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The Modern Day Website – So Much More Than an Online Brochure – How to Design a Website for Impact
Two relatively seismic shifts in the last 10 years have completely changed the way the internet works:
- There was so much content that users found it difficult to actually sift the pearls of wisdom that they wanted from a general morass of sometimes conflicting information, to find something that was reliable, interesting, relevant to why they were searching, and that they did not know already. Why would you be searching otherwise? The technology giants of the internet began to see their business at risk if no-one saw the value of the good content out there because no-one could ever find it. So, search tools changed, and continue to evolve still, to help people find fresh, relevant and interesting content. And they began to provide data that allowed people to understand what was going on around the internet, to help them find their way to the content they needed – the advent of Google Analytics. Moreover, it was made free to keep people using it.
- The internet shifted from a one-way, out-bound mechanism, to become a two-way communications medium. Users were not content to simply ‘receive’ content (pardon the pun!) that others had written, they wanted to put their own content somewhere that it could have a voice, and be shared. User-generated content quickly morphed into Social Networks, and sharing of content amongst individuals and their networks of friends.
The model continues to evolve, particularly with content becoming more audio-visual in nature as people give up on the willingness to actually read. But it remains the case that the internet is all about ‘content’ – about finding it, sharing it, contributing to it.
So for marketers, the internet has much become much more than just a collection of brochure websites. Yet many companies still have websites that were built for the original model. If you haven’t updated yours in years, it’s likely your website will be an ‘online brochure’. It might be a nice looking one, but in an age where the internet enables people to talk to each other about you, your products and your customer service, you are missing a trick or two if you still rely on a brochure website for all your online marketing. Today, marketing is as much about listening to what your market says, not what you say. And where competition drives everything in a tough economy, you risk being left behind in the competitive battle if you still rely on an old-style brochure website.
There are five aspects of getting a website to work for your business:
(1) Defining Your Objectives – sorting out the role of the site in your marketing strategy and business plan
(2) The Buying Cycle – responding to the needs of different buyer types and their human characteristics
(3) Physical Design – how your objectives inform the design, content and layout of a website
(4) Marketing The Business – organising your site around the roles of your other pieces of web technology
(5) Web Analytics – measuring what you’ve got and the results you are getting
Achieving a balance of all five means you will have a website that sits at the heart of your marketing strategy and generates a strong return for your business. And that’s what it’s about these days, otherwise you may as well spend money on having 5,000 brochures printed, and then sticking them in a cupboard!
Defining your objectives
It’s important to think about the business side before we leap into technology. Step back a bit and plan your new website in the wider context of your business.
Firstly, consider what you are looking to achieve as a business in the short to medium term. If you’re clear in your own mind what you want to achieve, then you can begin to consider how a website will help you achieve this. Consider a few poignant questions:
- Is your business reliant on selling to new customers, or up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers? What proportions?
- Do you want to acquire new customers? If so, how many? Where are they? How do you reach them?
- If you want to sell more to existing customers, how much more? How much of this will be through your website? How much through other channels, and which ones?
- Do you want to target new markets? If so, what are these markets? Where are they? What are their demographics? Who are the buyers?
- Do you sell through partners, or distributors?
- How do you differentiate from your competitors?
- What is the buying cycle of your customers?
- Do you want to sell product online as an e-commerce site? Is your product appropriate to sell online? Do people buy competitor product online? How much revenue do you want to generate?
- Do you want to reduce your Marketing costs? If so, where, and by how much? How much should you be budgeting for Marketing anyway?
- Do you want to reduce your Sales and General Admin costs? If so, by how much?
Once you have identified the things you want your website to achieve, your ability to identify the key audiences for your site will become clearer. Whilst all these groups may be important to you, some will take priority:
- Existing customers
- Prospects (new customers)
- Partners and associates
So what exactly is the role of your website?
Websites broadly divide into four categories, some potentially being subsets or overlaps of these:
- Content – interesting things to say, with a goal to increase the engagement of your audience – more time on site reading what you are providing
- Lead Generation – increase and segment your sales down different channels, and reduce your selling costs
- E-Commerce – increase your sales, and decrease your sales and marketing costs
- Self Service – think ‘Banks’ – increase customer satisfaction and reduce support costs
When considering the role and objective of the site, consider where it sits in your marketing strategy. The ‘Field of Dreams’ strategy that existed around brochure websites no longer works. Your website is like an online store front, and you need to direct people towards it. So what other pieces of infrastructure do you need online? And how does that change as your business priorities change through the year? Have you changed the window display in your store front? Where does your site sit in your digital marketing system?
