4 Ways to Improve Your Current Website

I had been referred to a consulting company by a mutual print representative who said they wanted some help with their online presence. I reviewed their website, social media accounts and any relevant posts and pages that came up in Google searches. When I met with the President of the firm I explained where I felt their deficiencies were, and what I recommended as a solution; which included a revamp of their current website.

While she concurred with most of what I had to say, she replied that their website did not need to be replaced. However, she went on to say “but, it isn’t really working for us. What can be done to improve our website, short of an actual overhaul or revamp?”

Her response is both understandable and fairly common, which made me think about it further. If you had a website that was developed only two or three years ago, you may feel reticent to invest in a new one. But like this client (yes, she’s a client now), you may not be satisfied with your website’s performance.

If you are happy with the website design and branding, if it is an easy, intuitive site to navigate, if it is responsive (automatically conforms and optimizes for different sized screens) and if it is accessible (people with disabilities can navigate your website) — then you may not need a new website. But, if it isn’t actively promoting your organization or contributing to the sales process then you’re letting it off easy.

In our digital age, a website should do more than say who you are and what you do. It is an opportunity to engage with your audience and impress upon them your ability to satisfy their needs.

Here are four things you can do to help turn your current website from an online brochure, to an online marketing machine.

1. Content Audit

Do you know what content you have and how it fits into your overall marketing and sales goals? Don’t worry, most companies don’t. (This blog will help you get started: Own Your Content) We recently completed a comprehensive content audit ourselves and were surprised to see how many holes we had in our own content and strategy! (A reminder that it needs to be looked at regularly to properly guide your content strategy.)

Having content is good, but in order for it to be strategic it needs to fit into a plan. The plan determines what you need, the audit reveals what you have, you determine how it fits into the overall strategy and what other pieces you need to fill the holes. To make this manageable, we use a spreadsheet with columns for:

  • Source (web page, blog, whitepaper, infographic, etc.)
  • Topic
  • Name/Title
  • Funnel (does it fit top, middle or low in the info/sales cycle)
  • Workflow (what workflow or campaign is it part of)
  • Usability (our own scale on how useful/effective it is for our audience)
  • CTA (is there a relevant/custom call-to-action/ad in the content)

2. Improving SEO

The times of keyword stuffing are long gone, but the importance of keywords is still prevalent. Google’s keen sense of good online content can sniff out the junk to determine what is truly a good resource with many layers and forms of relevant content. And you know what? Your audience is pretty good at it too, so try not to fool either. Provide substantial content that is of interest to your readers, and in different formats, such as video, images, infographics, as well as text.

Meta data is still important as it is used in your search displays, so word your page titles and descriptions carefully, to engage potential readers as they search the web. Check out our 5-Minute SEO Check You Can Do Yourself.

3. Leveraging Social Media

Your website may not offer much engagement or opportunity for dialogue, but your social media accounts do. If social media accounts are relevant to your business, look for ways to integrate them beyond a linked icon on your home page.

Streaming social content on your website is easy and can spur involvement. Inviting dialogue or feedback on topical issues within your industry, requesting and displaying testimonials can be effective, and adding polls or contests can be fun and engaging. Be sure that whatever you do fits with your brand, audience, and is part of an overall engagement strategy. Simply getting clicks, likes, retweets, etc. really doesn’t matter if it isn’t moving your audience along an information or sales cycle.

4. Marketing Automation

Often referred to as Inbound Marketing, automated marketing enables a series of tasks to be automatically completed when triggered. For example, a client clicks on an e-newsletter link to your “Our Widgits” web page, and visits a specific new widget page three more times in a week. That shows some obvious interest, so your website may automatically send an email to the client with more information on that specific widgit, additional shipping information and a link to your delivery schedule. If your client clicks on the delivery link, another more informative email could be sent, and the appropriate sales rep sent a prompt to call said client immediately. II the client doesn’t click on the delivery link, then a different email with other information and an incentive might be appropriate, or links to relevant blog articles, or references from other clients who have ordered that widgit…

Point being, strategic tasks can be set up to happen automatically, accommodating for the receiver’s actions and sending the right information at the right time. It allows you to look after prospects’ and clients’ needs efficiently and effectively. (Read more in Get Personal With Dynamic Emails.)

