I recently spoke to a group of website owners at Local First Arizona in Bisbee about website design that encourages traffic and repeat visitors.
The presentation was in a workshop format that lasted two hours. I was struck by how the issues they face are not new but they warrant repeating, as many of the improvements they need to make are the fundamentals of a great website. Here are some things distilled from that workshop that will help you increase traffic to your website and repeat visits.
So, you want to have a website with great traffic and return visitors. Then get ready because you need to understand what it takes in terms of focus and resources to create and maintain a high quality website.
Gone are the days of creating a website and then washing your hands and declaring, “Okay, we’re done.” The best websites are constantly adding great content and updating information. They are not set-it and forget-it entities. You must be able to make a commitment of time and resources in order to have a successful website. You are now a publisher. Publishers do what? They publish. The very best publish great content on a frequent basis.
Unless you have these skills, you will need to engage a web developer and graphic artist to help you create your website. You will need to find a hosting company to host your site (annualized fees). If you want interactivity, you will need to determine a CMS (content management system). There are some very good free CMS systems. Depending on the complexity of your site, you may need to develop a customized CMS system (development fees).
Again, unless you have these resources in your company, you will need to:
- Engage writers and editors, photographers and videographers.
- Create an editorial calendar so you can track when and what you want to publish.
- ‘Listen’ to your visitors and adapt your content to fit their needs and demands.
If you are able to employ your own staff, that is usually the ideal scenario. Your staff knows your business the best and likely has great, untapped ideas. Ask them to contribute to your blog or to write a white paper or free guide about the very tasks they perform each day. It is second nature to them anyway and they will get some good experience and recognition out of it.
And, do not forget that you will need to market your site. It doesn’t matter how well or compelling your content is if no one ever reads it. Unless you’re on page one of search engine results, you won’t have much, if any, traffic. Online marketing takes resources too: bloggers, community posting, social media personas and frequent postings.
It is a commitment in resources so make sure you’re ready. Can you do it without all the above? Sure, but do not expect much from your website.
Where’s the Money
Where can you find the money and the time for this? Analyze your current media buys. If you’re doing newspaper and yellow page advertising, then you’re probably wasting money. Newspaper circulation is down in historic numbers and yellow page readership is almost non-existent with the exception of their online component. Move your marketing dollars around in order to meet your customers where they are congregating… online.
Costs and Goal Setting
There are some things to consider prior to launching your new website or prior to doing a renovation.
- What information will you put on your site?
- What will be on your core pages? And, how many new pages will be added to the site?
- What information will you include?
- What about images? Do you have images or do you need to hire a photographer or perhaps, buy from a stock photo service?
- Will you need any special functionality? Is this an e-commerce site?
Establish a timeline with major milestones down to minor tasks along with who will be responsible for each and the resources and money that will be required.
Make Your Site Customer Centric
Your website should not be about you in terms of the features of your product. It should be about benefits to your customers. Sure, you want them know product specifications but they want to know how your product will save them time, entertain them, solve a problem or save them money. You get it, it’s the What’s In It For Me (WIFM) factor.
The best websites teach, educate and entertain. Give your visitors more than they bargained for and they will come back. Teach them about your ‘secret sauce’. Many companies are afraid to share their information for fear that their competitors will steal their ideas. You have a unique selling proposition…let your visitors know what it is. The competition may use some of your ideas but they will never be ‘you’ with your unique personality and unique management style. It’s the bikini concept. Show them 90% and they’ll want to see the last 10%.
Create Great Content
Your site should deliver relevant focused content to your visitors. This can be in the form of text, images and/or video. Know your audience and deliver information in their preferred format. And, do it on a consistent basis. Search engines love new content. Posting fresh content will help your site move up in the search engine rankings.
Most businesses have brochures and marketing pieces. Start with these and determine what information you want to include on the site. Look for other internal documents to flesh out your initial content inventory. Here are some ideas on what to include:
- History and mission/vision of your company
- Any press releases or news articles that have been written about your company
- Customer testimonials
- Complete contact information
- Profiles and bios of your key personnel
- Other product information including, prices, photos and graphics
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Video that is either product focused or service focused
- Information on how to engage your services
- Geographic area where you provide services
- Features and benefit documentation
Post-It Notes Are Your Friend
Use post-it notes and write specific content ideas down, one per post-it. This content will start to fall into different natural categories. Take the post-its and arrange them by category. You’ll start to notice natural breaks where you can add navigation to your site. The more specific you can be here, the better your navigation and organization on the site.
Wireframe the Site
Once you’ve determined the content and the natural categories of information make a temporary site so you can place all the information on a page. Try iPlotz.
Gone are the days of web 1.0 where websites were all about information and transactions. These sites
were one-dimensional and boring. Since 2005, webmasters have been adding interactivity to their site designs. Called Web 2.0, these sites offer the ability to comment, review, and vote and even contribute to the content pages. No longer is it about just retrieving information, it is about contributing your opinion and adding your experiences and information to make a website more informative and more accurate.
The cool thing about interactivity is that you can actually ‘listen’ to your customers. Read what they say about you and your products and act on that information. If you get dinged on customer service, then look at your processes and improve them. If your readers are having issues with your products then tell them how to work around issues or about bug fixes or invite them to bring the product back for an exchange or refund.
Research Competitor’s Websites
Take at look at the competition.
- What do their sites look like?
- What are they focusing on?
- Do you like what they’re doing?
- Is it something you want to emulate?
- How are your customers going to find you online?
- Most traffic comes from the search engines.
- Do you know what keywords to use and optimize for?
- How will you pare that down into attracting relevant customers? You have the potential of a global audience.
- If you’re too broad, you’ll have a high bounce rate. If you’re too specific, you’ll be missing customers.
- Spend some time on this. It is important!
- Look not only at your competition, look for the best websites. Determine what you like.
- What kinds of layouts, colors and functionality do you like?
- Consider background texture and color, general layout structure; whether the site is 2 or 3 column format.
- What fonts do you like?
- Do you want/like a slider on the home page. You will want to share this all with your designer and developer.
A Word About Price
You get what you pay for. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. You can get many applications free. If you have a limited budget, you may want to start there. WordPress is an excellent foundation for an interactive website. Or, for the more stouthearted, try Django, Drupal, Joomla.
Please do not have your nephew, cousin or friend of a friend build your website. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this happen and it always results in the need to have the site redone. Spend the money and hire a professional.
A Word About Flash
Flash design can really make your site compelling. The trade off is that iPads do not read flash, it takes longer to load your pages and search engines cannot spider flash. Skip flash and have your designer develop your site introduction in HTML5. You can get the same results as with flash and you can see it on an iPad. Not that an iPad is the be-all, end-all, but there are almost 30 million of them out there with more selling every day.
Make sure you consider what your website will look like on a mobile phone. You cannot just assume your site will look good on a mobile device. On a mobile device, you do not want to be constantly scrolling and enlarging text. The mobile version needs to be easy to navigate and it should have short cuts to transactions with big buttons.
I have covered a lot here… but you should have been at the two-hour presentation we talked about even more. Hopefully, this information will get you thinking about resources needed and the steps to take to build traffic and encourage repeat visitors.
What tips or resources do you have for someone just getting started or who is looking to renovate their current website?
This entry was posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011 at 4:30 am and is filed under The Basics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.