What exactly is it you need the site to do? Is it to get people to call you? Is it to attract new customers, or to provide information to customers who already know what you do and reduce the cost of cultivating the sale? Is it to sell products unassisted? Is it to get people to sign up for your newsletter? What is the conversion goal for the site, and the series of steps through the site to achieve that goal? Getting this right at the outset will mean that your site will stand a chance of achieving a business objective, as later elements of the design slot into place.
What else do you need to support it, to drive traffic to you? Where does the site sit in your Internet marketing solution?
- Search Engine Optimisation (both on and off-site)
- Directory Listings (e.g. Google Maps, Google+ Local, Bing Business Center)
- A Social Media presence on the major sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube)
- Blogging to demonstrate your capabilities, and differentiate you from your competition
- A paid search advertising campaign, for appropriate products
The Buying Cycle
Think about the ‘buying process’ of the people your site will be ‘engaging with’. It’s easy to think of your site as something that needs to support ‘Sales and Marketing’, and therefore an outbound medium, sending messages to the market as part of your sales cycle.
You need to consider that your buyer actually has much more control than you do. Your audience is made up of people with their own agendas, and their own ways of fulfilling them, no matter what you think of as your Selling Cycle.
Brochure style websites of old are great examples of Prospecting and Rapport building tools, but do not necessarily support the prospect throughout their ‘buying process’.
The buying process is a model which attempts to map the behaviour of potential customers when they become interested in your product or service. Ultimately, they are driven by the fact they have a problem, and at the outset they are looking for ways to even recognise and shape what problem they have (quantify and evaluate it) as much as find an answer. Their purchase decision is way down the line, yet they may be searching the internet to find information on what will help them, and who can provide potential solutions.
The Selling Cycle and the Buying Cycle must meet. Website visitors frankly don’t care about your selling process, but you need to care about how they buy. Acknowledge that both processes take place on each and every interaction with your website, and create an experience that leads your visitors towards their goals (which will become your goals, of course).
Typically, brochure sites provide plenty of information about ‘What We Do’, ‘Who We Are’ and ‘Our Proud Heritage’. But do they actually help the potential buyer understand his (or her) problem? Do they provide information to help the technical evaluator, the recommender, the decision maker and the buyer at all stages of their buying cycle?
Broadly, there are three types of website visitor:
- Window Shoppers – they aren’t sure they want anything, but might buy if what they want were to appear in front of them.
- Returning Visitors – have a strong need, know where they are going, but haven’t narrowed down the options and are reviewing detail.
- Perfect Prospects – they know exactly what they want (features, brands, model numbers) and where to go to buy it.
Overlaid on that, humans come in four major personality types, recognised as such by virtually every philosopher since Hippocrates:
- The Analytical – who need to know everything about everything before they make a decision
- The Driving – competitive types who know it all, exactly what to do, where to go and go to get it straight away
- The Amiable – who want to know what everyone else thinks before they will do something
- The Expressive – who will take an impulsive, spontaneous action that makes them look good
Combine the stages of your Buying Cycle with the visitor categories and dominant personality types, and you have something that the buyer will find a more useful resource.
When someone lands on your site, typically you have less than eight seconds to retain their interest. What the visitor doesn’t realise is that actually you have less than that, as the subconscious brain makes judgements in a fraction of a second that influence what they will do.
When a user comes to site, their brain is fundamentally trying to decide whether this thing they are seeing will help them or hinder them in life. In psychological terms, it goes back to ‘flight or fight’ principles, and unfortunately for you, the default setting of the brain is ‘off’ rather than ‘on’. So the user is trying to decide before they even realise it whether there is any reason for them to stay – “Give me a reason to be out of here!” The rest of the eight seconds is window dressing. If you give them any reasons to click the ‘Back’ button, they will.
Most websites are achieving a good conversion rate if they hit 2%. So the question is, what are they doing for 98% of the time to drive people away? Consider three things:
- Signposts – obvious visual signs that tell the user ‘You are in the right place’. Recognise who your user is
- Calls to Action – tell them what to do next, don’t leave it to their choice
- Natural layout – Ever wondered why Google is laid out like a capital letter F? In the Western world at least, the human eye reads left to right and top to bottom.
