I am oftentimes approached with the question of how to take a web site to the next level. Although I admit that there isn’t one “silver-bullet” approach, the answer lies in applying critical commonsensical thinking. Let’s explore what some of the most successful companies do with their web sites.
1. Provide value
This may sound like a cliché but unless you provide your visitors with value, there is no reason for them to visit your site and keep coming back. Whatever your business is, develop value-generating ideas to attract your current and future customers and eradicate the brochure concept from your site. Publish articles written preferably by you that provide knowledge in your areas of expertise that ascertain you as the “expert.” These articles are great in attracting your target audience but also draw organizations that are interested in similar articles, which gives you further exposure. White papers and case studies that provide a learning experience are powerful as well. Are the products that you make, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Keep on writing, so you create large amounts of knowledge on your site, which will then become “the” place to go. Lastly, your site needs to show examples of how to best utilize your product or service from the perspective of the client.
2. No methodologies, focus on results
Most web visitors do not care to read technical language or the 50 steps to a process. Your site needs to focus on the results that your products, services and solutions provide the customer. Make sure your site answers the following questions; what’s in it for me? Who says so? And, how will I be better off once I use your organization? The best way to communicate results is to let your customer tell their story via testimonials and case studies. What better way than displaying the endorsement in simple text, pdf download of the actual scanned letter received or even streaming video? A testimonial may be a letter, a quote or even an email received from a client. If your product is a book or video, why not let them “taste” a chapter or segment of it?
3. Identify your Audience
Whom is your site targeted towards? Make sure you know whom you are trying to reach and tailor your concise messages accordingly. Once identified, interview your target audience and get their feedback as to what they are looking for when using the web, what they like and dislike and what caused them to come back. Seize the opportunity when you get a web inquiry to ask them how they found your site, what they found helpful and if you could provide additional value, what would it be. When we originally inquired, we found out that our clients wanted our documentation and technical tips available on the web as well as a way to view all of their open and closed projects and to be able to easily search them. That is exactly what we’ve delivered.
4. Make it user friendly
Make the experience as friendly and as easy to navigate as possible and make information easily accessible on all pages. The following should be incorporated on all pages; standard navigation bars and menus, address and phone numbers, the ability to add an email address to your distribution list, a printer format option, site search, contact us, and always a go to home page option. Don’t make the user look too hard for anything or they will exit your site. A site map is always a good idea and you may want to create a “what’s new” page to rapidly communicate your new value offering and exciting news in your organization that may be of interest to your reader.
5. Be innovative
It is easier than you think. Remember what BASF said: “We did not invent the product, but we made it better”. Talk with your customers, vendors and experts in the field. Surf the web for ideas as to what your competitors, customers, vendors and other companies are doing. Read magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, Forbes and see what other companies are doing with their web technologies. Implement the idea(s) on your web site that you feel will generate the biggest bang. One idea is Blogs (Web logs), which allow easy writing of notes on the web by all who are authorized. Another is to create a community using forum-based technologies and deliver value to your audience using electronic newsletters. We often get the best ideas from organizations and entrepreneurs that have little to do with our business but their ideas give us a fresh perspective and allow us to re-invent ourselves.
6. Create a virtual unlimited representative
The web is an electronic extension of your organization. Challenge yourself to deliver customer service and support 24 hours a day using web technologies without wasting days off or vacation days. Let your site answer all possible questions that you would in person, while creating the need they did not know they had. Immediately send them the information they’ve requested.
My recommendation is to prevent obnoxious popup screens in the design of your site. Prevent automatic sounds from playing, but if you absolutely must, then at least give the user the ability to quickly turn it off. Do not mislead the visitor with text and navigation or they will never come back. Use images sparingly and make sure your site loads at optimum speed. Never ever Spam your databases and provide the language necessary to communicate the policy that you do not Spam while giving them an easy opt-out option. If you are providing links to other sites, open the link in a second window session or within the framework of your site because once they leave your site they may never come back.
8. Test, test and test
It is embarrassing and irritating to have broken links that go either to the wrong page or to none at all or to have words misspelled. Test all your pages to perfect functionality and navigation prior to releasing a new version of your site or enhancements. Make sure to test your site display on multiple browser and operating systems.
9. Site analysis and some final points
It goes without saying that you ought to consider running statistical analysis on your site to determine how successful your strategies are. This analysis will let you know how many visitors are on your site each day, what they are doing, which pages get the most action and more. It is extremely valuable for me to determine immediately after the launch of our newsletter how successful it was, which articles were read the most and more. Backup your site each time major changes are made and keep an additional backup copy off site. If you have mission critical data on your site, backup your data frequently and preferably once a day. Make sure you select a great ISP (Internet Service Provider) that is committed to your needs and will have the site up and running close to 100% of the time. Certain web services exist to monitor if your site goes down and send an email to a specified user. Google yourself to see who is linked to your site and who says what about you.
I acknowledge that the majority of businesses wish to be able to raise the bar and get a great return on their initial investment of their web site strategy. Therefore, in order to raise your site to the next level, select one or all of the ideas I recommended above and execute them consistently and over time. It does not come easy, but I assure you that sticking with it and doing it will yield great results and success.