With almost a generation of web commerce experience behind us, many organisations are still finding it difficult to create value from their Internet investment.
Either because of bad advice, incompetence on the part of their providers, or just a plain lack of knowledge as to what can and should be done, they severely limit their potential in achieving success.
This article hopes to give a few pointers to those who wish to realise a bigger return from all that time and money.
Good design is an expectation that most of us will take for granted. It’s prevalent in architecture, a requirement of safety in transport and an inherent desire in everything else. Your corporate website is nothing different. At least that is what your market thinks.
It is after all an extension (if not all), of your business and your brand and the one thing that your customers will use as a yardstick in comparing you to your competition. If it is poorly designed then it stands to reason that your prospects will assume that your products or services also fall short.
So what makes good design when it comes to the web?
Is it the graphics and layout? Is it the colours used? Is it the type style and the images? Is it the ability to create an impact and stand out? Quite frankly – all of the above and then some!
Good web design is a balance and blend of all these attributes, which come together in creating an enjoyable user experience.
In a way it is similar to design in packaging, as its purpose is to sell what’s on the inside. So the next time you are walking down an aisle in a supermarket, instead of seeing a cereal packet or a can of beans, visualise your home page alongside that of your competitors, and ask yourself, which one would I buy?
If it’s not yours, then you have a problem.
Now I know most of us are not blessed with the creative talents of Terence Conran or the visual eye of David Bailley. But as a business it is crucial to ensure you choose a web designer that is – or at least one that can show that their design skills are the best that your budget can afford.
Ensure they present your business in a highly DIFFERENTIATED style that is RELEVANT to your market.
Make sure they structure and layer your information in a way that firstly emphasises what’s important (the benefits, not features) and secondly outlines an intuitive path to what will support those claims.
Don’t instruct them to include lots of boring corporate copy content – nobody reads it anyway.
Provide them with QUALITY images to use and if you want to depict people, try to ensure they’re your people – otherwise don’t. Stock photographs of smiley models in futuristic offices no longer work (if they ever did for that matter). So assign a budget for some good photography.
Try to ensure they create an impact with the design – a design that will stand out, entice the visitor and draw them in, creating a desire to delve deeper into what you have to offer.
And lastly…(for now at least), design is an art, but when it comes to web design for businesses, it should not be ‘art for arts sake’. Designers…please! Lets not forget the point.
Good design without good content is purely style without substance, which can leave the visitor wanton and with a feeling of ‘what IS the point?’
From the very first beginnings of the Internet as a platform for commerce, the phrase ‘Content is King’ still holds true and it is the reason why we all spend a considerable amount of our time browsing the web.
Whether it is for news, entertainment, to shop or just to find out more about a particular company, product or service, we visit websites to access content.
And relevant, up-to-date content is what will go a long way to making certain that you have something of value, which your target market will seek out and disseminate to others.
But if content is king, then context is the throne upon which he sits! This is where knowledge and real insight into your customer, their needs and desires, really comes into its own.
Too many businesses put up content just to fill space without awareness of their market’s appreciation to avail of it and as a result a lot of the important and appropriate stuff gets lost.
By the very fact that now more than ever we are continually bombarded with a seemingly endless amount of information, our attention span has significantly reduced and therefore the window through which you have to get your point across is infinitely smaller.
So when it comes to content make sure you think about what your market wants to see; what it needs to know first; make that obvious and then layer the rest (if relevant) in behind.
And remember quality is not necessarily quantity so be specific, be succinct and above all be ‘straight to the point!’
Copywriting for websites is one of the most overlooked and underrated aspects of developing a successful web presence. You could write a book about it and many have, so my advice – read them! It will result in a payback tenfold.
The now famous advertising catchphrase, “It does exactly what it says on the tin”, might hold true when it comes to web content but when it comes to copywriting that will engage customers and maximise sales, the reverse is where it’s at.
“It SAYS EXACTLY what it DOES IN the tin” is the premise one should follow.