Put your most important signposts and content in a layout that broadly achieves a balance of all three, and don’t give the subconscious brain any reasons to leave.
When it comes to content, organise your site by its relative importance to your visitor types:
- How can you make it easy to access your content?
- What path do you want users to take? What sequence of information do they typically need?
- What opportunities are there for cross-selling? Can you promote another product that users might find interesting?
- How easy is it for users to contact you?
- How easy is it for users to find help if they get stuck, or ‘lost’ in the site?
Once you’ve established the kind of content your website will contain, and who you’re aiming it at, plan the structure of the website itself, by creating a website map. This is important because it defines the size and scope of your website, as well as visualising the routes that users will take when navigating the site.
Define each page within your website. This ensures that you consider the purpose of the page and perhaps more importantly, what you expect visitors at that page to do. In turn, the Site Map helps to summarise the content that needs to be created and also enables you to begin thinking about the keywords and phrases that customers may use to search the internet for products and services like yours.
Heat-mapping software will show you the areas a user is most likely to notice, and what path their eye will take through a page. This can be very useful for working out what features need most prominence. Think about the ‘signposting’ and ‘selling’ on your website. How does your site signpost and direct visitors to the content they want, and how does it sell them your product or service? Are there any ‘gaps’ in the heat map, that are simply being missed by the subconscious brain? What can you do to make the eye linger on the important objects? Change the colours? Change the fonts?
A successful website combines three elements:
- Graphics – these define how the visitor interacts with your site and what impression they get from it. A visually well designed website can be ‘make or break’ in terms of capturing and keeping visitors and directing them around relevant pages.
- Technology – Given their age, a large number of websites use outdated technology or are poorly written by modern standards, seriously hampering accessibility and popularity. Websites should be written using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), they should be fully ‘spiderable’, and they should comply with legal requirements and accessibility guidelines e.g. the Disability Discrimination Act.
- Content – the most important of all three elements, but the most often forgotten. Many companies fail to optimise the content on their website. Web designers often concentrate on graphics and technology, leaving the client to provide the content.
This last point cannot be overstated. Content is vital for two reasons; firstly, it forms the substance of your website and communicates directly with visitors, and secondly, it is the only thing that Google can actually see. The internet is still all about Content. If your content is poorly written, hidden behind technological howlers (like ‘tables’), or does not emphasize its natural keywords, then Google and the other search engines will either rank it poorly or not rank it at all.
The successful website is the website that combines each of these effectively. The main thing to remember is that a good website addresses the needs of the user, and is designed with them in mind, so that it gives people what they want in the way that they want it.
So, what else do you need to ensure your website does that? Here are some points you should consider
1- Content Management System (‘Stay in Control’)
Static HTML pages makes for an affordable option, but comes with challenges: you cannot update your content without knowing how to work with HTML files, you can have problems of formatting and alignment, and above all, you most probably would need to source external help every time you need to make a change. A Content Management System (CMS) allows you to alter, edit, remove, add pages and content to a website in a very intuitive, usually WYSIWYG interface.
2- Scalable Website Design (‘Keep it Future Proof’)
Current technologies allow you to build your website one block at a time, limiting your initial investment, whilst at the same time being capable of growing in the future without undergoing a full redesign.
Make sure your website is as future proof as possible, linked to the nature of and development of your business. If you foresee yourself selling goods on your website, make sure you get a platform that is capable of supporting an e-commerce module. If you envisage having a foreign-language version of your website a few years down the line, ask for a platform that supports multiple languages, and so on.
3- Calls to Action (‘Convert More’)
Think of the conversion actions you would like your website audience to do: download a brochure, request you to call them back, or request more information by email. Include Calls to Action (‘C2A’s) in the design to make your website more interactive and build in a ‘Conversion Architecture’. With respect to customer types and their various personality types, think about the path they’ll take through your site.
4- Socialise your Website (‘Develop Word of Mouth Exposure’)
With the rise of social media, you have an opportunity to promote your website by connecting your site with your social media properties. Scatter Social Bookmarking buttons across your site, and make sure you include the icons for all the main channels you are using – your Facebook Page, your Twitter account, your LinkedIn Company Page. Make sure your visitors know where else they can find and follow you.
