Considering a website redesign this year? It’s a great time to invest in a new website; there are more options available to you at a lower expense than ever before. Technology, and more specifically, open-source platforms, have paved the way for organizations to incorporate complex elements into their websites that would have required thousands of dollars in custom coding in years past. Now you can focus on creating the best user experience for your visitors, and leading them toward your goals, instead of spending time trying to build custom elements from scratch. Here are the must-have’s (and a few nice-to-have’s) for your website in 2016, broken down by the internal systems you should have in place and the external elements that your visitors will interact with:
Getting into a relationship with a website design & development firm involves quite a bit of thinking ahead to the future of your organization, your goals and objectives, and your overall vision. Often, we find that organizations will choose a design firm based on the fact that they’ve built a website for a competitor or another company they respect, or they choose the lowest bidder without considering the long-term costs associated with having to make big changes later, or the opportunity costs associated with growing at a slower pace than they would have with a better-performing website. So before you sign that project agreement for your new website, be sure to ask these questions of the firm you’re considering working with:
For the healthcare industry, the design of, and content within, your website could be the deciding factor between a prospective client choosing you for their needs over your competitors. For health service providers in fields such as prosthetics, plastic surgery, stem cell storage and treatment, spinal health, birth and women’s health, physical and occupational rehabilitation, addiction treatment, and the thousands of others who operate outside of the traditional model, it is crucial to attract and engage with prospective clients as they conduct research on providers for their needs. The problem is, many providers offer the same industry jargon in their content, the same generic stock photos, and the same uninspired taglines as most of the other providers in their field. As a health services provider in a competitive industry, does your website stand out from your competitors? Does it really tell your story to a prospective client the way you would tell it to them in person at their first visit? Is it warm and engaging? Do you gather any information from visitors to help you understand what they’re looking for, and do you provide them exactly what they’re looking for? Most importantly, is it easy for visitors to get exactly what they need from your website?
Every few years, most businesses and organizations see a need for some form of website redesign. In the past 5 years, much of the momentum for updating websites was due to a need to convert those that weren’t mobile-friendly to a responsive design, making them mobile-friendly across all devices and dimensions. If your website isn’t responsive to all mobile devices yet, read Melissa’s article in the NH Business Review to learn why this is so important: ‘Mobilegeddon’ and Your Site. Before you jump straight into conversations with your team about the new features, content, and graphics you’d like to incorporate into your website, I’d urge you to take a step back and consider the questions below. We find that many organizations go right into the planning phase of their website redesign without properly considering all of the implications and opportunities that exist. Here are some important questions to ask yourself, your team, and your web development firm:
Have you ever walked into a restaurant, business, or retail store and immediately thought: “they’ll be out of business in six months, tops”? Do you think the business owner had any clue that customers had that negative reaction? Doubtful. We all see what we want to see; and that means that sometimes we can miss some huge, glaring issues that customers will spot immediately. Often, those same customers will choose not to work with you based on this first impression, but may never tell you the reason. And that’s where things can get scary. Here are the 5 most important first impressions to get right. If you can nail these, we guarantee you’ll see improvement in sales and referral business.
- How does your office/store/salon/restaurant look to prospective customers?
- Is your signage visible from the street? Is it modern? Does it attract attention? Does it match your brand?
- Is your reception area welcoming? Really? What kind of impression do you make to prospects with your furniture, interior signage, magazines, brochures, etc? Do you offer coffee and water to visitors?
- Do you have a comfortable meeting and/or waiting area for visitors?
- Is your location easy to find? Is the neighborhood representative of your brand image? Ie: a high-end restaurant will likely not perform well in a downtrodden neighborhood, and vice versa. A modern, high-tech business doesn’t fit well in a strip mall space.
Printed Marketing Materials
- When is the last time you REALLY looked at your business cards? Are you cutting costs on paper & printing? Your prospects can instantly identify this, and it immediately downgrades your business.
