Ling Valentine on UX, SEO, and Running a Successful Website
Ling Valentine runs the mighty LingsCars.com , a site that’s been on Dragon’s Den, won various business awards, and is – quite regularly – criticised for being ‘ugly’ among other things.
Here she very kindly answers 5 questions about her experience around SEO, using videos to boost traffic, and how she moved £35m of cars in 2008.
1. How much of the work you do on the site is ‘gut instinct’ & how much do you & the team think about and analyse? Do you do any testing and optimisation of things?
Most of LINGsCARS website content and layout is gut instinct. This is not rocket science. In fact I would say that people who spend a lot on “advice” from so-called “UX professionals” are the crazy ones, not me.
Look, it is obvious what people want on a website – they want entertaining. That’s it. Yet 90% of business websites spend their time trying to bore people to death with conventional bloody Helvetica text, colours, fonts (usually grey), spitty pictures and discrete simplified design. All that is completely uninspiring to me. Boring. In-out in 3 seconds.
…On a website, you are competing with You Tube, porn sites and Facebook. You are not trying to out-bore your local council website. So, open the energy taps, eat sugar and get on with something exciting. Split testing/focus groups etc, is just a fast road to the lowest common denominator, just as you see in politics; boring.
2. You use tons of different marketing tactics: A really frequently updated blog, a youtube channel with half a million views, social media, PR, you rank for some big search terms, and much more. Which of these do you find most successful? How do you decide which to keep spending time & money on and which to ditch?
It’s hard to say which is the most successful marketing or positioning I do with LINGsCARS. Certainly Google is the most valuable referrer I have, but everything you mention adds up to success on Google. I just decide what to do, stick at it and make it work.
For instance, the half-million YouTube views would cost a conventional business at least £100,000 if they had to buy them… yet I see very few businesses uploading anything worth watching to YouTube. To get views, a video has to be fun, inspire, entertain etc. No one wants “educating”. Again, YouTube is like a load of mini TV programmes, so watch a few high-traffic TV programmes and copy some of the formats. I’m aiming LINGsCARS partly at “Top Gear” on TV. Quick editing, fast soundtrack, no excess film and in your face shots, plus personality. Plus add fun and laughter!
You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg, I manage with a budget of £0!
As an example, here’s one of Ling’s videos:
3. The design of the site comes up time & time again. Lots of people say it’s ugly, but it seems to work very, very well for the business. Would you say it’s ‘ugly by design’? Is there a big idea behind it?
LINGsCARS is not “ugly” at all. That’s rubbish. It is a beautiful website. What these people who say “ugly” are moaning about is that my website is not like every other asinine light grey apple-mac minimalist yawn-site, most of which are usually dead, inactive, static and loss-making. Like that Gok Wan says, add some C-O-L-O-U-R, dummy.
I want a website that 100,000 people a month walk through clicking and playing with loads of stuff on their journey. I want profit of over £100,000 (like I just managed in 2010-2011). It is like an adventure park, and by the way… I supply new lease cars. Due to such a long, long renewal cycle for most cars (at least 2 or 3 years), I need to attract people in, grab them, addict them to loads of stuff, so they have to come back again and eventually they may take a car.
For me, 10, 20 or 30 customers a day are enough. That’s a tiny percentage of visitors. The rest is just playtime. I am not trying to allow people to slide in and out in 10 seconds without interacting on a boring website with a paragraph-per-page. I want commitment and enthusiasm and emotion from visitors. I poke them with a stick to see if they are alive, and what the “ugly” comments from some torpid idiots mean, is that I have woken them up and made them jump.
4. You’ve had some experience with the Dragons Den. What do you think of the Dragons’ knowledge and skills around the web, and around business in general?
Oh, I am sure the Dragons are very good at making money. They know far more than me, and make far more I guess. But, I always worry that they rarely say “I don’t know about that”. You have to worry when people have an “expert” opinion about everything, however much money they have. My other concern is that there are so many gullible idiots out there who believe they can worship every word the Dragons’ (or even worse, other “mentors” that don’t have two beans to rub together – I could name a few) say, and that it will change their lives for the better. It won’t. People need to get on for themselves and ignore the so-called experts with their books, advice, and networking or mentoring programmes.
5. If you were starting a new business based around a website, what do you think is the biggest thing to get right?
Assuming you can fulfil the service or goods supply that you offer, the biggest thing to get right is simply to emotionalise your offering. Force people to have to make a definite choice NOT to use you. That is similar to “LOVE” and “HATE” emotion. It’s no good at all being averagely acceptable. You must put massive effort in. Most businesses are not big or good or well-financed enough to hit the big centre ground, so for goodness sake take an edge, and then you’ll pick up many centre-ground customers, too.
That’s it. Thanks, Ling! If you’ve never seen the site before, Ling’s Cars is very much worth a look.
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