(updated February 2018)
With so much choice, and with so many great tools out there that simplify and automate the process, it saddens (and maddens) me to see so many business websites that 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 2017 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 all together. However, the result is most often something that has no coherence and leaves the first-time website 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 providing new information, let alone stuff like 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).
The problem is that most small business marketing people haven’t changed their approach in utilizing new technologies. New technologies and platforms have changed the way customers behave, interact, engage, and communicate. Take away the flat design and nice typography and you’ll find the underlying premise of most websites has remained unchanged for decades. The truth is that we haven’t really challenged ourselves to reimagine what a website should actually be in 2017.
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.
The Faster Your Site Loads, The Better
If visitors are waiting for your website to load for 5 seconds ore even longer, you’ve got an uphill battle before you’ve even started. You website needs to load quickly. Really quickly.
Usually sites take a long time to load because they’re poorly coded, and/or rife with unoptimized images, videos, and other detritus. Moreover, search engines such as Google take into account site loading times when deciding on search results. If your site takes longer to load than your competitor’s their site will rank higher (all things begin equal).
Take a look at the company that hosts your site – not all web hosting providers are the same. If your business is reliant on your website to any degree – the case for most businesses today – don’t trust your site to a sub-par hosting provider.
The importance of site speed isn’t restricted to SEO. Facebook shows fewer links on people’s timelines from slow sites.
I could get technical here and talk about asynchronous script loading, CDNs, caching, php7,or HTTP/2. But your best course of action is to speak with your website design person/company and get them to sort things out. (If they come up short, you can always contact us for a free audit. Yes, free – as in beer).
Content Rules – If It’s The Right 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.
For the initial engagement: 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 between 3 and 8 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 – they’ll have left as quickly as you can say “mission statement”. Make it clear to them exactly what they’re getting from you. The single, most important questions you need to answer right now are What can you offer me? and “Why should I buy from you, rather than someone else?”
If you’ve answered those questions 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 the instruction to get the visitor to initiate a certain result a CTA – or “Call To Action”.
A CTA can be anything you want. Perhaps you want visitors to call you, or fill-in a form, or sign-up for a free trial account. But you have to state it, clearly. You need to tell visitors 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 audience 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, no matter what page they happen to be on at the time?
Design – Think About The Visitor
Don’t have a “gateway” homepage. An example could be one that asks the visitor to “Click here to visit the website” and “Click here to visit the blog.” Another example is having the ‘pre-homepage’ being a list of individual country sites, rather than diverting the user automatically based on their IP address or browser language settings.
By using a gateway homepage you’re effectively putting an action – in this case a choice and a click – in between you and your audience for no reason. Why would you want to obstruct them, just when they’ve been persuaded to visit your site?
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 penalize 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, and shows you don’t have a clue about site SEO best practices. Don’t do it.
Keep it simple. Get rid of clutter – i.e. any items on your pages that are simply there to fill space. Differentiate your site with text, 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 – and that’s before you start thinking about typeface size rendering on mobile devices.
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, 37% of the visitors to this site view it on a mobile device – a phone or tablet. Worldwide, mobile devices currently account for over 13% of the world’s internet traffic, and the share is growing rapidly.
If you have aspirations 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. One way to do this is having a dedicated, separate site to which the mobile visitor is automatically redirected. 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 better solution. Also note that Google may downgrade your ranking if it determines the site isn’t mobile-friendly.
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.
Your site should reflect your take on the bigger trends of how technology is impacting your market space, over time. Marketers and business owners should look at disruptive technology and business models. and their impact on society. It’s less about being ahead of the trends. It’s more about being aligned with them, creating the right environment and infrastructure to follow it. Technology is only part of the solution; the other part is perspective.
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.