- Is your logo eye-catching? Is it easily recognizable? Does it convey exactly the message you want it to?
- Are your brochures and folders representative of your brand? Do they make people want to pick them up from a table or booth?
- If you’re exhibiting at an event, does your booth stand out from the crowd? Is it clean, organized, and does it attract attention?
Online Marketing Materials
- When is the last time you REALLY looked at your website? Is it up to date? Do you have calls to action on all important pages?
- Are your Social Media Channels branded to match the rest of your organization? Each Social Media Channel (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, etc.) allows you some flexibility in customizing page design, so be sure to take advantage of these free opportunities.
- A visitor’s first experience with your brand, wherever it happens to occur, will help them decide whether to continue pursuing you. Make sure all of those potential ‘first entrances’ to your business are good ones.
Reviews & Testimonials
- If you haven’t ‘Googled’ your company in a while, now is the time. Check out your online reviews and social media mentions. If no one is talking about you, that’s nearly as bad as having negative reviews.
And all those things your 3rd grade English teacher warned you about.
- Typos! Grammatical Errors! Misspellings!
- I am AMAZED at how often I see simple mistakes on company websites, blog posts, press releases, email newsletters, and social media updates. If this isn’t your strongest area, then PLEASE enlist a trusted colleague to review your work for you. Your prospects will pick up on this, and it could cost you thousands of dollars in lost business.
You have a website, you pay the bills, and you activate the domain renewals. The email notices come to you, the business is registered under your name, and you pay the taxes. So you must own your own website, right?
Maybe not.When our team takes on a new website development project, we are sometimes shocked to find that our client, the rightful owner of their website and domain, does not actually have full ownership on paper. Often, we find that a previous web developer, the IT director that left the company years ago, or a former employee is listed as the sole contact for the domain.
The problem?If the sole contact for your website is someone you no longer want to have access to your site, you run the risk of some serious problems, including:
- The sole contact for your domain registration has the ability to redirect your domain to another website or shut it down completely. Without your permission.
- This person potentially could hold onto your domain if you’re involved in a disagreement with them. You can likely get it back, but it may require taking them to court. And that’s not a situation any business owner wants to find themselves in.
Loss of Domain Control
- At the very least, if you don’t have control of your website’s domain, you will need the person who does have control to help you move or transfer it if you ever want to do so. Considering a move to a new hosting provider? You’ll need access to the domain registration. If you don’t have it, it can cause significant delays and additional (costly) hours.
The Good News:There’s a very easy way to find out who is listed as your domain’s point of contact. And it’s perfectly acceptable to have your web developer, IT director, or another involved employee be listed as an additional contact; just not the ONLY contact. To check your domain registration, simply visit WhoIs.com, enter your primary domain name in the WhoIs search field, and click ‘Lookup’. If you find that you need to make changes to contact info, we suggest doing this immediately before you run into future problems.
Want to make sure your website is a success? Before you start developing a strategy, meeting with designers, or writing copy for a new site, make sure you have a clear understanding of the 3 elements that can spell the difference between the success and failure of one of your most important marketing tools: your website. If your website acts more like a brochure, sitting on a shelf to be read, than like a salesperson, out in the world touting your company’s key selling points, it’s time to make a change.
Key Element #1: Inbound Marketing StrategyYour website’s inbound marketing strategy is it’s way of enticing visitors to come check you out. Primarily, this would consist of the following elements:
- Search Engine Optimization & Marketing (SEO / SEM)
- Inbound Links
- Social Media
- Email Marketing
- Online Advertising
- Traditional Advertising & Marketing Efforts
Key Element #2: Well-Defined Traffic Patterns & Call-to-Action StrategyIf you can master Inbound Marketing by driving the right visitors to your site, then the next most important factor to consider is: what do you want them to do once they get there? By defining traffic patterns and showing new visitors how to best interact with you (ie: ‘if you’re in this industry, read this report’; or ‘if you’re comparing products, watch this video’), you’ll be better able to lead them to the right information to make better decisions about your company, product or service. The call to action is by far one of the most important areas to focus on when developing your website layout. Your visitor’s will always want to know ‘what’s in it for me?’, and the call to action will not only provide an answer to that question, it will allow you to gather very valuable information about your target audience. If you ask for them to submit an email address in order to download a report or watch a video, you now have valuable information that will help you to determine where your best leads come from (and where they don’t), so you can make more informed decisions on where to spend your time and money to pursue new leads. And if they’ve opted to receive information from you, you can then send a follow-up email with more information to continue the conversation and help them make a more informed decision. Which leads us to our final point: the follow-up strategy.