These four items — a content audit, improving SEO, leveraging social media and marketing automation — can each contribute to making your website far more effective and engaging to your audience. Used in combination, your website will become a veritable marketing machine.

Photo credt: GettyImages

Own Your Content

When you think of “content creation”, you probably think of a buzzword that vaguely means blog posts, maybe social media, but generally involving hours and hours of writing for somebody “over there” because content creation is a marketing task that can be cut when budget needs to go elsewhere.

What if I told you that you already have content created, live, and waiting for ownership— even if you’ve never had a blog?

Every piece of information you have on the internet, from your location to your contact information to your company description, is content. Each word you have put on your website or social media profile is an opportunity to build rapport and brand yourself.

 

Everything is Content

The internet relies on content to exist. Web design is to facilitate users reading content. Searches are to find content. If you have information on the internet, you have content.

 

Does Anybody Own It?

This is a question to ask yourself seriously before you begin evaluating your content. While it can be tempting to dodge this question so as not to take responsibility for bad content, answering it— at least for future endeavours— is necessary to improve your online presence.

Responsible for content doesn’t necessarily mean you write it. What it does mean is you create a standard for all future content, keep tabs on what content you have, and prune any unnecessary or outdated content.

 

Managing It

Once you’ve taken or assigned responsibility for your web content, it’s important to keep checking up on both the state of your content, and any rules that are being passed about web content.

This means:

  • Regular content audits to see what you have online
  • Pruning irrelevant content once it becomes irrelevant
  • Reading up on legal requirements such as AODA
  • Making sure all new content meets those requirements

While this looks overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be all done at once (or even all the time). You can schedule content audits based on how often you refresh your content— a slowly changing site can have yearly reviews, with yearly pruning. Faster changing sites might need every six months, or quarterly. Unless you’re constantly adding new things to the website, it’s unlikely you’ll need more than that

Legal requirements for content aren’t published too often, and by updating your content creation processes you can ensure all future content is compliant. Not to mention, having regular content audits means you always know what you have, and don’t have to make content you don’t need anymore up to regulations.

 

Benefits

By owning your content, you can start to evaluate every aspect of your online presence for its effectiveness, and start to think of why people visit your site. Is your content something people want to look for? Does it answer their questions? Does it help them trust you?

Looking over your content means you start to be aware of where you stand. Once you know where you stand, it’s far easier to take next steps and improve.

businesswoman pressing a floating unlock button

How to Write Alt Text

Alt text, short for “alternative text”, is text in the metadata of images that shows up either when the image doesn’t load, or for screen readers. If you’ve ever had an email full of images have the space replaced with, say, a coupon value, you’ve seen alt text.

While it appears simple, alt text requires time and effort to get the hang of.

businesswoman pressing a floating unlock button

Why should you put in alt text?

In short, it makes the graphic content of your website readable. This is useful for:

  • SEO
  • People with slower/limited internet connections
  • Individuals who use screen readers

If you’re in Ontario, you might be facing down the legal requirements of AODA, which requires all graphic information to be accessible in text. This is in accordance to WCAG, the international standard for web accessibility that is becoming the norm worldwide. While this is a laborious task, it reaps many rewards outside of disability circles.

By utilizing alt text to the maximum capacity, you can reap a rich keyword benefit that won’t visibly clog up the page (but don’t overdo it, as Google will still penalize you for keyword stuffing), and make your site available to a larger demographic.

Implementing alt text on a WordPress site is as easy as installing Yoast (for SEO) and allocating the hours to writing the material.

