What Makes a Great Website!

By Lorie Rosenberg

Responsive design and web devices

Whether you like it or not, your website is one of the most important components of your comprehensive marketing program. It can be the driving force that propels your business or organization forward on a path to success, or it can be the 20-ton boulder that drags it into extinction.

In this article, we’ll review the major components of an effectively designed website. We’ll determine the overall objective you want to achieve from it, and we’ll discover how you can fulfill this mission and create an engaging, easy-to-use and extremely affordable site.

Let’s Dialogue About Websites…

To accomplish that, we’re going to start a dialogue about your current website by asking you some tough questions that will help you determine whether or not your website is meeting the needs of your business or organization.

So before you read any further, take a minute and open the home page of your website so it appears on the opposite side of your screen as you’re reading this article. We're going to evaluate it together to see how it stacks up as we proceed through the 10 most important questions you need to ask yourself to determine if your website is working effectively for you or not…and what you can do about that!

The Ten Most Important Questions You Need to Ask About Your Website…

  1. Does Your Website Have a Clear Purpose and a Call to Action

There are many different kinds of sites on the Internet today, such as personal sites, photo sharing sites, blogging sites, and entrepreneur or author sites. There are community-building websites that create an online gathering of people who share similar interests. Plus there are e-commerce sites that sell products, the biggest probably is Amazon. Can you say “Amazon Prime?”

In addition to these types of sites, there are also informational sites that provide visitors with lots of useful information on a particular area of interest, as well as online business brochure-type websites that promote a particular product or service online and offer similar information as would be included in a printed brochure.

The question you need to ask yourself is what type of website you have? Are you promoting your business, are you providing information to members, or are you selling products online? What exactly do you want to accomplish from your website? If you are selling products, are you presenting your products in the most engaging way, offering sales or free shipping…and making the process to purchase your products as easy as possible? Do you have multiple ways to respond, including an inquiry form, phone number, email, or physical address?

Once you understand the purpose of your website, you can design it so that it accomplishes the specific goals you’re trying to achieve.

  1. Is the Look and Feel of Your Website Current and Up to Date?

Website development has gone through many changes over the past 25 years. When websites were created in the early 1990s, the sites were single column text-based pages built totally in HTML. Websites looked as if there were a series of text documents held together with inline links.

Since then, advances in technology have created many innovations – tables enabled the use of multiple columns that streamlined organization and navigation of the site. Frame pages allowed the body of the website to be separated from the side-bar navigation. Flash introduced animation to websites and CSS allowed designers to define the elements on a page in a style sheet rather than with HTML on the page. And JavaScript brought intelligence to the website and enabled sites to be data-driven.

These advancements have helped the look and feel of websites evolve with the use of more interactive content and a wider screen area. You’ll find revolving carousels of photographic images, videos, and social media icons that link to their respective sites. Plus, you’ll find more grid-based layouts that align the content into columns, boxes, and sections that provide a more pleasing and balanced design.

If your website was created more than five years ago, it’s probably outdated, lacks mobile capability, and looks well, dated! If so, then it’s time to reevaluate the type of website you really need and then determine how you’ll create a new one, which we’ll talk about later in this article!

  1. Are Your Photos, Images, and Videos Attractive and Compelling?

Photos can make or break your website. If your photos are lousy, it really doesn’t matter how your web design looks.

With the innovation of WordPress and other applications that allow sites to be designed by pretty much anybody, you’ll find websites that were created with no regard to the aesthetics of good design. In addition, the photos you can take with your I-Phone or Android can provide some amazing quality, but again if you have no real experience in photo composition or lighting, some of these photos may look as if they were taken with a Kodak Brownie camera that was popular in the 1950s and 60s.

Today, it’s much easier to get good photos than ever before. There are many applications that will enable you to edit photos taken with your cell phone or camera to enhance their appeal. There are also plenty of stock photo sites where you can purchase inexpensive professional photos to use on your website. And you can find many local photographers that can take location photos of your facility and operation, and that’s even more beneficial as it gives visitors to your site an authentic look into your business and what it can offer them.

  1. Does Your Website Promote the Benefits Versus the Features of Your Products or Services?

Whether you sell a product or a service, it’s important that you recognize the difference between features and benefits. Features are the specifics of what you offer and how it works. This includes the particular details about your products and how they perform as you might find in a product specification sheet.

