Visited Your Website Lately
Visited Your Website Lately?
Recently I was selecting business prospects from a mailing list of local companies. I was specifically looking for small businesses that either did not have a website or that had a website which needed improvement. I must admit, I was very surprised at the results of my research. For each business I was selecting, I would Google them to find their domain name (and also to get an idea of how high their search engine ranking is). I’d then go to the site itself for a few minutes and look around. My research really made me wonder when the website was last visited with objective eyes and analysis from a company officer. On each site I visited, I would ask myself the same question I would pose to the website owner if I were meeting with him or her:
- Did I like the site’s graphical look?
- Was my immediate reaction “Wow!” or “OK to adequate” or something even less?
- Was it obvious from the home page what the organization’s primary business is?
- Were the menus and action links obvious and easy to navigate?
- Was the “About” menu option easy to find, and was it well-written?
- Was the website content clear, concise, and up-to-date?
- Were the website functions specific to that company, and were they well-developed?
And most importantly, did the website seem to reflect the organization’s business & marketing models?
I notice the first two points listed are about the first impression of the site. How important is that?
It is everything to your target demographic. Most visitors will have made their judgment on your website within 3-5 seconds. That is it – if the website is not graphically attractive (in many ways like a good TV or print advertisement) then you may just have lost that prospective client there and then. In the first generation of the Internet, the name of the game was to get a website. It was almost magical in some ways: “Oh yes, we have a website – and you can find that information on our website.” (Many times the statement should have included “Good luck finding it, though!”). Now it’s not just about having a website, but about having a great one. Your website is a permanent, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week advertisement and is your company’s most accessible, cost-effective, and important advertisement. No doubt about it, your website has to look great.
Part of having a terrific home page – which runs along the same lines as good advertising – is that the visitor sees very quickly what you do. What is your primary line of business? Whether it’s “We Sell Coffee” or “We Sell More Than Coffee” or “We’re the Best Coffee Brew in Kalamazoo” – the website should succinctly describe the company in its title line (the top line of your website browser) and then primarily your page header (the wide band of graphics & info at the top of the web page) will describe in more detail what your services and products are, as reinforced by your images and branding throughout the site. Today, authentic images, versus stock photos, are an important aspect to identifying you to your demographic. If your visitor spots recognized landmarks on a realtor’s website, that recognition will reinforce the message that the realtor knows his or her area.
All right, we get it – the look is everything – but what about what’s under the bonnet?
(The “bonnet” in Australia is the car hood – or it was back in the last century when I was growing up!) Once we have judged the website’s general look and feel, the next key to analyzing a website is to look at the design and functionality, with a focus on discerning what the site is attempting to accomplish with regard to its visitors. In other words, if the purpose of the site seems to be to direct visitors to its online shop, are the links to the shop presented in an attractive way, and are there enough graphical and/or text “enticements” featured throughout the site to make a visitor want to visit the shop? Or is the link to the shop just a small, easy-to-miss word off in the corner of the home page? Even if you visit your business’s website every single day or week, try to look at it with fresh eyes, as though it’s your first time there. Better yet, sit down at a computer with a friend or colleague who’s never been to your site and have them look around and offer you some objective comments.
Are menus and action links obvious and easy to navigate?
OK – let’s say I like its look and so I decide to continue my visit to your website. Let’s say you’re selling real estate, and I am searching for homes – so I had better find the search options REAL QUICK. Of course, each website and each industry is different. At a real estate site I am going to search for homes, and then I will probably look at the “About” section to get a feel for the realtor and his or her team – and if everything looks good, I will submit an online inquiry or place a phone call to actually set up some appointments. I like to think that each website has two types of visitors – those who are already somewhat familiar with the business, and those who aren’t. Effective menu design is the key to allowing both of these types of visitors to quickly access whatever they might be looking for on the site. Make sure your navigational menus and links on the site are easy to find, easy to use, and absolutely relevant in getting the visitor to where he/she needs to go QUICKLY.
Was the “About” menu option easy to find and was it well written?
