We live in an interconnected world, addicted to on-demand information. But all too often, companies assume they must feed this addiction or be left out. And why not? It’s easy to take shortcuts, give into temptation and chase instant gratification in the spirit of offering consumers a quick high. But this default could be doing your brand more harm than good, and it may be time to cleanse your website of toxic content.
Your website can be one of your most powerful marketing tools, so keeping it fresh and functional is essential to maintaining a healthy brand and communicating your brand’s values. (If you haven’t yet determined your brand’s values, check out last month’s column, “Detox Your Brand: Step One.”)
Your current and potential customers are looking to the Internet for information to support their buying decisions. Google calls this idea ZMOT, or the “zero moment of truth.” It’s the idea that the Internet has changed the way we make purchasing decisions. Today’s informed consumer does her homework online in order to make informed decisions about brands and purchases. This decision-making process is the zero moment of truth, and your website is the critical frontline in capturing the purchase. Yet all too often I see the same three issues sidetrack brands from reaching their potential:
1.) They are frozen in time. Like a snapshot from the moment their website went live, some brands keep their website in the exact condition in which they received it. When left unattended, websites become stale and outdated almost immediately.
2.) They have ineffective updates. Unlike the frozen websites, so much new content is added that little thought is given to its original intent. Usually, these websites are maintained by someone inside the company who is expected to post information but has no marketing or web experience to ensure content is strategic, appropriate or styled correctly.
3.) They don’t keep up with technology. Websites age rapidly. Technology changes, and new consumer devices demand constant vigilance. Failing to keep up with platform updates, user expectations or security guidelines can render your website obsolete in the blink of an eye.
So, what should you do to ensure your site functions at its best, effectively reaching both current and potential customers?
Keep your control. Every business owner should have full control of his or her hosting and domain accounts. Whether a website company maintains it or simply sets it up, do not leave your most important sales tool exclusively in the hands of its creator. Don’t wait until your website goes down to realize that you have no idea how to access it. That’s the moment you will begin losing clients or customers. To manage your website, you should always know:
- Where your domain name is registered and how to access your account.
- Where your website is hosted and how to access your account.
Meet expectations. There are a few basic elements consumers have been trained to expect when visiting a website. Exceptions always exist, of course, but keeping the following basic features in mind will help ensure a positive user experience:
- Header: Your logo should be prominent, on the left, and should link to the home page. If you have a search box, it should be on the top right. If you can, put your contact information there too and/or links to your social media.
- Navigation: Keep it simple and intuitive. For desktop browsers, a horizontal list is best. On mobile browsers, a button should be used to reveal the navigation. Keep your links clear and simple so users don’t have to guess. For example, use the basic terms About, Services, Blog and Contact. Sub-navigation under the main links should also be clear and easy to use.
Be mobile-ready and responsive. According to Google, almost 50 percent of all local searches happen on a mobile device. Is your website mobile-friendly? Is it responsive to multiple screen sizes and devices? If you don’t know, you better check and make sure it’s both.
Make content engaging and current. Most people leave a website in 10 to 20 seconds. This means you have mere moments to clearly communicate your value proposition. Remember, your website is a reflection of your business and its benefits to your potential clients or customers. If the content is outdated, your business is outdated. If your content is boring, your business is boring. Ask yourself what a user would hope to find on your website and how you can encourage them to interact with you. This can include adding videos, blog posts, case studies, media coverage, white papers, social media feeds and so on. Most importantly, remember to keep your content customer-centric — they don’t care about you; they care about what you can do for them. Keep your content short, positive, jargon-free and reflective of the business visitors would meet offline.
Include strong calls to action. If your website isn’t encouraging interaction between your brand and your visitors, something is wrong. What do you want your visitors to do? Remember to think about that question as it relates to the big picture as well as each page, because the answer can change depending on where visitors choose to land within your website. If they’re on a product page, offer them a demo. If they’re on the About page, offer to connect in person. If they’re on the blog, ask them to share your posts on social media, and so on.
Track and analyze. Make sure you install analytic tracking codes, ensure they are functioning and that you are an administrator on the account. Never assume your designer installed these codes for you, or if they did, that you have access. You should be getting — or creating — monthly reports on your website’s usage: how many unique visitors you’re getting, where they’re coming from, what pages they’re landing on first, what pages they’re leaving from most, what browsers and devices they’re using, and the effectiveness of custom marketing links. This information can tell you how well your website is meeting the needs of your visitors, where you might need to make changes and what is working best so you can recreate it.
If you’re going to invest your time and money into a single marketing tool, your website is the one. Whether you have an internal team to manage it full-time, an outside agency to keep it regularly updated or even just your own two hands and limited time, focusing on the above can ensure your website serves your needs — and most importantly, those of your customers.