Business A and Business B sell identical products at different but highly competitive locations. Business A uses it’s website as a brochure, composing of a few static pages filled with text. Business B uses its website as a virtual brick and mortar store accessible from anywhere in the world. Business B’s website is well-designed to exude the “feel” of its business. The content on the pages are strategic, SEO friendly and is regularly updated with featured products. The site has user comments, reviews and a blog that is integrated into social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Which business do you believe has better numbers at years end? Better still, which business do you believe consumers will find in a search and be more inclined to recommend? If you said Business A, you can stop reading now.
Your website means more now than ever and its value will continue to increase in the coming years. Great-looking, highly functional and accessible websites are a must for any business, new or well-established. Building and maintaining a great web presence is not easy and should never be seen as a flash in the pan. It takes thought and dedication, and no $199-build-your-own site is going to produce the type of ROI a well thought-out custom site can. So how do you help your site perform? What should you consider when building a new site or updating a current one? Here are 11 sweet tips to help you achieve real success with your website.
1. Design For User Experience
Let’s say you run a law office. How would your users feel if your site radiated Crayola colors and was littered with flashy and glittering elements? Concurrently, if you ran a daycare, how would your users react to a site that was ultra-modern, using dark reds, blacks and browns? These things change the way a user “feels” and could negatively effect a potential conversion. Designing for user experience means you understand your business, understand your user and the site is designed to express and evoke desires. This was true long before the web. For example, restaurants can be designed for fun and families like Beef o Brady’s, or elegance like Firefly. Whole cities are designed around concepts, feels and an “experience.” When done well, the impact and purpose is immediate. The same can be true for your site. If, in your business, you want the user to “feel” the beach, then it should reflect in your website. If you want them to feel excitement and thrills, use bright color palettes and strong imagery. The key is knowing what you want and knowing your user and allowing the two to find each other. Here are a few examples of websites well-crafted for user experience: http://www.tnvacation.com/, http://benthebodyguard.com/index.php (scroll down on this one), http://www.le28thiers.fr/, http://www.kccreepfest.com/
2. Blog…or not
If you have ever sat in on one of my seminars, you know I believe blogging is the bees knees. Blogging, and by blogging I mean just updating your site with relevant information, is the central hub for your website, your social presence and your SEO. I think every business should post a new blog post at least once a week. But, blogging can be counter-productive. If I visit your site and see you have a blog, but also see you haven’t updated it since 2009, well, I will most likely not come back. Too often, business see blogging as just another thing to do. But, blogging is like putting out your own press releases. Even more importantly, the blog creates your “feed” to the web and allows your site to become a “speaking” entity rather than a static one. I often have local friends and clients tell me they have nothing to blog about. I tell them to grab a google alert for, say, Panama City Beach. And every day, google will email you a list of all the web articles on the web using that keyphrase You are bound to find something in there worth your two cents.
3. Don’t Sacrifice Good Content For SEO
For those who do not know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization (how your site returns when certain words and phrases are searched in google, yahoo, bing..etc). For the last 7-10 years, websites have sacrificed good, valueable content for content thick with SEO phrases. While you may think, “adding Panama City Beach in every line of my site will get me ranked,” think about who the content is for: search engine bots or people? More importantly, it’s been a little over a year since Google released its PANDA algorithm update which ranks quality, original content higher than SEO rich content…and content is only as good as the people who read it. So write your content for your mindful visitor, not a mindless searchbot.
4. Have an About Us Page
In an era where the web is becoming much more personal, it is important to have an About Us page. Your business should have a story, and if it doesn’t, the people who work for it do. Tell it. Your user wants to hear it. Tell me when your business was established, what is its purpose and why it is more awesome than anyone else. And don’t be stiff, tell it honestly and forthright. Transparency on the web fits well into this new era as people seek out a personal touch and avoid corporation….which leads perfectly into the next point…
5. Avoid Mystery
How many times have you gone to a website looking to buy something but can never find the price? How many times have you gone to look at a real estate site and they ask you to sign up before you can look at any properties? Your site must be easy, smooth and obvious. Remember, users who are empowered with information are more likely to convert. If you do property rentals, show lots of high-quality photos and throw some real reviews in there. If you sell a product give the user a video on how it works, tell them the full price and all the features. If you groom dogs, show before and after photos, feature dogs of the month with their owner and give the user a virtual tour of your facility. Shine, don’t hide.