How to put in alt text

Simple images: describe the image in the “alternate text” window provided when you go to edit an image on your website. Sometimes, you need to go into the image’s properties to find this window. If the image has a caption associated with it, make sure the caption and image are vaguely related— the image might not be read with the caption!

Complex information: Diagrams that show a company’s organization, pie charts, and other images that present information graphically must also have alt text provided. It can be tricky to know how to tackle these, because usually you do graphics to make complex information more easily digestible.

For things like pie charts or flow charts that don’t show many steps, you can still describe the image in the alt text window. Just be extremely clear what information leads to others. For pie charts, descriptions should include what it’s for and the percentages per allocated slice. An example is:

Pie chart for [diagramed information] displaying: 49% of funds went to rent, utilities, maintenance; 32% to programs; 16% to staffing; 3% other.

Flow charts can be done much the same way:

Chart shows [item] at head, displaying four branches labeled 1, 2, 3, 4. Down the 1 branch, we have items A, B, and C. Down the 2 branch, we have L, M, N.

For larger pieces such as infographics, consider having a transcript of the whole chart that is available at a well-described link, such as “Click here for transcript of infographic.” (making sure your links are descriptive out of context is also required for WTAG compliance!)

Regardless of how you write the descriptions, making sure to include key terms you want to rank for (when appropriate) will boost your overall SEO. It is a heavy time investment, but the rewards are numerous— including people knowing your company is thinking about multiple types of web users.

Image credit: oatawa

accessible button on the keyboard

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Ontario is in the midst of rolling out AODA, a set of guidelines to make Ontario more accessible for people with disabilities. Websites will soon be judged on whether or not they adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, AA compliance (except for live audio and video). The timeline for when compliance is required can be found on Ontario’s AODA page.

Reaching WCAG guidelines helps open up your website to a wider variety of potential prospects, and earns goodwill among clients. Many principles of content accessibility are good SEO, smart design, or both. Even if compliance isn’t mandatory (which it is for all public companies and all private companies over 50 employees), WCAG are often simply good design.

accessible button on the keyboard

Where to Start

Low or no vision accommodations make up a large percentage of WCAG guidelines; this includes making sure all links are comprehensible out of context, there are proper code markers in place for screen readers to know there is text to read, and all information available in graphics is also available within text.

This is one of the most comprehensive places to start, and one that shows the most immediate benefit. Making graphic information available in text also helps your SEO by giving either alt text (for simple images) or search engines a better idea of what is displayed on your webpage (which helps determine its relevancy).

 

Keep Cleaning Up

If you have audio or video content pre-recorded on your site, transcripts and descriptions need to be available for those. Building a site map is also advised, for how it helps people navigate and find the page they’re looking for more quickly. If people have to make choices on your site, make sure colour is not the only differentiating factor.

Any PDFs you have available on your site should also be checked. If you have Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can use tools within the suite to determine if they’re accessible. Make sure all buttons have a programmed purpose, so a screen reader can say what button to press.

 

Continue to Maintain

Reaching WCAG guidelines is both an initial investment and a continuing one. If you refresh content on the site frequently, then any and all new content must also be compliant. This includes new graphics, PDFs, pages, and audio/video. Determine how often you should review your content based on the frequency you update the website, and allocate time to run a small scale audit for accessibility.

Hand-drawn image that says Time to Update

7 Reasons Why You (Probably) Need a New Website

I spoke with the owner of a manufacturing company recently who asked “why should I invest money in a new website when I already have good clients and I don’t deal with the public?”

 

In another discussion, a client stated, “We need to keep our costs as low as possible, so perhaps we’ll look at a revamping the website next year.”

 

As an experienced marketer, I found it incredible that seasoned and capable managers could have these viewpoints. Obviously, if times are tough and you need to choose between a new website and paying your staff and suppliers, marketing should take a back seat while you hunker down and prioritize payments. However, if you are simply waiting until your cash flow is particularly flush before addressing your website, waiting for the “right” time may be your downfall.