Benefits are the special advantages your products offer your customers, such as how they solve problems and assist them in some way. One way to determine if you’re using benefits versus features is to see how many times you use “I” versus “You” in your writing.  “I” is all about you and what you offer and “You” is about your prospects and customers and what they need from you.

Take a look at a feature/benefit analysis of the DEIK Kitchen and Professional Chef Knife. You’ll understand why benefits are so much better to promote than features.

Feature: This quality chef’s knife is constructed of superior VG10 Damascus Steel.

Benefit: Chefs love this workhorse of a knife because they can count on its ability to hold a sharp edge with continuous use and under the toughest conditions.

Feature: Includes a durable and strong Micarta handle.

Benefit: Its ergonomic shaped handle ensures a secure, comfortable grip with less fatigue during long hours of use.

Feature: The knife has a 12-15 degree razor sharp edge.

Benefit: Cutting and slicing is a breeze with the razor sharp edge that lasts longer than most comparably priced chef’s knives.

As you can see, features offer information about the product; benefits offer reasons why the product will benefit the user. The best way to describe your product is with the formula: Feature so You Can Benefit. List the feature first and then describe how it benefits the user.

Now take a look at your website. See how many instances of “You” that you can find. Make sure your website promotes the benefits of what you do so visitors will have a reason to buy what you offer.

  1. Does Your Website Direct Viewers to Their Particular Area of Interest?

People go to websites for different reasons even when the product or service is the same. For instance, a vacation rental location may attract people who are planning a romantic getaway, a family gathering, or perhaps a sales retreat or corporate event. And for that reason, you want to talk to each of them in a different way so that they understand fully that you can accommodate their specific needs.

That’s why it’s so important to have a "triage" element on your website. This can be as simple as three different pictures that depict one of the scenarios above and each has a headline and some copy underneath that addresses their particular issues. These pictures would link to separate pages that expand upon this message.

Take a look at your website. Determine who you are trying to reach and their specific hot buttons. Then create a triage element that directs them to the area of the site that talks specifically about their needs.

  1. Is Your Website Well Organized and Easy to Navigate?

People who are confused don’t buy. And people who come to your website and are confused, leave. It’s as simple as that. That’s why it’s so important to organize your website in a way that makes sense. And you can do that by creating a map of how you want people to travel through your site to reach their final goal or purpose of your site.

First, you want to make sure the top menu has links to the main areas you want to direct your viewers. And try to limit them to no more than seven links. This is better for the search engines and also for visitors because most people can only remember around seven items. Plus, make sure that visitors can find the information they need with no more than three clicks, otherwise, their next click will be closing your site.

And once people get to the area that they’re interested in, don’t disappoint them with irrelevant material. Put the most important information up front and not buried somewhere at the bottom of the page. People generally read from top to bottom and from left to right. Be sure the information is presented in a precise format and is targeted to their specific needs. Use bold headlines, subheads, bullet points, and short paragraphs to convey your message. Plus use sans serif fonts (such as Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana) for the body copy. They are much easier to read, with the ideal size being around 16 points. And please oh please limit the amount of type you reverse out of black or a darker color. It is really difficult to read and is a major no-no!

Make it easy for people to view your site and navigate to the information that is relevant to them, and that solves their particular concerns.

  1. Is Your Website Mobile Friendly and Easy to View on a Mobile Phone or Tablet?

Your website is being viewed on cell phones and tablets whether you like it or not. That’s why it’s critical that you optimize your site for the mobile format.

Some older sites can be viewed on a mobile phone but they are basically a shrunken version of the original website.  And that’s not enough. Your mobile website needs to be as easy to view as it is on the computer and the navigation menu should easily direct viewers to the information they’re looking for.

Take a look at your website on your phone or tablet and see if it works similarly to that on your computer. If not, then that is an area you need to address right away!

  1. Does Your Website Offer Free Information in Exchange for an Email Address?

Your website is a major investment and therefore it should work very hard for you to develop new prospect and customer leads. If prospects come to your site (as they would a store) and leave without interacting with you or purchasing anything, then you’ve lost potential customers. To avoid that, you need to develop a method to gain their name and email address so that you can continue to market to them and hopefully gain their business sometime in the future.

