you still operate out of the spare bedroom of your home! Be careful, though as many design firms focus exclusively on this. Incredible design is great, and you absolutely need it, but it’s only one aspect. It cannot hold up the Web site on its own. ►In action: You get a mock-up back from your design firm and it looks fantastic. The colors really pop, the graphics add to the message without distracting and its overall appearance is clean and easy to look at. You’re pleased that your site will finally look professional, instead of the outdated one you’ve had since 1996. When the new site is live, you have a spike in new visitors, but no noticeable difference in new leads. Why? The design doesn’t guide your prospects’ eye-trail through the page to show them what action to take. 2. Marketing If the design is the face of the operation, then marketing is the brains. You need a designer who understands how consumers think who and creates a Web site layout that guides them through the sales process and maximizes the amount of conversions you see. Without this essential, your site will be just another pretty face in the mortgage world—with nothing to show for it. ►In action: You’ve learned your lesson about aesthetic-only designs and hire a designer with marketing training. He creates a page that has one clear action for the visitor and guides their eye through the page. You see an immediate increase in leads, but it plateaus just as quickly. You are getting more responses, which is good, but you need think about traffic, too. If you don’t have enough people coming to your site, you cannot possibly get enough leads. 3. SEO (search engine optimization) SEO is how you improve your rankings in search engines like Google and Bing. High search rankings bring you organic leads (leads that find you without paying Google). If SEO is ignored, Google won’t send people to your site—even if it has an incredible design and marketing strategy. ►In action: Now you have an SEO expert look at the site. He informs you that your homepage is too crammed with keywords (words related to your industry that help search engines rank your pages). He suggests two or three keywords that will help you get the best response from Google. For example, he suggests having separate pages to highlight your services, so you can optimize each of them with their own keywords. After a few weeks, you see the traffic to your site increase, as well as the number of new leads—but not in proportion. What’s still missing? 4. Copywriting Probably the most underrated of all the five essentials, many businesses provide their own copy (words) for their Web site. Be extremely cautious about this! There is a reason people make a living copywriting—there is an art and science to creating advertising and product copy. To get the best possible results from your site, hire a design firm with a professional copywriter on board. ►In action: You decide to have a professional copywriter look over your site to see what hang-ups they find in the copy. They immediately spot some areas where the prospect is probably encountering friction or resistance when reading through your site. They do a quick overhaul, deleting some unnecessary blocks of text and ensuring the copy flows straight from beginning to end. As a result, you begin to see the leads from your Web site go up immediately as prospects no longer get stuck on confusing copy. You are pretty satisfied with your site’s performance until you notice that the bounce rate for your home page is exceptionally high, which means most people that visit your site are leaving without finding what they are looking for. 5. Programming Programming is vital to the success of your site. Even the simplest error in functionality makes a Web site look unprofessional. On the flip side, excellent programming can make your site easier and more fun to use than your competitors’ and gives your prospect value they cannot get elsewhere. ►In action: To address a high bounce rate, you decide to look into it yourself. You go online, Google your company name, and click on the link provided. It takes about seven sec. for your home page to load completely. You think it might just be the connection, so you go back to Google. Lightning-fast. Now you have a problem. Even beautiful, well-thought out and well-written Web sites cannot operate at full capacity if people do not stay long enough to see them. People expect things with immediacy, and that’s why high-quality programming and hosting is essential to your site. Nobody wants to wait more than five sec. to see a page, especially if there are other options. They’ll just use the back button and go find one of your competitors. As you can see, having even four of the five essential elements isn’t enough to have a fully functioning Web site. However, most design companies do not offer all of these services. That’s why you need to be very selective when you are shopping for a new Web site. There are companies who are full-service and have competitive pricing, so it’s worth the time to search them out. Make sure your website design firm has all five elements covered—or kick them to the curb. After all, these aren’t “optional add-ons,” they are essential to your mortgage business’ success. You need them. Joy Gendusa is chief executive officer and founder of PostcardMania. She began PostcardMania in 1998 with nothing but a phone and a computer and zero investment capital. By 2008, revenues reached nearly $19 million and the company now employs more than 150 people, prints four million and mails two million postcards each week representing more than 40,000 customers in over 350 industries. For more information, call (800) 628-1804, ext. 342 or visit www.postcardmania.com.