 

An effective website is a crucial piece of your marketing arsenal and shouldn’t be put-off or overlooked as an effective conduit for sales. Despite management’s best intentions, very few websites are actually designed to facilitate the sales process. Simply listing what you do and including a map as to where you are, won’t cut it anymore. The real role of a website is to interest and engage those who aren’t already sold. To educate those who don’t know about your product/service or how it can benefit them. To position your company and product/service favourably with customers and prospects. To initiate or nurture strong relationships.

 

Here are seven reasons why your website is important, and deserves your attention:

 

1) Powerful Prospecting

 

Whatever you sell and whoever you sell it to, your market is doing its research online. Prospects are clarifying product info and qualifying your company as a worthy supplier. If your website isn’t designed and edited to engage viewers and facilitate the sales process, you’re losing potential sales.

 

2) Create Caring Customers

 

We all understand the value of our customers and the importance of nurturing those relationships. Websites are an opportunity to always have the porch light on and the welcome mat out. A warm place where customers can be reminded of what you do, as well as learn about services they had no idea that you provide. It’s easy to take existing clients for granted, so review your website every now and then with a customer-centric point of view and ensure you’re addressing their needs and affirming their decision to do business with you.

 

3) Engage Employees

 

Using your online presence to motivate and retain employees is an important aspect that should go beyond a website application form. Featuring your team online, highlighting social outings, participating in blog articles… there are many ways to involve company staff in the website and welcome them as part of the family.

 

4) Build Brand

 

Brand sets the tone and positions your organization in the minds of your audience. Your website should be a hub for your brand. The design, messaging, and functionality combine to deliver a user-experience that will either support or malign your brand. A strong brand will help you gain sales, recruit talent, attract solid suppliers and please the public; so how is your website supporting your brand?

 

5) Supercharge SEO

 

In order for people to do business with you, they have to first of all, find you. Your website is not only your opportunity to tell your story, but it can serve as the magnet to attract viable prospects, too. Properly setting up your site for SEO and having strategically written content will lead to more traffic based on relevant organic searches. This increases your website’s potential to deliver qualified leads.

 

6) Responsive Design

More and more people are searching the web on their smartphones. In fact, this past Christmas season, Amazon shipped over 3 billion packages and 72% of those orders were made on a mobile device. Whether you have an e-commerce site or a blog, making your website easy to navigate and read is critical. A responsive website adapts to the screen size so laptops, tablets and smartphones can all provide an enjoyable user-experience. It also helps with your Google rank, as the search engine giant appreciates sites that adapt to the users’ screen, and penalizes websites that don’t.

 

7) Accessibility

In some states and provinces, having a website that is accessibility by people with a disability is regulated. In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) outlines how your website must comply (based on WCAG 2.0 criteria). It covers colours and contrast, size of type, consistency and ease of navigation, Alt text for all images… there’s a long list of design and technical considerations to optimize the user-experience for a variety of users with different abilities. Not only is it good sense to make sure your website can be used by the entire populatin, but now it’s the law.

There are more reasons good reasons to look at what your website can be doing better for you; such as providing fresh content, facilitating administrative actions, creating process efficiencies, polling and intelligence gathering… what would you add this list?

Hand-drawn image that says Time to Update

Image Credit:  IvelinRadkov / Getty Images

man typing on keyboard with ideas floating around his head

Blogging for Qualified SEO

SEO is important for any business, but determining how to best improve it can be a tricky task. One easy way to improve your website, short of an SEO audit and a website revamp, is to regularly blog. Regular blogging gives prospects a reason to return to your website, and can improve your ranking— so long as you purposefully plan your content. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your blogging.

man typing on keyboard with ideas floating around his head
credit: Federico Caputo / getty images

1. Set a goal and a strategy

Start with your end goal in mind. In a sentence or two (or less!) you should be able to explain exactly what your blogging strategy is supposed to accomplish. How is this content helping reach your business objectives? Talk with your team and do what you can together to ensure the goal is as clear as possible. No piece of content should be random or lacking purpose, even if it’s a short blog. Really examine your sales process to determine how you can use blogging to support it, and how you want to drive people through your funnel.

