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Most websites are not working all that well. I ask clients all the time, how is your current website performing, only to be met with the usual answers. 'It ranks highly',' it gets loads of hits', 'shows well for our search terms'. Ok, so how much business are you getting from it. This is the point when the directors and sales staff take a brief solemn look at each other before looking back at me saying, not sure? Who gets them... is it your machine Dave?
Most websites were never really designed with generating inquiries in mind, it was not a belief system that existed at the site's conception, so has not materialized in the end result. Yet, customers are actively searching for businesses to trade with on the web.
I don't like to get over technical with websites, there are thousands of SEO companies out there with excellent, well thought out methodology for achieving top rankings for valuable search terms, but this is not where I am coming from. I know of many web sites with excellent positions for good search terms that simply don't achieve a good level of enquiry for this high ranking. And that's all most SEO's are about, getting you good ranking in Google and other major search engines.
Does this always equate to better quality inquiries and leads? Often not. The key to success with any website is connecting it to the right customers. It's a lot like fishing, you can see the fish swimming around out there. You know they are just below the shimmering surface of the water. You put your best bait on the hook and do they bite? sometimes, but often not the big ones we really want.
Successful fishermen go where the fish are, but also take a lot of care to get the right bait on their hook for those ever more discerning fish. Get that combination right and you can be pulling them out of the water beyond dusk.
So why are so many of us looking down into an empty net, metaphorically speaking, where our websites are concerned? What is the solution without us risking the house on investing yet more money on that we already sank into the project last year? I believe the answer lies in simple good discipline and navigation. And starting by asking some questions from your customer's point of view rather than your own.
Once again, optimisation is important and all those disciplines are good and worthwhile. But where I am coming from is turning those visits that take a look and shy away, into better and more regular inquiries.
Firstly, people are on your website to buy your products and services. They look at your website in a logical manner, quickly scanning the page for what they want, mercilessly discarding any information that creates noise when searching for what they want. If they don't see your information arranged in a logical way for what they are looking for, they will go very quickly. That is the story behind all of those hits that lasted a few seconds, inevitably some will have been worthwhile customers who could have bought from you.
I am not only referring here to ecommerce websites with a physical product to sell, I mean any website. Think about your own behaviour, you probably go on to websites for what you are looking for, something that can benefit you. If this simple requirement is not met you move on quickly don't you? So information design is a critical part of the mix for generating better performance from your website.
Like most companies, you will probably be in a position where a significant investment has been made on your current website, and you are not going to consider changing and re-designing the whole site, rightly so. Many of the methods for increasing your website's performance can easily be made without any major redesign or change in your existing rank for your cherished key words.
The main point is to look again at your website, look with fresh eyes, how is your information arranged? Are your headers for major products and services in a prominent position, in other words, does it say what it does on the can? Now what about categories, is there a smooth flow from a major category classification to specific information on a smaller product range or single product or service? Are there enquiry points clearly flagged so customers can make an enquiry easily, where do these inquiries end up? Who and how do you respond and how quickly? I know that many people reading will say, that's easy stuff, but these are the marketing failures that I see time and time again on so many sites.
The major reason existing customers go on to your site to give you repeat business, is to contact you. Contact pages are a major failure for so many companies as they do not give the customer clear and precise ways to get in touch. Here you should have it all, the name, physical address and postcodes, maps, email contacts, a contact form that (a) works and (b) you know where it ends up (c) is promptly responded to. Ask yourself about your own site's contact us page, is it clear concise and easy to use? Try being your own mystery shopper and make an inquiry, you may be surprised to find bugs you weren't even aware of, these may be turning away many inquiries a day, straight to your competition.
If you give the right information, where people are looking for it, your website can become really useful for supplementing inquiries you get from other channels. Aesthetics are important, but there are many sites that perform superbly well in spite of what would be considered by most to be poor looks, this is because they trade on function over their looks so can actually perform better than an equivalent graphically superior site.
Advertisers often refer to a 'call to action', this being the bit that says buy now at the end of the ad, although I am not suggesting over use of this on a website, so many times pages drawl on about a product without ever closing the sale. If we can subtly prompt our customers to either buy, make an enquiry or ask for further details by making a call then we are more likely to get inquiries, not a hard sell, just an ask...Don't ask and you often don't get.
Another very effective marketing tool for your website is an intangible. Your passion for your business and how that is conveyed to your audience, this is the xfactor for many successful websites that know how to give real personality to a brand in a subtle and genuine way. How to do this graphically can be a problem as it is really a case of putting a bit of your heart into your website, not being afraid of making mistakes and ultimately not taking the whole thing too seriously. There is a common notion among companies striving to look bigger than they really are that they should adopt an austere personality, using corporate lingo and an assumed personality.
Websites that are in alignment with the true values and aims of a company or organisation have a secret pulling power, they seem to attract inquiries as if the very spirit of the site is something people want to join with, leading to sites like this getting many more times the inquiries and conversions than sites designed without real desire and character behind them.
Practical ways to increase conversions above those already discussed are to ensure all the links work, that news pages have current news of recent events and that these pages are updated regularly, this applies to promotions, invites to shows, surveys, case studies and every other communication carried on the site. A web site lives or dies by its content and old out-of-date content reflects lazy housekeeping on behalf of the website owner. Customers will immediately pick up on these factors and won't feel happy in taking a chance on you if you don't look as current as an open shop on a high street.
If you have a site that is full of links that take people away from your site, don't be surprised if they go out of the back door not to return, show logos etc if necessary but don't have them as links unless there is a very good reason too.
I hope the few pointers I have given in this article are helpful, you can make a huge difference to how your website works, with very little effort. The best way to view any website is that it is a living breathing organism that needs looking after, developing and nurturing before it will start to yield real and lasting results.