Web Presence and Meta Communication: Are You Doing it Right?

Communication. Everyone gets it wrong at some point. A day doesn’t go by, most likely, where any individual doesn’t deliver communicatively or he/she doesn’t pick up on all the right cues and then misinterprets something communicatively — even on the smallest level.

That doesn’t mean we’re all bumbling idiots, roaming the earth trying to figure out or communicate every detail only to get it wrong. Communication is an ever changing art and science — in society and especially online. The likes, dislikes, and magnetic aspects, bells, and whistles of technology are a rapidly changing bunch.

But in the web industry, we have to prove, stress, and practice a particular set of communication skills based on Internet use psychology and good ole human behavior.

I’m talking, of course, about being highly skilled in online meta communication. If you go look at the definition of ‘meta communication’, you might think my use of the term is a stretch in this context, but I disagree.

Meta communication in design, content, and marketing is simply the signals you send, how you send them, and how you structure the context around those signals. And, signals can go both ways — you can have very strong negative meta communication signals — that just means you’re getting something drastically wrong. Obviously, you don’t want that.

Example #1:

Let’s say there are two exact copy websites and each gets an equal amount of targeted traffic.

Website #1 has clear content, the benefits of buying the widget are super clear, and the process is simple: Click Here. Visitors click the heck out of it and widgets fly off the proverbial shelf.

Website #2 has clear content, the benefits of buying the widget are super clear, and the process to get the widget is not defined. Visitors have to search around the page and navigation to find where to buy the widget. The result? Fewer visitors buy widgets.

This example is about context and where the desired action lies within the context of the website(s). Furthermore:

Remember Pavlov’s Dog?

Most of us know that Pavlov would ring a bell and feed the dogs. Soon, just ringing the bell would make them salivate. But the truth is, they only salivated when a particular harness adorned their bodies. When the harness was absent, ringing the bell didn’t cause salivation.

The communicative signal only worked in the context of the harness. Context is just as important as content on your website and/or social profiles.

You’re the Expert, So Be the Expert

Too many times have I been in a meeting where a client beats the crap out of someone for something specific, even though it goes completely against the grain of what we know about the web and how to make it work for conversions. You have to fight for what’s right, but in the end, the client might have to win — so long as you preface the work with ‘you might not achieve what you hope to achieve’ you’ll have done your job as best you can. But, fighting for what you believe is right in the context of the project and goals is the noble and right thing to do — your clients’ competition is your competition and I’m sure you want to win.

3D child

Example #2: This Really Happened

I was working at an agency that was hired to redesign and website for a recycling company. A bi-product of their service was a collection of items that would then be available for rent by movie and television studios (period piece stuff). The bi-product rentals were not to have a strong presence on the site, but not hidden either. The rentals were not a cash cow, but the recycling services were.

The site was redesigned and the homepage had a container with 3 actionable sections in a single row of content with clear calls to action.

We all know that your most important message should be on the left as people read from left to right. The lesser important service (rentals), however, was given that hero spot on the far left — leaving the main services to follow. Since the focus was NOT to be on the rental aspect of the business, the meta communication said differently. Today I wonder how many people bounced once they thought the main service was period piece rentals for the film and television industries. I can’t help but think about the business they lost because visitors thought they were in the wrong place.


Meta Communication Signals Communicate Characteristics of a Brand

A brand is more than just a logo and color schemes. A brand is a lot of things, but surely it’s the stories and emotions that get connected to a brand by customers. Get your story and emotions right and you’ll experience more conversions.

If you sell furniture that looks shiny and modern, but within two years that furniture falls apart, people start thinking about that negative story when they see or interact with your brand. This happens because the meta communication of quality gets passed around via word-of-mouth and word-of-mouse.

If you provide a service where people have to call and make an appointment, but your customers get caught up in an automated phone answering service with few or no options to talk to a human being, this becomes a characteristic of your brand. Your brand story, according to people and word-of-mouth becomes sullied and you’re just burning money with a less-than-helpful answering system.

Your web presence, therefore, needs to be shaped, tweaked, analyzed, and adjusted in order to send positive meta communication signals. These signals have to tell a story without always ‘telling the story’. The experience, details, and presentation speak just as loud as the text and visuals. How about some examples:

→ Your website should load quickly
→ Your website should be mobile/screen optimized
→ Your content has to sound natural and not be peppered with the same key phrases
→ Your images cannot be super common stock crap images
→ Your services need to be crystal clear and the value proposition needs to be overtly obvious
→ The paths to a conversion should be short and simple
→ Fix your 404 pages
→ Calls to action should be clear and set expectations from the start
→ If you’re going to have ads on your site, don’t let the ration of ad content be greater than your content
→ Return policies and customer service FAQs matter and should be clear and geared towards making the customer feel satisfied
→ Keep your content focused and to the point
→ A hard sell is just that for the customer, hard
→ etc.

See where I’m going with this?

When planning a website or any asset online, your knowledge of the Internet and how people interact with it should always be strongly communicated with the client and more so, in the final ‘product’ at launch. I get it, everyone rises up through school, training, and work hearing, ‘the customer is always right’ I think most of us get the meta communication about that saying wrong:

The saying does not mean you have to give in to every whim.

You do, however, have to satisfy them, so sometimes you have to deliver something you don’t agree with. But, ‘right’ does not mean ‘correct’ so the client can go be ‘right’ somewhere else — that is if you’re in a position to refuse a project/job. If you end up taking anything and everything and going against your own grain, the meta communication that YOU are delivering about your brand is less than stellar. And your portfolio will help magnify that nagging meta signal.


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