 

2. Make sure the pieces support the goal

Higher ranking SEO might get more people to your website, but that isn’t as important as getting the right people to your website. If you’re blogging just for the sake of it, without putting your sales goal to the forefront, your SEO efforts won’t provide as much return as they could. Have benchmarks and review points in place to adjust your blogging strategy, and make sure to review every piece so it does the best job it can.

 

3. Use inbound marketing techniques to further your sales

Once you’ve written the content that gets more qualified buyers to your site, you have to continue nurturing them along your sales funnel. If you’ve properly set up goals, you should know where to drive your leads for the next stage of the buying process. Setting up CTAs is the easiest way to do this, but depending on your overreaching content strategy, you could use individual blog posts in a multitude of ways.

 

4. Continue improving the rest of your online presence

Blogging is only one part of a content strategy, which, ideally, covers everything you produce— from website pages to social media posts. While blogging can generate an improvement, you need to make sure all of your content strategy is optimized to drive qualified leads to your sales team. You can do this yourself or hire an external agency, freeing up your resources to work on further nurturing those sales instead of trying to keep up to the constantly-moving target that is SEO.

Blurred background: Bright rainbow in drops of flowing water during the sprinkling with green grass background at sunny day.

8 tips to freshen up your website for summer

You’ve freshened up your wardrobe; you’ve added a bright splash of summer colour to your house and perhaps your office; and you’ve done some summer maintenance on your car… but have you given a thought to your website? Even if it doesn’t need a full revamp, we recommend capitalizing on the slower pace of business and giving your website a good summer tune-up. Here are 8 things you should consider to clear out the cobwebs, freshen things up, and ensure everything is functioning smoothly:

Blurred background: Bright rainbow in drops of flowing water during the sprinkling with green grass background at sunny day.
credit: MassimoVernicesole
  1. Repair any bad links:

    It’s easy to lose track of out-of-date links that may be sprinkled throughout your site, so take some time to comb through all your pages to remove or update bad links. This will lead to less frustration for your visitors, and may also improve your SEO and boost your search engine ranking.

  2. Verify underlying software:

    Does your site need any WordPress updates? What about your ecommerce tools – do you need to update your Shopify plug-in or your Woo Commerce extensions? Check that you have all the latest versions of your plugins for SEO, spam protection, automated site backups, website themes, multiple languages and translation, and user tools such as weather update apps. Up-to-date software tools ensure that your users’ visits to your website will be smooth and seamless.

  3. Check for security vulnerabilities:

    You probably already updated your website security software as part of step 2 above, but because this one is so important, we wanted to call it out separately just to make sure. Have your website administrator double-check that you have the latest and most effective security software to protect your website from hackers, malicious code, worms and viruses, and spam comments on your blog or contact forms.

  4. Replace old technology in apps and plug-ins:

    Still using Flash? Offering old versions of Adobe Reader for download alongside your .pdf resources? Beyond just updating old versions of your website software as described in #3 above, we also recommend that you clean house and use the latest or most popular apps and plug-ins on your site. Your users will appreciate your website keeping pace with their current favourite tools.

  5. Make sharing easy:

    Make sure your site visitors know where else they can find you online by providing links to all your social media channels in a prominent place on your site. And take it a step further by including social media sharing buttons on all your value-added, shareable content to make it easy for your fans to spread your message and circulate your knowledge resources.

