The company website—it’s the double edged sword of modern business. On the one hand, it’s the most easily accessible and most public face of your company. Even more than that, businesses that lack a website (or a mobile-optimized version of their website) are generally considered old-fashioned and irrelevant, and thus end up driving away a large portion of their potential customer base. On the other hand, a website that is badly designed—whether functionally, aesthetically, organizationally, etc.—may be as dangerous to the success of an organization as no site at all.
It may seem like a paradox (you’re doomed if you do, and you’re doomed if you don’t), but it is in fact merely a case of having to walk a razor-thin line. Creating a website that will draw visitors and drive sales takes effort, time, and money, but it is possible. And besides, it sure the beats the alternatives.
Here are seven tips to help you create a company website that will leave your customers clicking for more.
1. Provide value
If you believe in your business, then you must also already believe that you’re offering something of value to your customers. However, today’s internet users are often a skeptical bunch. They’re not going to want to take their chances with your business without some proof that they’ll be getting what they expect. So, be the first to extend the hand of goodwill, and offer free trials, special gifts, and new-customer discounts wherever possible.
You might also consider holding a contest or a giveaway. Beyond that, branch out by providing useful or entertaining content in association with your brand. A company blog is an obvious place to do this, but don’t discount social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. After all, 33% of consumers now use social media to discover new brands, websites, and products. That means if you can create content that viewers will want to share (such as an informative of funny video), then you’ll be able sit back while your audience does your site marketing for you.
In fact, website conversion rates are nearly six-times higher for organizations that rely on content marketing. By providing value, and not demanding anything in return, your organization will quickly develop a following, and that following will build off of itself.
2. Offer to help
You probably know your business frontwards and backwards, so to you, what you’re offering may seem obvious. But spend a moment to disconnect yourself from the bias you have as a professional in your field, and take an objective look at your site. Will visitors that don’t have your background be able to quickly and easily comprehend the points that your site is trying to get across?
No matter what you’re offering, there’s a good chance that some of your visitors are going to get confused or run into hurdles along the way. Don’t leave them to their own devices; instead, offer some assistance. By incorporating a live chat feature that will connect visitors with a friendly and knowledgeable representative at any time, day or night, you’ll be letting your potential customers know that they needn’t be confused. Is this generally appreciated? You bet it is.
According to a study by Forrester Research, 44% of online customers identify the ability to have questions answered by a live person during a transaction as the most important feature that a site can offer. Of course, there are those who would rather not speak (or type) with a real live person. For these individuals, a helpful ‘Troubleshooting,’ or ‘Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)’ section may be exactly what your site needs to keep visitors from bouncing away in frustration.
3. Become website literate
It has been said that every great writer is also a great reader. That may or may not be true, but there is certainly something valid about the point that it is being presented: If you want to be good at something, familiarize yourself with the works of others who are good at it. While designing your site, get out there onto the web and explore. See what other organizations have done with their sites, and take note—from the perspective of a visitor and potential client—of what works and what doesn’t.
‘Read-up’ on what successful sites are doing, and then consider implementing traits from those pages on your own site. Of course, before you do so, you’ll need to understand your audience, otherwise you may end up with site features that are completely inappropriate for you target demographic—which brings us to our next point…
4. Know your audience
Of course, all of these tips are purely academic if you don’t understand the circumstances and desires of your market. After all, you won’t be able to help your customers if you don’t have any idea what it is that they want. Social media is a great place to start. By keeping an eye on the interests and comments posted by your target audience, you’ll gain a sense of what they care about. Likewise, fun surveys and quizzes tend to do well across most social media platforms, and can yield invaluable demographic data. Of course, for more specific numbers, you’ll need to delve into analytics.
Programs such as Google Keywords make it possible to determine how often general keywords and phrases are being searched, and where these searches are occurring. Website analytics will also help you determine which search terms are leading to your page, and as well as which of the pages on your site are getting the most traffic. And lest you forget the low-hanging fruit, be sure to provide multiple venues for visitor-feedback across the site itself.