5- Enable Web Analytics (‘Know More’)
The more you track information through your site, the more it will become a valuable piece of real estate in your marketing strategy. With packages such as Google Analytics, you can now track almost everything that happens within your site – the number of visitors who landed on your website, number of page views, top visited pages and so on. Make sure you install Google Analytics code on every page, and then in your GA account, set up funnels and goals that match your conversion goals on the site. That way, you can establish whether or not site visitors are doing what you expect them to do, and correct it if they aren’t.
6- Put the Basics of SEO in Place (‘Be Ready for Fully Fledged SEO’)
To achieve consistently high rankings on Google is a field in its own right. Undertake some keyword research for your business and industry, and populate the title tags with keyword rich content. Make sure that the on-site meta-tags are all present, at least Titles, Headings, Descriptions and Keywords on each page, and don’t make the mistake of copying them from one page to another.
Also, don’t confuse Search Keywords with Optimisation Keywords. Yes, there is some overlap, but putting every keyword you want to be found for as an on-page tag will simply mean that the page content is not relevant to the keywords on that page, and you will be way down the search rankings as a result.
Marketing the Business
Internet Marketing is the practice of getting more people to buy what you have to offer, by using the internet to reach them. Where with ‘traditional’ marketing, it’s often very hard to gauge your success, on the internet you know exactly what is going on, because you can easily track all the activity that happens on your website. Computers are not bad at counting! So how does it work?
Firstly, make your website stand out from the crowd. A site needs to be ‘SEO optimised’ so that it comes well up the search rankings, and you need to be putting out new and relevant content all the time, keeping your website fresh. Have a plan for putting new content on your website every month.
When users come to your site, give them the information they want, capture their attention, and get their details whilst you’re at it if you can – why they are interested, what in, when, all the open questions that will tell you about your product and its market. Use it for market research.
Secondly, ‘pull’ people to your website. Internet marketing is not the ‘push’ model of broadcast banner advertising, or TV advertising of the past, blasting out your message as loud as you can and hoping to get the attention of the few who might just be interested. With the internet, there are various ways of knowing who is interested, what they are interested in, and where they are, so be there and pull them to you when they demonstrate that interest.
Consider which techniques to use in relation to your business objectives. There are only three main objectives for an internet marketing strategy, and different tools will vary in their importance according to your business, your market and the nature of your customers:
- Generating Leads
- Promoting Your Brand
- Talking to your Customers
And you have three main factors to play with to promote your business:
- Content – The internet is about ‘Content’, make sure you have plenty to say, and say it in the places your customers are likely to listen to you
- Search – Make sure your Content can be found – put it in the places people congregate and use the tools available to find you
- Social – Join the conversation – people use social media to talk to their friends and contacts about things they are doing, and things they are interested in. Listen to what they have to say, and contribute in an appropriate way
Search Marketing is a good way to generate almost instant traffic to your website, Facebook fan page, or any landing page. It’s a perfect channel for promoting a product you are trying to sell directly, rather than simply raising awareness for your brand.
The difference between Search Engine Paid Ads and Facebook ads is that while Google Ads are ‘served’ or shown to people for certain keywords they may be searching for and for certain geographies, Facebook Ads are shown based on demographics and interests. They are two different approaches to audience targeting – Google advertising assumes the user is definitely interested in your product, or they would not be searching for that term. Facebook advertising targets potential demand ahead of that stage – when people may be talking about something with their friends on Facebook. So they address different parts of the Buying Cycle.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Organic Marketing is particularly efficient in marketing your website, and driving traffic to it. We all search the Internet for practically anything we are looking for, and tend to click on the top results.
Search Engines should be part of any online marketing strategy to secure a continuous flow of traffic and leads to your business online.
It’s often considered the goal, or somehow desirable, to always be top of Google. In reality, would you really want a load of enquiries from potential customers who are not really interested in what you have to offer? Is that good use of your selling time? So long as you ensure that your site has good content that reflects your business objectives, and marketing strategies, and you optimise around that, then you will appear for the things that YOU want to appear for. Be clear on that, and nothing else matters.