  6. Identify RWD issues:

    Your audience will view your website on many devices: smartphones, tablets and iPads, laptops, and desktops. So, your web pages need to look good, be easy to use, and properly display key information regardless of the device being used – this is Responsive Web Design (RWD). Take some time to ensure that your web content adapts to fit any screen size and performs well on any device – it will pay you back in improved traffic, lower bounce rates, and increased time spent on your pages. If this task seems daunting, start with your key pages now, and tackle the rest over time.

  7. Comply with AODA standards:

    Ontario has laws to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. The requirements and deadlines you need to follow depend on the type and size of your organization, with the law stipulating phased-in compliance standards. At the very least, you need to keep pace with these phased-in deadlines, but it’s also good idea to get ahead of the game and try to implement upcoming AODA compliance regulations early so you aren’t faced with a last-minute scramble to comply. The requirements and deadlines for various types of organizations can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-laws.

Last but not least,

  1. Refresh or remove old content:

    Visitors and search engine algorithms alike will reward you for continuously refreshing the content on your website. This task may be the most time-consuming one on our Summer Refresh list, but it is well worth the effort. Remove any old content that is no longer relevant, so it doesn’t clutter up your site. Make sure your remaining content is current by making any necessary updates or changes to it. Add new content regularly in the form of blog posts, articles, photos, videos, and more. Doing so bumps your site higher up in search results, making you easier to find. It also keeps your existing prospects and customers coming back for more.

 

Take advantage of these 8 tips to revitalize your website this summer season. Staying on top of these elements of your site on an ongoing basis will help keep your site highly ranked and top of mind. Combined with clear objectives and compelling content, your website will deliver the business results you seek.

SEO Plugins: Do they Help or Hinder?

What if the only thing your tax accountant could do was add?

What if the only thing your auto mechanic could do was change spark plugs?

What if the only thing your doctor could do was provide band aids?

I ask you these questions so you can consider how important it is to recognise limitations and to be careful about not getting lulled into a false sense of security. SEO plugins are very popular. Many people believe SEO plugins are all that’s required for SEO success. Although it’s true that SEO plugins are helpful when used properly, there’s a danger they’ll hinder the effectiveness of your SEO, and possibly of your overall marketing efforts.

like and dislike buttons
Photo Credit: Thinkstock-482951451

SEO Plugins Are Good for Helping with Specific Tasks

Many content management systems, such as WordPress, don’t give you ready access to control the properties of your website that could help you influence your performance in the search results. That’s why there are SEO plugins. They provide you with this extra functionality.

With them, you can do things at the individual page level such as:

  • Implement a title tag that’s different than your page title.
  • Implement a meta description tag without having to go into the html code

Some SEO plugins also provide advanced options such as:

  • The creation of XML sitemaps so search engines can more easily discover your entire website
  • The creation of specific instructions for how search engines are to crawl and index your website

SEO Plugins Don’t Replace SEO Strategy and Actual Work

To create an effective SEO strategy, one needs to understand what potential clients are searching for. This involves an understanding of their needs and how the website’s offerings meet those needs. Then keyword research can be done to bridge the two. Without keyword research, the keywords implemented into your on-page SEO elements are baseless and possibly ineffective. Skipping the keyword process and jumping to on-page SEO elements is like putting the cart before the horse.

SEO plugins often provide feedback, such as scores, that are meant to reflect a web page’s SEO strength. This is fine as long as we remember to recognise the limitations. This tool can’t factor in how the page is meant to fit within an overall SEO strategy. Case in point: People often forget that you not only want your search result to appear in front of a lot of eyes, you also want a lot of people to click through to your website, and to be satisfied with what they get when they arrive. An automated SEO score may give you a poor score for not putting your keyword in your meta description, but the true priority of the meta description is to provide the best possible sales pitch to entice people to click on the search result and move on through the sales process. This can be done with our without the keyword.

There’s something else you need to be aware of.  Be very careful about using the advanced features of SEO plugins. Changing these settings could cause serious unintentional consequences, such as making your website invisible to search engines. If something like this were to happen, and it’s not immediately traced back to the SEO plugin setting, a lot of time and money may be spent trying to resolve the problem.