5. Get an eye for design
If your idea of a good-looking site is one featuring large blocks of text, high-contrast colors, and spinning GIFs, then you need to join the new millennium. Modern sites are generally clean and crisp, and rely heavily on the elements of design. As such, your best bet is to pay for the services of a professional (and proven) designer, and to allow them the freedom to make your site look as appealing as possible.
Of course, if professional design isn’t in your budget, you may end up having to do the designing yourself, or at least in-house. And while we don’t have the space here today to provide a comprehensive course on web design, we will fill you in on the three most important design elements for web sites: space, color, and typography.
Space allows you to direct the flow of the site, in essence directing visitors along the path that you have predetermined. By keeping the pages from becoming ‘cluttered’ or ‘busy,’ you’ll be able to have a site that is easy to navigate and to understand.
Color may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but the reality is that there are few design elements as closely tied to meaning and emotion as color. When dealing with colors, try to adopt a ‘less-is-more’ attitude, and to choose colors that not only complement each other, but that also work well with your logo and brand.
Typography may be the most difficult of the three principles, perhaps because it seems so simple. Too many designers pick a font style on a whim, either because they’re in a hurry, or because they want something that looks unique. But when it comes to typography, the best advice that we can give is don’t get fancy. Choose a typeface that is simple and unassuming, and one that will be easy to read no matter the font size or the amount of text. Also, keep your overall number of different fonts down to two or three, even in headings and titles.
6. Focus on navigability
Proper design may assist in the navigability of your site, but without specific tools designed to help your customer find the information they need fast, it will only get you so far. Visitors to your site don’t want to have to spend hours—or even minutes—tracking down a specific page. And if they feel as though your site is wasting their time, they’ll just click on that ‘back’ button and try their luck elsewhere.
Intuitive menu controls and organization are a start, but to really get things going, you’ll need a built-in, site-wide search function. These operate in much the same way as other internet search engines, in that they rely on keywords and phrases to locate the most relevant page results. The difference is that they limit their results only to pages located on the site in question.
Tools exist that take it a step further. For example, MindTouch GeniusSearch is a search tool that organizes results into easy-to understand branches of related pages, so that they don’t have to continue refining their search parameters in order to figure out exactly how your website works.
7. Keep purchasing simple
When you get right down to it, your website exists for one purpose: to drive revenue. So, why in the world would you want you site’s checkout process to be anything other than simple? Well, there are number of reasons that businesses cite to defend their complicated online checkout processes: They want to gather more customer information for marketing purposes. They want to take things step by step so as not to scare customers away. They want to provide a lot of different options so that customers can get exactly what they want. But, worthy intentions aside, an overly-complicated process will often result in an abandoned transaction and a lost sale.
Simplify the ordeal by first eliminating requests for personal information. Stick with only what you need to ensure that the process can be completed and the item be shipped—anything more than that will leave customers feeling uneasy. Holding their transaction ransom until the customer agrees to give up personal data is a poor way to drive business, and even those customers who decide to go through with the transaction will most likely resent you for it.
Next, see where you could possibly reduce the steps leading to the ‘Order Complete” page. The checkout process should include a place to enter pertinent billing information, a review of the purchase and shipping information, and then a reassurance that the order has been completed successfully (along with a link to an e-receipt). Beyond that, every additional step is just another opportunity for your buyers to change their minds.
Above all, keep the checkout process intuitive. If your audience needs detailed instructions in order to finalize the purchase, you’re going to find fewer and fewer customers making it all the way to the end. And, given that retailers lose on average $18 billion annually as a result of online order abandonment, customers who give up on purchases are no laughing matter.
About the author: Cameron Johnson is a business consultant and social media expert. Over the course of his career he has conducted case studies on both social media optimization and non-profit marketing. Cameron has also had the opportunity to speak at international marketing conferences and was recently recognized as one of the world’s top 100 advertising experts to follow on social media.