With so much choice, and with so many great tools out there that simplify and automate the process, it saddens (and maddens) me that so many business websites remain badly designed, badly structured and offer little reason for visitors to return.
Regardless of company size, target markets, or budget, there’s simply no reason in 2013 for your website to be anything less than a lean, mean, lead-generating machine.
I think that part of the problem is that, in most cases, a website is under a company’s complete control. Having total autonomy to say and do whatever you want on your website offers too many options for most business owners. Unless you’re a web designer, creating websites isn’t your speciality. So what most people do is take a bunch of ideas from websites that they like – styles, phrases, imagery, whatever – and whack them in. However, the result is most often something that has no coherence and leaves the first-time visitor confused.
Are You Losing Business, Thanks To Your Website?
A few years ago, many websites consisted pretty much of identical content found in the product brochure. Little thought was given to user experience – navigation, visuals, and so on. The company website sat there, gathering dust. It’s real purpose was as a counter-move to the competition having a website (which at the end of the day was as equally “brochureware” centric).
Today, if you’re like most businesses, your website has evolved from being essentially a self-serving online “stick in the ground” into a crucial and active component of your marketing, lead generation and/or customer services activities.
But while the competition stakes have risen, many websites haven’t. In no particular order, here are a few pointers to help get your company site back on the straight and narrow.
Content Rules – If It’s The Right Sort Of Content
At the end of the day, it’s all about what and how you say what you say – pretty pictures only get you so far. Also remember that it’s not important for you to like your site – since you’re not the person who’s buying.
Keep it brief. When someone first arrives on your site they want to know – in the shortest time possible – whether they’ve come to the right place. You have about 3 seconds to get your message across before they click away to another site. If your fill your homepage with everything that you think your customer is expecting, you won’t even make it to three seconds. Make it clear to them exactly what they’re getting from you. The single, most important question you need to answer right now it “Why should I buy from you, rather than someone else?”
If you’ve answered that question to their satisfaction, then they’re still on your site. So, now what? What do you want them to do? Visitors won’t waste their time arbitrarily clicking around your site waiting for something to jump out at them. That’s your job. In marketing, we call this a “Call To Action”, or CTA. Maybe you want people to call you, or fill-in a form, or sign-up for a free trial account. Your CTA can be anything you want – but you have to state it. You need to tell them what they need to do next. They’re not going to take the time to figure it out for themselves.
Has the website been written in your customers’ vocabulary, or is it peppered with industry business jargon and corporate rhetoric which only your competitors would immediately understand? Can your target market easily navigate through your site? Can they find the information that they’re looking for? For example, for most people one of the first things they’ll look for is an idea of your pricing. Can they get there from a single click on your homepage?
Design – Think About The Visitor
Don’t have a “gateway” homepage – i.e. one that asks the visitor to “Click here to visit the website” and “Click here to visit the blog.” Your site and your blog should be one and the same, as far as your audience is concerned.
I also see a lot of sites that stick a ton of search keywords at the bottom of this gateway page, in the mistaken hope that it’ll get their business good rankings with web search engines. The reality is that Google and the rest are far cleverer than that and know exactly what you’re doing. Search engines may even demote your site ranking based upon such practices. However, for me the main reason not to cram-in keywords is simply that it just looks scummy to prospective customers. Don’t do it.
Keep it simple. Get rid of clutter – i.e. any items on your pages that simply take up space. Differentiate your site with images, design and typography. While on the subject of type: make sure that there’s enough contrast between your text and the background. Light beige text on a cream background might look cool and dreamy, but it’s no good if most people can’t read it. Also, make sure the size of your text is large enough. Depending on the font that means at least 12 point, and maybe as much as 16 point.
Simplify navigation. Too many menus, and drop-downs confuse and actually reduce choice.
Background music, pop-up windows, or auto-playing videos? No, no, and no.
How Friendly Is Your Website To Mobile Devices ?
According to our own analytics, 27% of the visitors to this site do so from a mobile device. Worldwide, mobile devices currently account for over 13% of the world’s internet traffic, and the share is growing rapidly.
If you have any pretentions of your website attracting and generating sales leads, then your site needs to be designed in such a way as to optimize the content when viewed on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. One way to do this is having a dedicated, separate site that the mobile visitor is automatically redirected to. The other is to have your site designed to automatically resize itself to best fit within the viewing area of a mobile device – so called “responsive design” websites, which are all the rage today. This latter option is by far the best solution.
By the way, having a mobile-friendly site obviously means that your content has to be mobile-friendly: that means getting rid of Flash animations and/or sounds, as most mobile devices (and ALL Apple devices) cannot read Flash. 89% of our mobile users are on an Apple device, and I’m betting it’s a similar story for your site.
It’s Not About You. It’s About Them
Customers don’t care about what you do. They care about what you can do for them. They don’t want to hear unsubstantiated claims about how great you are, or how you’re the best at what you do, because they don’t believe you.
Your website needs to inform, advise and educate. It needs to answer the questions that are going through the mind of the visitor when they’re on your site. It then needs to tell them what they’re supposed to do next to advance the relationship. And it needs to do all of this quickly, efficiently, and regardless of viewing device.
Today, the tools and expertise to get your site to where it needs to be have never been more accessible, or affordable. You really have no excuse.