Creating an engaging and informative website that earns you more business, clients and money can seem like an overwhelming challenge. This is especially true when you start wading into the details of what goes where and why. Throw in some assumptions about your clientele (that may or may not be true), an ever-evolving business strategy, and changing communication technologies—perhaps even some inter-office rivalries—and the resulting traffic jam in decision-making can make a Friday evening rush hour seem downright peaceful in comparison.
Fortunately, there are antidotes to this common ailment. Here are seven strategies that can bring some clarity when you decide to launch a new site or upgrade an existing one.
#1 Your Website Strategy Has to Match Your Business Strategy
There is a reason this tip is number one. If you forget everything else in this blog post, don’t forget this: Your website strategy has to match your business strategy. Simple concept, but it’s as deep as the ocean in terms of wisdom.
What does it mean? In countless usability studies (more about that later), people visiting a website for the first time, on average, devote eight seconds to scanning your site before deciding if they are in the right place. If they don’t see what they like, they are out of there. Eight seconds. That’s a helluva deadline.
What’s your niche as a home builder? Are you after the first-time buyer? Move-ups? Remodeling? Or are you building high performance homes? Whatever your strategy is, communicate that quickly and clearly in eight seconds or less.
Does this mean you have to ignore new services or products that may increase your business in the future? Nope. You can devote pages to those products or services. In fact, it’s an excellent strategy to measure if they have potential. But bury them inside your site. Concentrate on your biggest money makers first and foremost, on the home page and main navigational links. This will help you earn more income.
#2 Perfection Is Not an Option
Whether this is your first website or your 15th, there’s always the motivation that, “We need to make this site perfect before we launch it.” But like life itself, a website will always be a work in progress. Resist this impulse to get everything “perfect.” Reach instead for “good enough to get us more business.”
#3 “Let’s Get Everyone’s in the Company’s Input on Our New Website!”
Great ideas can indeed come from anywhere. But this “Let’s get everyone in the company involved in creating our new website” approach strikes terror into the hearts of website designers. Why? Because it’s a politically correct approach to decision making that will slow the development process to a crawl (or even a complete standstill), while grinding away any creativity or uniqueness.
Who should you listen to? Your company’s sales and marketing people and your website developer. Speaking of which…
#4 Let Your Sales & Marketing Prioritize Direction
Even if operational and decision-making blunders have crumpled the fenders of your company, sales and marketing—that engine that powers all—can help you accelerate out of the red and into the black. That’s why the first people a talented website developer will want to talk to is your sales and marketing people. It’s these people on the front lines of your business that are already familiar with what your clientele wants and what their most common objections might be. Let these sales and marketing pros prioritize much of the direction for your new site. A website built to help turn visitors into prospects, and then into satisfied clients, will only help your bottom line. In those rare instances where a company does not have a sales staff, the new site must do that job for you.
#5 Put Visitors’ Needs First
When creating a new site or improving an existing website, always look at your website site from a visitor’s perspective. Visitors to your website have their own priorities—how can you make my life easier, more profitable, happier or more comfortable? That’s why you must answer their unspoken questions with the right answers. Unless you put your visitors’ needs first in the design and navigational structure of your site, it is extremely unlikely that your financial objectives will be met.
#6 Usability Testing
Before launching a website, conduct some basic usability testing. That is the process of showing your test site to people in your target demographic and asking them some basic questions. (If you’re going to do this yourself, I recommend reading some books on usability testing, including Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” or his “Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems.”)
I recommend my clients have a usability test performed annually, because once one becomes accustomed to a website, one cannot see it with fresh eyes. The whole point of usability testing is to simulate being a fly on the wall while a real visitor experiences your site for the first time. At Bevier Creative, we pay people in the target demographic $40 for a half hour of their time. And the questions you ask shouldn’t be leading. Basic questions should include:
A) Can you determine what this website does?
B) Who do you think this website is intended for?
C) Whose website is it?
D) Without clicking on any links, if you were about to explore this site, what would you click on first? What would you click on second and third? Why?
E) After exploring the site, do you have a favorable impression of this company, unfavorable impression or no opinion at all?
This feedback will prove invaluable when formulating a strategy to improve your site. I also promise that what you will discover about your website will be fascinating. (By way of example, I once performed a usability test on an existing website for a client and the 10 participants in our usability test could not determine what services that company offered, even after exploring the site for more than 30 minutes. Even their guesses were far afield from the company’s core products and services. So you might say they failed the eight-second test in a spectacular fashion.)
#7 Make the Call to Action Clear
Capture visitors name and email and any other information you can by making the call to action abundantly and blindingly clear. “Ask for Quote” “Sign up for our newsletter and get a free booklet on how to make home buying easy.” Get them to click on “Tell Me More” or even a simple “Contact Us.” Just make it easy to understand and compelling.
Now go improve your website! Make it fun and informative. Don’t make it safe and boring.