SEO Plugins Can Hinder Marketing Efforts

As mentioned, the lack of proper keyword research before implementing on-page SEO elements can cause problems. Here are some more:

  • Time gets wasted – If the person who gets tasked with this doesn’t have a decent understanding of SEO, their time will be spent trying anything to get a good score or a green light. This is time that would be better spent doing other marketing activities.
  • Marketing messages get restrained or derailed – the person tasked with this could make changes to page content that will end up disrupting the journey you intend the visitor to make towards becoming a customer.

Nobody wants to see bad scores or red warning lights, even if there’s a reasonable explanation. This, as we can see, can lead to problems. It helps in moments like this to take a step back and look at the big picture. Truly successful companies know that every decision and every action must properly align with the overall mission of the business. If they don’t, then why do them? Will fussing to make all the SEO plugin’s lights turn green contribute to the success of the company? I think not.

So, Help or Hinder?

SEO plugins have the potential to do either, or perhaps both at the same time. Therefore I recommend using them to do specific tasks, but take their “analysis” or “advice” with skepticism. Don’t take it literally, or you may compromise actual quality.

Keyword research is so fundamental to effective SEO, it really ought to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. In regards to on-page SEO, if you don’t have access to a SEO professional, it’s a good idea to provide your staff with a guide regarding on-page SEO best practices so they can have the proper context for the various tactics.

Can’t see the fundamentals for the trends?

Creating a meaningful website

Natural photos and bold colours. Hero sliders and parallax feature strips. Material Design and micro-interactions. These were among the trends to watch in 2015 and the predictions for 2016. Trends are ever-changing – otherwise, they wouldn’t be trends! – and it’s important to keep up with current design and navigation preferences to give your website visitors the user experience they are seeking. However, in our rush to keep up with the online Jones’, it’s important that we don’t get lost in the trends and forget about the basic principles of a good website.  If you fail to deliver meaningful, relevant content and a welcoming, accessible user experience, you’ll end up with a pretty-looking website that still fails to engage your target audience.

Giant redwood trees, Felton, California
Photo credit: Jupiterimages / Creatas / Thinkstock / 86532049

So, what are the fundamentals?

  • Above all, identify your business objectives: What does success look like for your business? What does your website need to offer to help make that happen? What do you want visitors to accomplish on your site? What unique value do you offer them?
  • Next, define your target audiences: Who are you ideal customers? What do they want to achieve when they come to your website? What sort of content are they looking for?
  • Develop a strategy and stay focused: How will your website help your leads, qualified prospects, and customers achieve their goals? What web elements will complement your customer engagement efforts and facilitate your sales process? How can you make your site inviting and useful without being cluttered?
  • Develop your site structure with the user in mind: How does your target audience want to interact with you? How should your site menus be set up so that your valuable content is easy to find? Does your site navigation enable your visitors to achieve their objectives each time they visit?
  • Invest in the creation of compelling, intelligent content: Is your content written specifically for the web to ensure easy scanning and readability?  Have you added engaging graphics, video, and audio to augment the text? Is your content truly relevant and valuable to your target audience?
  • Make it easy for your audience to communicate with you and share your content: Do you have easy-to-use contact and feedback forms? Sharing buttons? Links to your social media channels?
  • Incorporate SEO: Did you consider Search Engine Optimization, with relevant and on-trend keywords, tags, and messaging throughout your website? Have you identified where you can provide links to external content and expert resources, and which of those expert sources are willing to provide links back to your content?
  • Foster ongoing lead generation and nurturing: Do you have Calls to Action (CTAs)that drive visitors to your website in all your promotional campaigns, social media activities, and events? Have you published blogs or articles that establish your expertise and set you apart from your competition? Have you implemented workflows that nurture leads through your sales funnel?
  • Evaluate and respond to your website traffic– Have you set up analytics tools to assess site traffic, performance and achievement of goals? Have you asked your audience for feedback on whether your site is meeting their needs? Do you have a process in place to follow up on that feedback and the results of your analysis?