Content Marketing (‘Blogging’)
Blogging is probably one of the least understood online marketing channels. To many, it’s associated with talking about their daily lives and insignificant trivia, where in fact, it’s all about providing value to your audience, sharing your views and opinions about matters of your industry and encouraging people to comment. To the business, it’s a way to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about.
Blogging humanizes brands, just like Social Media. It is a time consuming channel, but is an excellent way to develop loyalty, position yourself as an industry expert and get better ranking on Search Engines with fresh, interesting content. This makes for an excellent channel to bring visitors to your website. Typically, analytics show that traffic from blog sources stays four times as long on your site and is twice as likely to achieve a conversion goal.
In the right hands Social Media can be a powerful tool for engaging and interacting with customers where they are engaging and interacting with each other. Join the conversation, and allow them to get the information and contact they need quickly. They will be talking to each other anyway, so joining in allows you to listen to what’s going on in your market, as well as contribute your own opinions. It’s a fundamental of your Content Marketing.
In the world of Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are by far the most prominently used social networks.
- Facebook allows you to create a Fan page for your business and have people ‘Like’ your page. Once they like your page, they will see your page’s ‘status update’ in their newsfeed. This is less intrusive than email and allows for easy interaction with your fans or audience. Fans can either ‘like’ or comment on your posts which is then seen by all their friends
- Twitter is different from Facebook in that the culture of people using Twitter is all about directly conversing. Twitter is all about finding the right people to follow, be it your customers, potential customers, or people in your industry; the key is to listen to what they are saying, and contribute back. Over time, you’ll grow your base of followers and engage more with your clients or prospects.
- LinkedIn‘s approach is a hybrid model whereby you create discussions and invite people to join your discussion. You can also create groups of interest, join ones yourself and participate in the discussions.
- YouTube is a growing influence, especially since its purchase by Google. Content is increasingly audio-visual, and Google factors the popularity of video content into the organic search algorithm
Monitoring your site is vital – how can you manage what you don’t measure? Web analytics can help you answer questions like:
- What campaigns generate leads/customers?
- Does my Google Places (Google+ Local) page really work?
- Is my Google AdWords campaign making best use of my budget?
- Are my email campaigns actually producing referrals to my site?
Online marketers who use Web analytics data regularly to optimise their campaign portfolios get conversion rates about 25 percent higher than those who don’t. It can really help you modify and optimise your website to get more conversions, because you can find out which visitors are most likely to convert into customers or subscribers and use this insight to optimise your marketing.
Many companies use the popular free Google Analytics package. This allows sophisticated event tracking, and allows you to set a direct link to your site, setting precise goals and conversion targets. This means that you can easily see what parts of your website are contributing the most to your ROI. Correlate your business objectives through your analytics package into a clear ‘line of sight’ between actions on the site and business objectives.
By analysing the data, you can make decisions on your site and act accordingly. For example, if you could see you weren’t getting many people filling in your contact form, ask yourself why? Is your contact form difficult to find? Is it easy to fill in? Are you asking for too much information?
You can also organise the other processes in your business around the feedback from analytics. If a contact form has been filled in and submitted, who would deal with it? How could it be dealt with most efficiently? If you’re offering educational material, do you have a mechanism in place to keep in touch with users, and also ask them for any feedback they might have?
You may often hear that “We’ve got analytics enabled”, the underlying and often unasked question is “What are you doing with it?” Analytics is a useful tool, but on its own, it’s just that – a tool. Some thought and application to the business will help you get the most out of it.
After Launching Your Site…
Updating a website regularly is important:
- Google considers it more important – Remember the mantra that to Google, Content is King, it is all that Google can see. The internet is all about Content, and the more relevant content on your site, the more important Google considers it. And the more often that content is updated, the better!
- Visitors will find your website more engaging, and will check back to read new items. This will help you to develop customer loyalty and encourage word of mouth communication about how reliable and useful your site is. Providing information demonstrates your expertise and promotes you as a trusted source.
Staying fresh, relevant and popular is the best way to stay high up on Google, not tweaking with SEO keywords and trying to ‘cheat’ the system somehow.
A website is a complex thing, and success depends on a wide variety of factors. Modern day websites require much more thought than the brochure sites of old – they need to be well planned, well written and well designed – based on engaging in a two-way process with your users. The ‘Field of Dreams’ doesn’t work any longer, and your website must be active in promoting the business. Get it right… and your site will be a capable and powerful investment.
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