The Secret to Making a Great Website

In this first session of “How to Fix Your Marketing,” we’re going to learn the importance of telling a great story on your website in just three seconds.

Over the past fifteen years, I have worked with hundreds of small businesses and entrepreneurs, and very rarely have they ever had a lack of expertise in their industry. On the contrary, on a scale from one to ten, where ten is an expert, and one is a novice, most of these folks were an eleven when it came to being knowledgeable about their business. Unfortunately, this expertise is the root cause of their marketing problems and a contributing factor to the statistic that 96% of all small businesses fail in the ten years, and 50% fail in the first two years.

While you’d think that being an expert would be an asset to your marketing efforts, it’s actually a liability. Here’s why:

Though most experts know they are experts and understand the need to tone down their use of acronyms, buzz words, and insider language for the general public, they usually take their vocabulary from a ten down to about a seven. The problem is that most of the potential clients and customers that they are trying to reach are at a one or a two on the knowledge scale. As such, clients and customers are often left at best, confused, or, at worst, feeling dumb. And let’s face it: nobody wants to buy anything when they are feeling confused and degraded.

This is where I come in: With a strong technical background, a sales & marketing foreground, a decade of teaching graphic design and web development at the college level, and fifteen years of entrepreneurial experience, I intimately understand the technical details of digital marketing along with the utmost importance of effectively communicating a clear, concise message that motivates our potential clients and customers to action. And in case you didn’t know, “driving action” is always the end goal!

Whether you want someone to buy your product, vote for your candidate, donate to your cause, or join your movement, action is what we’re all seeking. And the most efficient way to explain something such that people will understand it to the extent that they will take action is to tell them a relatable story.

For example, let’s say that you’re at an art festival, and you come across a booth selling these beautiful ceramic mugs. Your Mom’s birthday is coming up, and you’ve been struggling with what to get her, but you’re sure she would love any one of these. Just then, the guy at the booth steps up and asks you if you’d like to know a little background info on each of the artists who made these mugs. Of course, you say yes, because you know this info will make the gift even more special when you relay it to your Mom. So the man at the booth begins:

“These cups here were made by a man who is a Neo-Nazi Skinhead that physically and mentally abuses his wife. This artist will use all of the proceeds from the sale of these mugs to buy drugs and sell them to children in the inner-city. ” 

Then the man at the booth continues:

“These cups were made by a single mother who is currently working her way through college. She is a breast cancer survivor who will be donating the proceeds from these mugs to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation.”

Do you think these stories would influence potential buyers?

In his famous TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon Sinek says that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. People don’t buy what you do, they buy what you believe. What you do only proves what you believe.”

If this is true, this purchase is about far more than just size, color, and how much liquid the mug can hold. Because of the associated story, this buying decision is now more about the buyer and their moral beliefs than it is about the product specifications.

While using a story is an effective way to connect with your potential customers and clients, telling a great story is ridiculously difficult. 

That’s where Don Miller comes in.

If you’ve never heard of Don Miller, I absolutely recommend that you buy his books, listen to his podcasts, take his online courses, and attend his live workshops. You will definitely make your money back ten-ford as his 7-Part StoryBrand Framework is the foundation I use for telling a great story in all of my marketing messages. Unfortunately, while it is effortless to understand, it is very challenging to implement correctly.

According to Don Miller, all great stories follow the same basic seven-part formula:

  1. A Character (the Hero of the story)
  2. Has a Problem
  3. They meet a Guide (who understands their problem)
  4. The Guide gives them a Plan
  5. Calls them to Action
  6. Which Results in a Success
  7. Or a Failure (in Shakesperian terms, a Comedy or a Tragedy)

Now, here are a couple of examples of stories that follow this framework. I’m hopeful you’re familiar with each of them.


Aladdin is the main character/hero of the story. He has a problem in that he wants to marry the princess, but he is poor. He meets a guide in the Genie who gives him a plan (he tells him to use one of his wishes to become a prince) and calls him to action (go court the princess), and it results in a success or a failure.

Here is another one: The Karate Kid

Ralph Macchio (or Jaden Smith) has a problem with the bullies in their new neighborhood. They meet a guide in Mr. Miagi (or Jackie Chan), who gives them a plan (“Enter the tournament”) and calls them to action (“use the crane kick”), and it results in a success or a failure.

Let’s try a comedy: Happy Gilmore.