 

Whatever the current trends or the “next big thing” may be, these essential building blocks for a successful website never change. So go ahead and add that widget or wiz-bang feature that you heard about on Twitter, but make sure they are building on, not taking the place of, your strategic, content-driven foundation.

One last thought worth mentioning: In some cases, the lines between trends and fundamentals are blurred. Case in point: Responsive Web Design has held a prominent spot in “Top 10” lists of trends for the last few years, but this has moved beyond trendy to become a design imperative – a fundamental – given the predominance of smartphone and table browsing today. Similarly, well-implemented micro-experiences promise to make a user’s interaction with your site simple, streamlined and personal. For example, “web applications where, instead of transferring to a new screen to enter some data or complete a task, the cell simply adapts to allow the task to be completed right there on the spot.”[i] Think also “of funny images, expressions, hidden functionality, smart personalized data and more.” [ii] But as appealing and user-friendly as these elements are, they will still fall short if the proper groundwork isn’t laid first.

A shrewd strategy, well-crafted content that delivers real value to your prospects and customers, and carefully considered measurement and follow-up are the roots of an effective website that will convert leads, close business, and delight customers. Make sure you can see the forest despite the trees.

 

[i] Source: “Web design trend predictions for 2016 – 2017” by Matthew Mombrea for Bytestream, IT World.

[ii] Source: “Top Web Design Trends To Watch In 2016” by Tomas Laurinavicius  for Forbes.I

 

Using Growth Driven Design to Make Existing Websites Perform

With consumers (B2C and B2B) using the Internet to research or validate purchase decisions, your website is a critical component to your marketing and sales process. Yet many companies are still treating it as a digital brochure — it is a passive information piece and not playing an active role in engaging with your market and converting leads. Just as you require ongoing reports and communication from your sales team, you should expect the same from your website. And just as you expect your sales team to adapt and respond accordingly to meet their goals, so too should your website.

Your Website is a Marketing Investment

Like every other business investment, you should have set goals and be measuring the ROI of your website. This process of ongoing stewardship and incremental changes in pursuit of realizing your goals is often referred to as Growth Driven Design. Like many buzz words or trends, it is simply common sense.

You don’t have to start with a whole new website (however, you aren’t going to get good results with a poor website, so consider starting from scratch). The first priority in putting your website to work is establishing what it can do for you. Determine how it fits into your marketing and sales process and what roles it can play to make that process more efficient and effective.

Then quantify those roles into achievable goals and determine what metrics you will track to monitor progress. You will, no doubt, have to upgrade parts of your website so it can do the job you expect of it. For example, if one of your goals is to gain 10 qualified leads per month, your website will need the tools to attract and engage your market. Such items would include strategically written content (for both engagement and SEO), relevant and compelling photos and videos, on-site call-to-actions, landing pages and forms, information and downloads with perceived value, etc.

Monitor activity on your website on a regular basis. (So if you haven’t already, set up Google analytics. Marketing automation software such as HubSpot and SharpSpring provide additional tracking information.) Plan on continuous (at least monthly) changes to add and fine-tune the items listed above to improve performance and build on your successes.

Growth Driven Design Structures Continuous Improvement

This ongoing process of attentive and responsive activity is the foundation of Growth Driven Design, and it works effectively on existing websites as well as new. Focusing on incremental change for steady gain is a strategic approach to increasing your website activity and developing sales.

Companies are typically slow to fully understand and effectively implement new technologies. The Internet has evolved at such a dramatic pace that playing catch-up every 3-5 years with a new website means you are perennially out-dated. That didn’t matter as much ten years ago, but now that your web presence is becoming one of your most valuable assets, you can’t afford not to pay continuous attention to your website.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel a website could profit from ongoing change?