This is the next post in my series on the topic of “what makes an effective website?” My last article gave an overview of what my
manifesto series will be covering. I also made the point that, believe it or not, the web is still not as competitive as it could be due to the fact that most people aren’t going about it the right way. By understanding what constitutes “effectiveness,” and putting a plan in place to meet that standard, you can take your online presence to the next level. In this article I’m going to break down the first part of that formula by explaining what constitutes and defines an “effective” website. Here’s a spoiler alert – the sites which are the most successful are following strategies which most don’t talk about/consider. Following the right strategy can result in your website doing this for your business:
While other people continue to struggle with their web presence and, at the end of the day, wind up looking like this:
I am assuming you want to be the former as opposed to being frustrated like the latter.
This article is going to make three points. First, I’ll explain that an “effective” website is one that helps your business grow. While that may sound like a “duh” statement, there are points which you may wish to consider. Second, I’ll provide tips for building out a web presence which actually helps you grow. Finally, I’ll go over some really common mistakes. So, with that said, let’s get to it!
An effective website is one which helps your business to grow
I know a lot of people will look at this statement and think it sounds obvious. The truth, however, is that you would be surprised. We’ve worked with a number of businesses who, when they first call us, see their web presence only as something to legitimize them to their current customers. Some, at best, see it as a way to legitimize themselves to potential customers that they come into contact with from outside of the web. They don’t see it as the main way of connecting with people who would have otherwise never heard of them. Getting people to focus on their website as the item, in and of itself, that can grow their business has helped such customers to get good results. The truth of the matter is that investing in an effective web presence is the best way to grow most businesses (as opposed to going to networking events, etc.)
There are two points that need to be made. The first is that many businesses make the mistake of thinking that their website is acceptable due to incoming business that actually shouldn’t be attributed to it. The second is that many people, if they are receiving even a small amount of business through their website, don’t stop to think whether it can improve. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
I’ve dealt with a large number of businesses who err by thinking that their website is responsible for incoming business which actually comes from other sources. As an example, it is not uncommon for a business owner to spend money on pay-per-click (PPC) marketing (something we never suggest). When this advertising, which drives someone using a search engine to the company’s website, yields a customer then the business owner often thinks “I just got someone through my website.” The truth, however, is that their website did not generate that potential customer – the ads pointing at the website are what generated that lead. Anyone with a website can buy ads. If your online lead generation is reliant on ads, as opposed to showing up organically in the search results, then your web presence is a) costing you too much money (as ads are expensive) and is not serving as an effective tool for helping you to grow your business. We have worked with companies who have eliminated large monthly ad spends and have actually seen their revenue go up (while spending less) by ensuring that their website is search engine friendly.
I’ve also dealt with companies that do receive business through their website, but don’t consider whether they could receive more leads in the same way. Such businesses, for example, receive “x” number of leads through their site and when they want to grow, they look to other sources, mostly out of an assumption that “x” is all that the website can generate. Some of the businesses have made statements to me which include “I just think people don’t look online for businesses like mine,” or something of the sort. The truth of the matter, however, is that yes, they do. If you’re not generating leads online, then it’s a result of a poor approach to the web. That poor approach is resulting in your website being ineffective.
A website is “effective” if it, in and of itself, is helping your business to grow. That’s the beginning, and the end, of the determination.
Tips for building a website which will help you to effectively grow your business
I could write, and write, and write, and…write on how to build a website that will help you grow your business. However, I’m assuming that a) you don’t want to read War & Peace today, and b) I don’t have time to write War & Peace today. The three big points I would suggest looking at, where most fail, are a) making sure that your website is search friendly, b) making sure that everything on your website is serving some type of purpose, and c) utilizing calls to action (CTA’s) effectively. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
A website must be search friendly to truly be “effective”
If your website isn’t generating traffic in organic search, then it’s not going to be an effective tool for growing your business. This comes down to dollars and cents. If you’re not driving organic traffic, then you’re going to be reliant on ads to get people to your website. Such ads are extremely expensive and, to be frank, aren’t sustainable for most businesses. Ensuring that your website is optimized for search engines will help you to get leads without laying out massive advertising costs. Let’s take a quick look at how you can ensure that your website is search friendly.
