hall of fame
Alyssa Young

In today’s competitive business landscape, where customers expect instant and easy access to information and communication, simply having any old website won’t cut it. When competitors have a polished web presence, an antiquated site is even more of a liability—one that will result in missed opportunities if it looks unprofessional, is hard to find or navigate, has outdated or missing information, and is technically deficient.

But, what determines whether a website is getting the job done? When a small business has a website that’s more than a few years old and suffers from the following problems, it’s time to reinvent its online storefront to better capture leads and convert them to customers.

1. The current website isn’t performing well.

In order to help a business, its website must help consumers. Determine whether it’s working by looking at how visitors are using it. Review website analytics to analyze metrics, such as the average duration of site sessions, or the average time that a visitor spends per page. Are visitors reading, or are they quickly bailing? What’s the value of sales generated from the website, or the number of page views, sessions, visitors or form submissions? Also, be sure to check search engine ranking for important keywords. The company website should contribute to the bottom line, so these numbers should represent a significant contribution toward overall leads and revenue.

2. It doesn’t look and feel like the company.

A website is a company’s ultimate opportunity to fully communicate its brand messaging.  Simply slapping the logo in the website header doesn’t cut it. True integration involves seamlessly incorporating the branding through all elements, including design styling, colors, typography and brand voice.

The website must portray a company’s values and explain its differentiators. An effective site offers unlimited real estate (web pages) that prospective customers will spend time exploring if it answers their questions and provides a user-friendly experience. So, make sure it’s telling an accurate (and flattering) story about the business.

3. Information is outdated or missing.

Perhaps a business has grown or changed since its website was first published, and the web content and messaging no longer represent the company’s offerings or service areas. Thankfully, the beautiful thing about websites is that they can be changed at any time—instantaneously and inexpensively. Editing a few words on a page is a cheaper, quicker, simpler process than updating a brochure or other piece of print collateral. Yet, when a business is busy serving its customers, website updates often get pushed to the back burner. And before long, the online information is so old that updating it is a major headache. Perhaps the company’s new services won’t even fit into the existing website architecture.

Other common problems with website content, besides being stale, are that it’s not unique, or it’s lacking specifics, or it doesn’t speak to buyer personas to help them along the buyer’s journey. Yes, copy can be improved on an existing website to fix these deficiencies; however, it’s also important to carefully review the site map to ensure that the pages are organized logically, and the menus make sense. Depending on the age of the website and the platform with which it was built, adjusting the information architecture could be an inefficient use of time compared to starting fresh.

4. Only a coding expert can update the site.

Older websites were constructed using specialized programming tools and back-end language that’s foreign to laymen, and without a user-friendly interface, only a coding guru can understand it. That means that making a simple text edit is scary, if not impossible, for the company to handle itself. On the other hand, a new website that’s built with an easy-to-use content management system gives the company complete control to make changes anytime, which helps prevent the information from becoming outdated (and eventually, rendering the website useless). New content management systems also offer plug-ins as efficient ways to incorporate dynamic features into the website and can easily accommodate tools, such as forms and video.

5. Search engine optimization is poor.

If consumers can’t easily find a company’s website among the first handful of results in search engines, they will take their business elsewhere. Several factors determine a website’s level of search engine optimization (SEO). Coding characteristics set the baseline for SEO performance. Optimized page content—that is, writing with specific keywords—is crucial, too. Web pages also need correctly crafted page titles, meta descriptions, H tags, alt text on images and descriptive URLs. An SEO-friendly content management system, such as WordPress, will include fields for inputting this data and analyzing it to ensure it’s strong. Websites without this back-end capability likely will show weaker search engine performance and lose market share to companies that outrank them in the results.

6. It’s difficult for consumers to navigate or take action.

Today’s web surfers expect sites to be easy to use and quick to load; they don’t have patience for sites that make them work too hard. To earn visitors’ attention, websites need menus that are simple to use, a well organized architecture, internal links to related content and breadcrumbs and footer links to ease navigation. Pages can’t be too slow to load, or users will quickly ditch the website and find another that’s faster to use.

Effective websites also include conversion tools, such as forms, and calls-to-action that provide value. This way, the company not only learns what people are interested in, but also captures leads and gains the opportunity to convert them to customers.

7. It’s not responsive.

Consumers are relying more and more on their smartphone or tablet to find information on the web, spending less time on desktop or laptop computers. That’s why a mobile-friendly experience is crucial for any website that doesn’t want to lose leads to the “back” button on their browser—which is what visitors will tap immediately if they don’t like what they see when the site loads on the small screen in the palm of their hand. Responsive design ensures that all content on a website is accessible, legible and attractive, no matter what type of device the visitor is using. Websites that still use Flash for their graphics, on the other hand, will suffer in comparison, since mobile devices don’t support this technology. So, to avoid frustrating consumers, companies must ensure that their website displays properly across all popular browsers and on a variety of screen sizes. Even more, Google likes mobile-friendly websites, so adopting this approach also improves search engine ranking.

A website is like a company’s front door—for many consumers, it’s their first interaction with the business. For that reason, it is worth investing time and resources in a well designed website that works, to ensure that visitors have a positive, welcoming online experience that develops into a successful customer relationship.

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