6. Have A Clear Focal Point
Too often websites don’t have a clear focal point. Either they are filled with text or have too many things equal in hierarchy. Creating a focal point is easy, choosing what it should be is not. Real Estate agents and brokerages have to ask themselves what is the most important thing they want visitors to see or do? You want them to see your latest property? Maybe go right to a property search? Hotels and Condos, do you want them to see your property features or search for units? Perhaps you are a shoe store, do you want to feature a tag line or showcase the lastest release? Whatever you choose, a good focal point is the most important step in conversion. I encourage friends and clients to decided for themselves what is important and make it the most visible element on the homepage using either size, color, location or all three to make it stand out. Here are a few examples of sites with a strong focal point: http://www.redbowlchallenge.org/, http://attackemart.in/, http://www.givebeyond.me/, http://thisisdk.com/
7. Use Typography Intelligently
Ah, my good friend typography. While many of you will skip this over, you don’t realize that on the web as well as print, typography is more important than imagery. Intelligent use of typography means your content hierarchy can delineated in a glance. Your heading font size, color, type, style and spacing is based on importance. Eyes viewing your website use your use of typography like signs on a highway, guiding them to what is most important. Don’t believe me? Check out these sites using typography and tell me you didn’t know just want to read? http://intellisult.com/, http://www.welovewebcomics.com/, http://www.leaderbe.com/, http://www.kitchensinkstudios.com/
8. Update Homepage Content
Your home page is the equivalent of your store window. If people are window shopping, you have to do more than just give them something to look at, but something new and relevant. Studies show, websites with updating content on the home page yield more return visitors than those that don’t. I mean, look at pcbdaily.com. The homepage changes constantly and people come back to see what is new. Even if you do something as simple as placing a changing feature on the sidebar, or a scrolling news ticker, your user will notice…and so will searchbots. Search engines love new content, especially on the homepage, like bees love honey.
9. Control User Interaction Through Navigation
We all know the importance of a smooth site navigation. But, navigation is more than having a bar across the top of the site. The key to controlling user interaction is a combination of limiting the number of things in the primary navigation and repeating the important things in different ways. Okay, so, I know that I want my users to go to my products page. I may have “Products” listed in the primary navigation, but I will also have a featured scroller showing images of my latest products and then, down the page, have a graphic logo that is linked to my products page and again in the footer a link to the products. What I am doing is creating multiple ways to reach one place and presenting them in different ways as to not overwhelm the user. In the end, they go exactly where I want. I encourage you to be leery of large, chunky navigations. Too many options create confusion and, eventually, a lost conversion.
10. Integrate Social Components
You see, just about everywhere, the facebook logo on websites. But, you can take the social component much further. Add additional sharing options (facebook, twitter, pinterest etc..) on pages, so people can share your site with friends and networks without having to “like” your page. Also, add the ability to comment on your blog posts. You can set up comments to require your approval before going live. A simple comment can create linkbacks, good user-generated content, SEO validity and, most importantly, site interaction with users. Also, collect email addresses on site to send email newsletters. Using your site to create a social environment is important is so many ways and can be relatively easy to set up.
If you don’t have analytics yet, stop reading this and go get some right now. Analytics are the ultimate sources for understanding the type of individuals visiting your site and their habits. Analytics can show you what states and cites visitors are coming from, what links and pages are the most popular, daily visit numbers, average time on sites and pages and so much more. Here, let me give you a good example. I had a client who wanted to increase Spring Break numbers. We looked at the site analytics and saw an unusual trend. Site state by state visitors were ranked, 1. Illinois, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Ohio…all north and northeast. But, reservations and stays were ranked 1. Alabama, 2. Florida, 3. Georgia…all southern. This showed me that Northern students visited the site, but for some reason were not booking. We changed our marketing strategies and were able to reach out to those students, increasing their bookings exponentially and, in turn, boosting the bottom line. None of this would have been possible without site analytics.
Bonus: Contact Form or Live Chat
Here is an extra tip because I like you people. I have seen incredible results with the use of quick contact forms in visible places like the footer or sidebar. Unlike a contact page, these forms are simple, Name, Email, Message. People use these like mad. And if you have staffing to handle a live chat, I highly encourage this. Live chat allows you to talk real time with anyone looking but not converting. Most people in this day and age use the phone last. So, imagine if you could get them while they are researching information and make a sale, a connection or just provide good information. There are even proactive chats that will initiate contact if they have been on the page for more than a few seconds. Here is a link to my favorite chat.
Alright folks, my fingers hurt from all this typing. I hope you find this useful. Tune in next week for Your Business on the Web: Social Media Best Practices.