Legitimate search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on ensuring that your website a) is providing relevant content and b) is providing a good user experience as defined by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. One of the best ways for your website to provide quality content is through its blog, FAQ sections, and other such avenues. When generating content, it’s important to understand that you must provide information that people are looking for. You must also present it in the way in which they want to digest it. Too many people make the mistake of generating content that they find interesting and then presenting it in the way in which they want to present it. This is a mistake.
The best tools for determining what types of content people are actually looking for are Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Google Trends. We regularly help customers with developing a content strategy. Providing a good user experience, as defined by Google, is straightforward. It’s important to understand, however, that providing a good user experience does not necessarily mean doing something that is “cool,” as the kids say. There are plenty of features that people put on their websites which add little to no value for the end user (such as the excessive use of graphics, badges, etc.). Google provides tools, such as Lighthouse, which help to determine whether your website is providing a “good experience.” These tools look at things such as loading times (who wants a slow-loading website), ensuring that the content is structured in a non-confusing way, etc. Another great tool for testing real-world speed results is GTMetrix. When testing our website in this tool, for example, we get the following results:
The key takeaway from these points is that your website must be relevant and useable in order to be search friendly. You’d be surprised at how many aren’t. Good luck having an effective presence if your website isn’t search friendly.
Your website will be more effective if everything on it serves a purpose
I regularly talk to potential customers who have current websites full of clutter which serves no purpose. My advice is to think of your website as if it were a physical store. If you own a general store, and you sell widgets, then you have a limited amount of shelf space. You are not going to stock your shelves with items that don’t sell. Similarly, you have a limited amount of space on your website. If an item (whether it’s a photo, a badge of some sort, a block of text, etc.) is not adding value then it is the equivalent of an unsold item sitting on the shelf. We define “adding value” in a simple way – an item provides value if a) makes someone stay on your site longer or b) prompts them to contact you or to buy something. If something on your website is not serving one of these two purposes, then it needs to be removed. Examples of this can include overdoing it with sliders/graphics. If the image helps you to get the point across then, by all means, add it. If, however, it is something that someone is just going to scroll by then be careful about cluttering up your pages. A great tool for determining how people interact with your website is Microsoft Clarity. This tool, for example, helps you determine if people are excessively scrolling on a page, or whether they are clicking on content only to quickly click back. These types of data points help you to determine whether content is providing value or if people simply find it useless. By making sure that everything on your pages has a purpose, you can make them more “sticky.” This, in turn, will help to ensure that people contact you and, as mentioned above, new customers are the measure of an effective website.
Effective websites utilize CTA’s without being overly invasive
I never stop being amazed at the number of websites which make it difficult for potential customers to contact the business. The most egregious examples are those where people have to scroll, hunt, and search just to find basic contact information. Here’s a tip – don’t treat your contact information like it’s a secret to be found at the end of a scavenger hunt. Make it accessible. Assuming you pass this basic test, one of the best things you can do to increase your website’s generation of leads is to properly use calls to action. It’s important, however, that you do so in ways which aren’t invasive, frustrating, or annoying to people (such as full screen pop ups that don’t go away).
The first, and most commonly neglected, CTA is to have is “click to call” functionality. This is just what it sounds like – someone viewing your number from a smartphone simply needs to hit the number to dial it. When adding this functionality, it is vital that you prominently display the phone number and make it easy for someone to call you. On our website, for example, someone landing on any page immediately has the phone number displayed on the top. It’s also importantly that this functionality only be included on a device with dialing capability. It is common to be able to click a phone number, from a computer, only to have the computer ask which app one wants to open the number with. If you were to try to click the phone number, at the top of this website, then you will find that it is not a live link on a computer. It is for display purposes only. By adding click to call, making it prominently displayed, and only enabling this functionality on a phone, you make it easier to contact your business while maintaining the user experience.
Another important call to action is to have a floating widget of some sort (such as the one that displays on this page asking you to subscribe to our newsletter – you have subscribed right?). These floating options are highly effective as they stay with the user as they move through the page. The type of widget you’ll want to use will depend on the type of business you have. For businesses where email newsletters aren’t effective (such as law firms), we suggest using a floating contact form which allows people to immediately contact the business. For other companies, where having a mailing list makes sense, it may be better to use an email capture. An important point, regarding email captures, is that you may want to have different “hooks” on different pages. For example, if you’re giving away a product in exchange for a subscription, you can have different widgets on different pages. Floating options such as this are great for increasing contacts or growing your mailing list.
