Yes, I’m talking to you. If you’re not sure how to answer my question, go take a quick look.
So, what do you think? Do you love it? Are the graphics awesome? Is it all jazzed up with Flash or video? Were you disappointed? Maybe you need a site refresh. Or (curses!) was it so slow to load that you gave up and came right back to me?
I’m a student of websites and all things digital, so I have lots of opinions about what works, and what doesn’t. I’m often amazed by what professionals allow to represent them online. From outdated sites to ones that are impossible to read, it seems that sometimes people (and companies) forget that their site is out there, 24×7, for all the world to see.
And then there are the sites that aren’t even active. Some are perpetually “coming soon”” and others are forever being updated. I know one marketing consultant whose site has been “under construction” for weeks.
Either the remodeling project has taken on epic proportions, or this particular consultant has decided a site isn’t much of a priority.
What would you think of that?
Websites Are So Over
That websites are starting to take a back seat to other online tools isn’t really a surprise. As social media has evolved, we all have more to keep up with. Blogs. Twitter. Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles. Some of you may be so enamored with social media that you’ve decided websites don’t matter anymore. “Go to my blog,” you say.
If you only have a blog or Facebook page, chance are you’re missing out. People look to websites to learn about a company. A good website puts a stake in the ground, showing what you’re about, your value, offerings, services, and differentiators. It can be used to capture leads, accept order, provide updates or distribute information.
Websites are more static than blogs, which is part of their value. In a sea of constant change, your website can show stability, continuity and reliability. Use it to define your business, let it serve as a foundation on which to build your online presence with other digital marketing tools.
If a site doesn’t generate revenue, what’s the point?
Maybe you believe, as consulting guru Dr. Alan Weiss does, that a website won’t bring you any new business.
Alan’s position is that, for consultants at least, the web site is a credibility test, not a lead generation tool.*
So if you’re not gathering leads or closing business, do you need a site? Sure you do. It’s that credibility factor again. Like an entrepreneur who uses Hotmail or Yahoo instead of a corporate email address, a business without a website is just a hobby.
In fact, I agree with Alan to an extent, and mostly because his statement shows that he knows his audience and what they need. That’s the key to an effective site.
Do you know what your customers and prospects need? What do they expect when they search for you online? Are you delivering, or falling short?
What Makes it Good?
I just finished my first round judging for the Web Marketing Association’s annual WebAwards competition. This is my third year as a judge, and it’s really interesting to see how business use of websites has changed over the past few years.
During at time, I’ve seen sites that focus on Flash without much substance, sites that are cluttered with “buy this” buttons or links everywhere, and sites that have so much keyword-loaded text that it’s hard to understand what the site’s real purpose is.
I’ve also seen a few very well executed sites. These are the ones that appeal directly to the user’s intent, not to the owner’s ego. The format may vary, but it’s clear that the designers and developers behind them (as well as the executives directing their efforts) spent the time to think about the user. These are the sites you can learn from.
If you want your website to represent you and your company well, keep the following in mind;
- Design still matters. It’s true. People like visually appealing websites. That’s not to say that there aren’t some very ugly sites that are highly effective. There are. (See the next bullet to learn why.) On the whole, your website design should be clean and simple, with graphics, images and colors that complement your brand.
The real art in website design is taking complex materials, concepts and content in packaging it in a way that is both visually appealing and intuitive.
- Visitors rule. No matter what you want to do with your site, you must remember, “It’s not about you!” Sure, you’ll have a list of key points to express or information you want to share on your website. Just keep in mind the audience.
Think about who will visit your site. Why are they coming? What do they want to accomplish? Can you meet that need and make it easy for the people who visit your site to get what they need? If you can, then even an ugly site can be a success.
It only takes a fraction of a second for site visitors to vote “no” with a click of the mouse. If you discover your bounce rate (users that land on your site and leave right away) then you are missing the mark.
- Usability trumps everything. The user experience can mean all the difference between a successful site and one that languishes with no traffic. Understand your audience, and build a site that makes it easy for people to accomplish what they came for.
Placing online orders? Downloading an eBook or white paper? Scheduling a meeting? Get the right tools to make these functions seamless for users. Test them yourself, and get others who are unfamiliar with your site to do the same. Gather feedback and use it to make your site better.
Also remember that not everyone has the same level of internet savvy or physical ability. Many people are color blind, visually impaired, or simply unfamiliar with online tasks. Don’t make like harder for these folks with light text on dark backgrounds or images with minimal contrast.
- SEO is a tool, not a goal. From link building to keywords, if there’s a technique that has been publicized as helpful for SEO, someone has overdone it. Write your copy and design your site for users, not search engines. If you make your constituents happy, they’ll come back again and again, and the search bots will follow.
What to avoid? Long lists of keywords, web copy that looks like a dissertation and videos everywhere without descriptive text can all be turn-offs to users.
Let’s go back to that visit you took to your site at the beginning of this post. Do you see it in a different light now? Does it the message your site projects reflect the real you or the best face or your business? If not, it’s time to get busy.
*Dr. Alan Weiss, The Consulting Bible, 2011 (p. 58)
Image by Adriana Herbut on sxc.hu.