Many websites online today seem to be stuck in the past decade. It’s no longer acceptable to just have a presence online. Your customers are no longer looking at just the yellow pages for your business. They’re on smart phones miles away from home. They're on social networking sites talking to their friends about great places to spend their money. They prefer being patrons of businesses that enjoy interacting with them online. Wake up!
Follow these simple guidelines to ensure that your website is 2011 ready.
Just like a good brochure, your website should be clean and attractive. If the cover doesn’t get your attention, forget visitors moving on to the next page. As a result, your important product or service won’t be discovered. Make sure the colors and overall layout of your website are engaging. Use easy to read fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Times New Roman.
If your website doesn’t look attractive and easy to read, then visitors will spend less time on it. Considering how many other sites exist, they may even just leave.
A good design also calls for good navigation. If your website doesn’t have a fixed menu always available to visitors, then you have poor navigation. Poor navigation means you’re making it harder for your visitors to find your stuff! Think of a missing exit sign on the highway. Where are you leading your customers? Where are they leading themselves? Always make sure visitors can easily see your about, services, contact, and other important pages from anywhere within the site.
What you say, show, or demonstrate is just as important as how you display it. Use the right words, show many pictures, and demonstrate your abilities with videos. The rights words not only tell your visitors what you do, but also let search engines like Google properly place you in search results. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you’re selling t-shirts with pictures of bulldogs on them, then use words like “t-shirt” and “bulldog” on your website. Be as descriptive as possible. This way search engines know that you’re not selling an invisible fence exclusively for bulldogs or t-shirts with pictures of a blue robot. Furthermore, make your visitor's experience fun and easy by adding pictures to illustrate your products and services.
If you happen to run a day care center, then use pictures that target your audience properly. Do you think pictures of the day care center and things such as toys and cribs make sense? Absolutely not! Prospective parents who visit your website want to see smiling children. Children who are taking part in arts and crafts, eating nutritious meals, or even see you hard at work reading a story to them. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, and can really support your content visually. If a picture is a thousand words, then imagine a video.
A video is a great compact and easy way to give your visitor information about your business in a digestible form. Lets go back to the day care center example. Having a video of you or someone from your business reading to the children gives prospective parents a great idea of who you are. Your voice and how you say something can really give parents a good idea of who they’re considering leaving their kids with. They may even decide on bringing their kids to you right then. Videos can also be used to demonstrate your skills.
I went to a home inspector’s website (http://www.marksinspections.com) and he demonstrated how to check for high levels of radon to ensure that you’re not considering a house that can be harmful to your health. This video gave me a good demonstration of the inspector’s knowledge and skills. He covered how to perform the test and what the test would do. I would definitely consider hiring him over someone that just has a website with a list of services.
A blog keeps your website fresh and up to date. Use your blog to promote a special upcoming sale, introduce a new service or just talk about something related to your organization. A blog grounds your website and lets your visitors know that you’re still actively in business. Over time even search engines will rank you higher than your competitors’ websites which may have not changed in several months.
Let’s use the day care as an example of what they do with their blog. Barbara Lazaar of Pooh and Friends (http://www.poohandfriends.net) keeps parents of her day care center up to date by posting information on things like crib safety and travelling with young children. She keeps parents engaged by posting pictures of their children after field trips and special activities. As a result, she gets prospective parents from France and Italy who want to consider enrolling their children. Her blog reveals that her daily activities aren’t just a job, they’re a lifestyle.
So you have a great website, with amazing pictures, a video, and a blog with many postings. But, only 10 people have seen your website, 5 are your colleagues, and the other 5 are your competitors. Social integrations can help change this. Services like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter can bring your website to millions of people interested in your content by using social connections.
Having a “Like” button on each of your pages and blog posts gives visitors an opportunity to express their interest toward you. For example, say if you own a restaurant and have a website with a special menu page. The menu page has a like button which allows visitors to “like” your menu by simply clicking on the button. Once someone clicks on the “like” button, their facebook friends all know about what they like. So if one person has 738 friends on their Facebook, then 738 of them can see what they “like,” and some of these people might even visit your web page. Doesn’t that beat 10 visitors? Oh, and that was the impact of just 1 person liking your menu. Imagine the impact of 10 people!
What makes your website better than a competitor’s? Free stuff! Many websites provide great free how-to videos, sample mailings, advice, ideas, and more. Reward your visitors and they will consider you or at least come back another time. Print shops provide free samples of their promotional items. Bed Bath and Beyond sends you special offers if you sign up for their mailing list. Consulting businesses will give you a free white paper with lots of important and useful information.
Use your website to increase business. After all, isn’t that the whole reason why you have one in the first place? Some of your visitors may want to stay up to date about changes in your business, or at least want to read from you. These visitors and prospective customers are willing to openly give you permission to market to them. Use a newsletter sign-up form so that they can add their own e-mail addresses to your e-mail marketing. Services like mailchimp.com, and constantcontact.com provide you with great tools to add a sign up form on your website.
Remember, your customers are on smart phones searching for your business right now. So make your website easy to navigate. Give them an opportunity to connect with you on a social level, and reward them for visiting you.