Key Element #3: Follow-Up StrategyThe 3rd most important element in your website strategy is in the follow-up. If you have valuable information to provide to your viewers, you may want to place it behind a form on a landing page where they must provide contact information in order to access it. This allows you to (as long as they’ve opted in) follow up with those interested prospects by email, phone, or snail-mail in order to move toward the next step. If you have a well-rounded social media community, you can follow up with prospects in that space; provided they have taken the initiative to connect with you there (see Key Element #2). Once a website viewer chooses to follow you on Twitter, Like you on Facebook, or Subscribe to your YouTube channel, your visibility in front of them moves from a one-time random hit on your website to an active, ongoing, and long-term conversation (as long as you are updating those communities regularly). The TakeAway: If your website is an online brochure, with interesting information that doesn’t do anything more than lie on a page and wait to be read: your website is not working for you. If you are ready to get your website to start working for you (ie: a salesperson you only pay for once), then be sure to dig deep into your strategy with these key elements in mind before even writing a single page of copy. Photo credit: blogefl on Flickr.com, Graham Stanley
I subscribe to a daily e-newsletter with amazing deals for local businesses, and plenty of ideas for new places to visit. It’s a fantastic newsletter, very short and easy to read, generating publicity for new businesses every day and opening them up to new markets. So you can imagine the implications of this email linking to a new site with great featured products, excellent pricing, a beautiful website, and broken links to their shopping cart! Yikes! After clicking through a few different product links on the site, I ended up at the same error multiple times and finally gave up, as I’m sure the other potential customers did as well. Which led me to wonder – do all companies recognize the lost opportunities of poor design, broken links, and an overall “eye off the ball” approach to their websites? Yes, we get busy in our daily lives, but it is amazingly important to walk through the same doors, so to speak, that your customers do. So I put together this simple checklist of those “doors” you should walk through each day, to make sure you don’t end up in this embarrassing and costly situation. 1. Visit your website every morning. Links break. Pages change. Embedded images and videos fail. These are facts of life for most sites. It is crucially important to spend 5-10 minutes each morning navigating through your site to make sure everything works properly. 2. Subscribe to your own email list, and ask everyone at your company to subscribe as well. Before sending out an email, send a test to your internal list. Ask everyone to open it and provide their feedback. Ask them to open it on their mobile phones as well, and be sure it is user-friendly. Would this be an email you would click through as a customer? Why or why not? 3. Call your customer service line. Use the automated system like a brand new customer would. I am amazed at the problems on automated service lines. For instance, many lines only offer the option to dial a name using the letters on your keypad numbers. Well this is perfectly fine, unless of course you are using a standard Blackberry, which doesn’t show the letters that correspond to each number. Some services only offer directories by last name, but what if your customers don’t know the person’s last name? Oops. 4. Walk through your front door from the street. Is the front reception area clean, inviting, and professional? Are the signs and literature updated and restocked? I have seen restaurants with signs out front promoting events that happened weeks before and were never updated, because the owners and employees all used the rear entrance and never noticed them. 5. Email yourself at home. Did your email get through to your Comcast/Verizon/AOL address? Huge red flag here if it did not. Now, how does your signature line appear? Is your contact information available and well-designed? How does your name appear? Font size and spacing?