One of the best ways to do that is to offer them something of interest or value in return for their name and email address. This can be a special report, blog, article, discount or offer, or an important solution to their particular concern. Many times this is offered the first time they visit your site as a pop-up, which they can close easily if they’re not interested. Many times you can also include an exit pop so that when visitors leave your site, before doing so, a popup window appears with some kind of offer or incentive they will lose if they leave your site.

Does your website offer a way to develop your list of prospects so that you can market to them in the future? If not, then it’s time it did.

  1. Does Your Website Have a Compelling Message or Story?

You have a great product or service, but there are dozens of companies or organizations that do pretty much what you do. How can you differentiate your business from that of your competition? One way is to have a compelling message or story that sets you apart.

I view many websites where there is nothing said about the company that truly resonates with me. The site might include a mission statement with some platitudes about delivering the highest customer service. Unfortunately, these words are hollow. That’s because people sell products. If you search Amazon for a particular product, you invariably read the reviews to find out what other people felt about the product. And that will persuade or dissuade you from purchasing that particular brand of product.

The same holds true on your website. People will go to the “About” section of your site and check out information about the company. They will look and see who works there, how employees handle problems, and how they service their customers.  They will find out what’s unique about the company and what truly resonates with them.

When you include a special story of how your company was started, how you’ve been in business for 50 years, and how you give back to the community with the specific charities you promote, you go a long way to developing good will. People like to do business with people they like, so make sure you tell your unique story and how it has impacted the way you do business.

  1. Does Your Website Have Powerful Testimonials from Satisfied Customers?

This item is pretty self-explanatory. People believe what other people say about you more than what you say about yourself. You can promote what you do on your website, yet you gain more credibility when people tell specifically how ecstatic they were about how you went above and beyond to assure their satisfaction.

Testimonials are one of the most important components you need to include on your site, yet many sites don’t include them at all. And many who include them do them incorrectly. For instance, the testimonials include misspellings, grammatical errors and are just poorly written. And often, they were written by "Bob" - no last name, no company name, no city or state - just…Bob.  Not very believable or impressive.

Now I’m not saying that you write fake testimonials for your customers because that would be wrong, but it’s okay to correct mistakes and possibly paraphrase a sentence (with their permission) so that it sounds better. You can ask them, “Is this what you meant to say?” In most instances, the person won’t care when it sounds better than the original statement. And ask them if you can use their full name, title, and city or location. The more information you provide the more credible the testimonial is to your audience.

Other Areas to Consider…

The 10 Questions above offer you some of the most important aspects you need to consider when developing your website. There are some others that are equally important that you need to address to ensure that your website actually gets found.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization is critical to ensure that your website gets found by your prospects and customers. This is an important part of website development to help position your website higher in the organic searches.

Social Media

It’s not enough to have the social media icons on your websites. You need to create social media promotions to get people to “like” your content and increase your number of followers who are then encouraged to view your website for useful information. This is just a part of your entire marketing and promotional plan with your website being the focal point of these campaigns.

How Did Your Website Do?

How did your website stack up when it came to the 10 questions above?

Is your website doing what it needs to do to meet your objectives? If so, then you’re extremely lucky your site is exactly what you need for your business.

If not, then you need to determine the most effective way possible to create a website that’s easy to use, engaging, and brings multitudes of visitors to your site.

And that’s not particularly easy. That’s because web developers and agencies can be extremely expensive and many web companies know little or nothing about your business or about marketing in general. And to create an effective website, you need a comprehensive approach that combines knowledge of marketing and your business or organization, good copywriting skills and broad experience in web design and development.

On the flip side, there are a variety of do-it-yourself website options that enable you to create your own website for little or next to nothing. The upside is the cost; the downside is that if you’ve never had any design or copywriting experience, you may be taking on more than you can handle, and the results will show that.

The key is finding someone who understands your business, who can create a website that combines good design, copywriting and marketing experience to ensure that your site does what you need it to do to maximize the effectiveness of your business or organization. In addition, it needs to be developed on a platform that allows you complete access to the site so that you, rather than some web developer (who may have flown the coop), can make changes readily as your business grows and changes. Your website should be as fluid as your business so that when it’s time to move in a new direction you have the flexibility to change your website as well.

What makes a great website is seeing a multitude of happy customers visit your site, follow your business, purchase your product or service, and contribute to a growing bottom line!Save

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