As I’ve mentioned your visitors have a limited attention span, which judging by the amount of text-heavy corporate websites, few businesses have yet to grasp.
Here a few simple hints that may help you write better copy for your business website.
Decide what it is you want to say and to whom you are speaking.
This may sound obvious but a lot of companies have different target sectors; some provide both products AND services; and many would like to talk to both customers and suppliers, stakeholders and investors, staff and potential employees.
The mistake many businesses make is try to talk to everyone at once (usually on their homepage) and they end up resonating with none.
The best approach especially for your landing page is either to pick one key audience that is critical to the success of your business and address them and only them first. OR devise an attention-grabbing headline and introductory phrase or sentence that will apply to all.
Know the reasons why your prospective customers will visit and answer their unspoken questions immediately.
Why am I here? What’s in it for me? How do I get it? What next? Questions we all ask ourselves whenever we spend our precious time in the company of another – your business website will be no different.
Keep short copy simple and structure longer copy more effectively.
If you can say it in one or two or possibly three concise sentences then do so. And if your offer, explanation or instruction requires a little more detail and complexity then make it easy for your prospect to quickly scan and understand it before they commit to going the whole hog. Use subheadings to divide it into quickly discernable chunks; USE CAPITALS and italics to differentiate important key points; and if absolutely necessary split it in two; click here for more.
And finally a few others…avoid clichés; forget the hype; create urgency; empathise; start strong and finish stronger; and one of the most important for many reasons: keep your home page up-to-date and current – search engines will love it!
Now it’s all very well having a website centred on great design with captivating content, threaded by interesting and relevant copy. But if it’s impossible to navigate and find the information you want quickly then you might as well be whistling jigs to a milestone!
Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. And as defined by Jakob Neilsen:
“On the Web, usability is a necessary condition for survival. If a website is difficult to use, people leave. If the homepage fails to clearly state what a company offers and what users can do on the site, people leave. If users get lost on a website, they leave. If a website’s information is hard to read or doesn’t answer users’ key questions, they leave.”
The only way to improve usability is test it and as a general rule (very often broken it seems), you should allocate at least 5% of your budget to usability testing and improvement.
Get some representative users (customers and prospects are ideal), set them some tasks (finding and doing) and listen! What they say – act upon! And you’ll go a long way to improving your website’s usability.
For web designers it should be an integral part of the design process. If you have an old design, test it first. Test your competitors’ sites and when you are considering a new design, test all the prototypes and test them again!
The web has moved up a gear and the capability and functionality of the technology behind it allows us to a lot more stuff, more easily.
With that, the level of expectation of those of us who use it has risen considerably and if you are a business with a website, then that is generally every one of your customers.
Corporate websites that purely present information and do not attempt to engage users on a deeper level no longer create value. Therefore businesses really do have to up the ante if they are to survive as destinations on the web.
What can be done?
Briefly, as again one could right a book it – add content; enable your audience to add content; add functionality; incorporate community; use video and audio; design in three dimensions, not just two; personalise it; blog; and START USING SOCIAL MEDIA!
As with everything I’ve highlighted thus far, the marketing aspect of my ‘magnificent seven’ is as important as all the rest, if not more so. They all go hand in hand. What applies in the real world is reflected online and if you do not market your business – adios!
And so it follows.
If you do not market your website you can start playing those tunes again to lumps of stone on the side of the road!
But by now we should know what to do (surely!) – print the web address on everything; search engine optimise; campaign with email; create must-have, must-see, must-do content; use PR; integrate affiliate programs; blog; and once again…START USING SOCIAL MEDIA!
But be careful. As much as the Internet environment has evolved, so have its users. Expectations, perceptions and market realities have all advanced and entered new dimensions. Not only with factors online, but also with events offline.
The new customer wants honesty and transparency, and has an absolute inflexible requirement to do business with only those that deliver.
Step up to the mark!
And last but definitely not least…
Measurement, Metrics and all things that MAKE SURE you’re achieving real bottom-line business success! Need I say more?