When I go to a website – if I don’t know the organization – I look for the “About” menu option. If you don’t have this option, you have probably lost me. I am most likely not going to take the time to go elsewhere to find out about you. I am simply going to visit the next website choice. The “About” page is a critical part of your website. It should include some pertinent details, such as: How long have you been in business? When was the business founded? Whom does your company service? What are your primary and secondary lines of business? In 10-15 seconds, I should have a good feel for your company. I hate to keep referring to time in seconds – but that is the name of the game on the web. People don’t have time (or are not willing) to search, so good content is key.
Was the website content clear, well-written and up-to-date?
Your content on the site is critical and sends loud messages to your visitors. I am constantly stunned when I browse through a website and I see the big “COMING SOON” notification on key linked menu pages. Once a visitor likes the look of your website, then content is king. Many of these pages that have “Coming Soon”, or simply no information, are pages of content that may just require one paragraph to actually make the page work. You tend to wonder who would go to the trouble of having a website – but not actually add any content or information to it. In particular with Content Management Systems (CMS), you don’t have to rely on ‘Alvin the computer geek’ to update your site. You can do it directly yourself, from any computer with Internet access. But when you don’t update your site or fill in its content, you’re sending a strong message – “We obviously couldn’t be bothered putting basic information on the site — and since it is our primary advertising tool, that means that we are probably not a company you will want to do business with!”
Remember, looks get them in – but content keeps them there!
Were the website functions specific to that organization, and were they well developed?
Many websites today have third party or additional operating software on their website (or link to sites or pages using such software). MLS (Multiple Listing Service) software in Real Estate is a good example. An online shop is another. These functions are quite often why the visitor has come to the website in the first place, so this is a good area to focus on. Is your 3rd party software integrated into your website (versus it being on a completely different website that you are sending your visitor to)? Do the graphics and layout fit into and “match” your website? If a visitor likes your website and likes the look and feel of it, and its ease of use – and then goes to the online shop to make a purchase and BANG – he is suddenly on a completely different website which has a totally different design and feel – there’s a chance the visitor might rethink his decision to make a purchase. Part of what a business’s website (or any good advertising) should do is to help win a customer’s trust and loyalty. In the area of online credit card transactions this is especially important. If your website gives visitors the impression that your company is rock solid and reputable, and one that seems to know what it’s doing, then sends you to yet another website to buy from, that first impression is likely to be diminished. All sorts of questions arise – “The company’s site said it guarantees its customers satisfaction, but I don’t see anything about that on this shopping website!” On the other hand, if the visitor can move through the entire shopping process seamlessly (or through a property search on a real estate site), while remaining on YOUR website, the impression is that this company has REALLY got its act together! Integrating 3rd party software into your website can come with a slight additional expense in setup – but it will deliver great returns if done properly.
And most importantly – did the website reflect the organization’s business & marketing models?
Putting all the different aspects of the website together, you really end up with the key question: Does your website reflect your organization? Keep in mind that when I visit your website, it is like I am visiting your organization – I am walking into your office foyer, and I am being greeted by your friendly receptionist. Is that experience translating when I visit your website? Or is there an arrow on the door to your foyer saying “Door Broken, please use other door”. Then, a sign on the OTHER door reading, “Hard Hat Required – some areas still Under Construction”?! And instead of a friendly receptionist, you’re greeted by one of those visitor counters (this one displaying a negative number)… or a calendar that says it was last updated in 1998! You get the picture!
You might think I’m exaggerating, but there are plenty of websites out there sending just these kinds of messages to their visitors and potential customers and clients. Would you still open the door and go inside this foyer? No, of course not! If your pleasant sales staff and comfortable showroom environment are the key to your company’s bricks-and-mortar success, then that experience should translate to your website. And don’t be mistaken, your website should be (and will become) your Number One Salesman – one that doesn’t get a commission, doesn’t take breaks, and can send the same consistent & professional message any hour of the day, day in and day out.
So once again I ask you – Have You Visited Your Website Lately? Maybe it’s time to swing on by and ask yourself some tough questions about your website. It may be the most important thing you’ve done for your company in quite a while!
Peter Beare – Webmaster
Interview with a Webmaster – Full Blog – Click Here
Send us your comments and questions – Click Here
Peter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included strategic website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still primarily a webmaster. And this is “Interview with a Webmaster.”