Now it’s time to look at some common mistakes which can hurt the effectiveness of a website.
Common mistakes which make websites less effective
There are some very common mistakes which can greatly reduce a website’s ability to bring in business. Let’s look at five of the big ones.
A large mistake I tend to see is businesses making their websites about them and not about the customer. Don’t tell people about how wonderful you are – tell them about the wonderful service they will receive. This is especially true for professional service websites (law firms, accountants, psychologists, etc.). These business owners tend to want to devote their website to telling people about where they went to school, what their professional accomplishments are, etc. Here’s the big problem with this – everyone else in their industry went to school and has professional accomplishments. There is absolutely nothing that differentiates them from their competition if they take this approach. Also, people care about their problem being solved – not how great someone thinks they are. This is why, for example, a professional service website should talk about the experience the business will provide. This includes explaining that “we will call you back,” “we will make sure your questions are answered,” “we will make sure you know what to expect from the process,” etc. In short, make your website about how wonderful an experience the customer is going to have, and not about you.
A second common mistake, previously mentioned above, is making people hunt all over your website to find the information they are looking for. The truth of the matter is they’re not going to hunt around – they’re going to leave. Research has shown that the average person spends less than a minute on a website before they leave1. This means that if people don’t find what they’re looking for then they are going to leave in short order. There are a few ways to make information easy to find. First, make your website’s navigation as easy as possible to use. Nothing should ever be more than a click away no matter what page of your website someone is on. If you look at the main navigation on this website, for example, you’ll notice that you can quickly access any page from anywhere on our site. Second, don’t clutter up your pages with items that add no value. As mentioned above, if an image helps you to get the point across then, by all means, add it. If, however, an image or graphic is purely for decoration, ask yourself if it is really necessary (if somebody is just going to scroll by it then it’s just in the way). The less you make people sift through then the easier it is for them to find what they’re looking for.
The third mistake, which I already mentioned earlier, is making it difficult for people to find your contact information. Don’t do that (you would think that I shouldn’t have to say this, but you’d be surprised). The moment someone lands on your page, the options for contacting you should be readily apparent.
The fourth mistake that kills effectiveness is not having an active blog. Your blog is your opportunity to provide specific answers to specific questions. It is also one of the best investments of time you can make. The next article in this series (spoiler alert) will discuss why having a blog provides much better return on investment than paid ads. With that said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about your blog. The overwhelming majority of people are going about it the wrong way. Fortunately, you’re going to read the next article in this series so you don’t make this mistake.
A final, and common, mistake is excessive outbound linking. Think of it like this – if I’m on your website then I’m exposed to you and nobody but you. Why would you want me to leave your website? Having excessive outbound links on your website is akin to owning a restaurant and having a sign on all the tables which encourages your patrons to check out your competition. There are certainly times where outbound links can provide value – such as the ones above, in this article, which are there to show you the resources I’m referring to. There are plenty of times, however, where they don’t. Do you notice that we don’t have links on this website which go to our social media profiles? The reason for that is simple – the goal of social media is to drive people to our website (where, again, they are exposed to no one but us). So why would we use our website to drive people to a social media site where they may also view our competition? We’ve worked with multiple companies who saw an increase in business simply by removing their excess outbound links.
Well, this article wound up being longer than I thought it would be. With that said, you should remember that an “effective” website is one which helps your company increase its business. If you’re trying to figure out whether your current site fits that definition, you need to ask whether it is search engine friendly (as defined by the tools which Google provides), whether everything on the pages provides value, and whether you’re properly using a call to action. Finally, you can ensure effectiveness by avoiding the mistakes just listed.
Our Cincinnati-based web development company works with customers throughout the United States and we are proud of the results we have achieved for our customers. If you wish to improve your web presence then contact us online or by telephone. We look forward to speaking with you. Also, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter below.
1 – What Is the Average Time Spent On a Website? [+ How to Improve It] – accessed at https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/chartbeat-website-engagement-data-nj
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