Happy has a problem because his Grandma’s house went into foreclosure, and he doesn’t have any money to help her. He meets a guide in Chubb, who gives him a plan (“become a pro golfer”) and calls him to action (“go to your happy place”), and it results in a success or a failure.

Surprisingly, almost every great story follows this seven-part framework. Even more surprising is that this same formula will work for our marketing as well.

Here is an example of how I’ve used this formula to help tell the story of what some people might consider a “boring” business.

A lawyer from Atlanta who specialized in estate planning came to me with the following website. While they didn’t think the visual design was terrible, they weren’t getting the conversions they had hoped for and wanted me to make it perform better. Rather than suggesting a new codebase or spending more money on advertising, my first instinct was to help them tell their story more clearly as their current website was utterly ineffective. Instead of a proper image of the main character of the story, they had a picture of the downtown skyline in an effort to demonstrate their office space was expensive, so they must be good at what they do. Instead of a clear and concise main message, they had a vague statement (“Your Atlanta Legal Remedy”). Instead of primary and secondary call-to-action buttons that invited visitors to join the story, they had a barrier button, which vaguely said: “Contact Us.”

To effectively tell their story, my first task was to accurately identify the main character/hero of the story. In business terms, this is known as the target demographic. While some products or services have a very specific target demographic, and others have a broader target, almost no product or service is for “everyone.” If you find yourself saying that your target demographic is “everyone,” your marketing plan is probably destined to be ineffective and inefficient. “For he who serves two masters fails them both.” 

With this in mind, I identified that estate planning can cater to the aging owner of the estate or their spouse and adult children. Collectively, they are the main character/hero of this story.

The second step is to identify the problem that the Hero needs to solve. In this case, the Hero’s external problem, be them the owner, spouse, or adult children, is that they don’t want there to be legal hassles to deal with after the owner passes. Additionally, the Hero’s internal problem is that they want to ensure that their family’s future is secure after they are no longer physically able to take care of them.

Next is step three, where I introduce the Guide of the story. This is also the step that most businesses get wrong. Rather than placing themselves in the Guide position, many companies put themselves in the hero position as though they are the ones to save the day. But since each of us is the Hero of our own individual story, it doesn’t make any sense when someone else tells us that they are the Hero. The company must play the Guide, helping the Hero solve their internal and external problem.

Step four is where the Guide gives the Hero a plan. In marketing, this is called the Main Message or Value Proposition and consists of four to seven words that clearly and concisely answer the question: “So what does your company do?” To which this lawyer can say: ‘We do “Estate Planning to Protect Your Family’s Future.”‘

In step five, the Guide calls the Hero to action. In business, it is best to have primary and secondary calls to action. The Primary CTA is aimed at new potential clients who are in the research phase, and the Secondary CTA is for returning visitors who have researched your competition and are now ready to take the next step in their business relationship with your company. If you are selling inexpensive widgets, the Secondary CTA could simply be “Buy Now.” But if your product or service is more involved, like retaining a lawyer, the Secondary CTA is probably more along the lines of “Schedule a Free Consultation.”

Step six is where we show the success the hero experiences as a result of doing business with the Guide. Alternatively, if you want to motivate by fear (like a life insurance salesman), step seven is where you can show the ill effects that occur if you don’t listen to the Guide.

Now comes the challenge of telling the story in three seconds.

The reason for the three-second time limit is that the average visitor who comes from Google to your website won’t decide to buy your product in three seconds, but they will decide whether to scroll or hit the back button within three seconds. 

By following this formula, I was able to layout the website’s homepage such that within three seconds, a visitor would see themselves as the Hero, their Problem, the company as the Guide, the Plan, the Calls-to-Action, and the Success. 

More specifically:

  1. A Character (the Hero of the story)
  2. Has a Problem
  3. They meet a Guide (who understands their problem)
  4. The Guide gives them a Plan
  5. Calls them to Action
  6. Which Results in a Success

And that, my friends, is how you tell a clear and concise story, above the fold, on the homepage of your website, in just three seconds. 

For your reference, I’ve created a more generic template that you can follow:

First is the Hero Image that consists of smiling, happy people from your target demographic who have used your products or services.

Second is the Main Message that clearly answers the question: “So what does your company do?”

Third, are the primary and secondary calls-to-action, and fourth is the Value Proposition, which answers the question, “What problem do you solve?”

Finally, this process should be used in all marketing communications, including emails, flyers, videos, and social media posts.

For additional assistance with your business questions and challenges, go to to schedule an appointment for a one-on-one business coaching session.