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5 warning signs that your website sucks

Does your website suck? I’m not asking to be mean. Really. Building a website that meets the needs of your business and your customers is a tricky balancing act. You want to project a robust, yet friendly brand. You want to make sure the site is usable, but also good looking. You want to promote your company without getting in your customers’ way. You need to represent the needs of disparate internal stakeholders, but you don’t want to drive the design and functionality based on your org chart. And, of course, you want it to look world-class without breaking your budget. Sounds simple, right? Well… not really. While no one set of tips and tricks guarantees a perfect site designed to achieve an optimal balance among these disparate demands, a few best practices can ensure your site works well in most cases. Let’s take a look.

Meager Images

Does your website offer clear, crisp images, designed to work well on “Retina-caliber” displays? Do those images show your product and services clearly? Or do your customers have to lean in close and reach for reading glasses every time they want to see a picture (even if they don’t wear glasses)? On the web today, a picture is worth a thousand words. Poor quality, low resolution images — or too few images overall — make it difficult for your customers to truly see what they’re buying when they buy from you. Invest in high-quality, high-resolution images that illustrate your offering clearly. Google’s recent emphasis on images in search, including Carousel and Business View underscore how seriously the search giant takes images as part of the overall consumer experience. And don’t forget the move towards image-sharing in social, including Instagram, Pinterest, and, yes, even Twitter (images are proven to make social posts more shareable). Your customers value images. Make sure your site does too.

Poor Mobile Experience

OK. Before you read any further, grab your mobile phone (or open a new tab if you’re reading this on mobile), and navigate to your website. What does it look like? Can you read the text? Do the images appear clearly? Can your customers find key calls-to-action like your address, phone number, or add-to-cart? No? Well, you’re not alone. Research from Foresee Results (highlighted here) shows that “… functionality on mobile apps and sites was the area for biggest improvement across… mobile retailers” and that “…mobile is affecting direct sales contribution and purchases in other channels, too.” Those effects can be negative, too, if your customers can’t find what they’re looking for when on their mobile device. Responsive sites rank better for SEO, usually cost less to maintain than a dedicated mobile site, and, as a general rule, work better across a wider range of devices. Oh, and they help your customers, too. What’s not to love?

No Web Analytics

An old consulting saw states, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Time and again I see companies running their websites without any web analytics in place. Which means, of course, that they’re not really managing their sites. They’re just guessing what customers care about — or don’t. If your site lacks analytics, take a few minutes and have your administrator at least place tags for Google Analytics on your site. Today. Once you’re able to measure, you’ll be able to manage your site so much more effectively. And you’ll begin to put your site to work for your business more effectively too. What should you measure? Well, I’m glad you asked… High Bounce Rate Bounce rate is what happens when customers view a single page on your site without drilling deeper into your information. A high bounce rate is the kiss of death for most businesses, as it means your website wasn’t good enough to answer your customers’ questions without leaving them looking for a better answer — especially if they look to a competitor. Even worse, you might have paid — with money, time, or resources — to bring those folks to your site. That’s pretty much the definition of “sucks” in my book. Identify pages on your site that have both lots of traffic and a high bounce rate, then set to work on improving those pages (look to copy, headlines, images, and calls-to-action first). Getting these pages to not suck should be your web team’s #1 priority, even ahead of SEO, PPC, or email marketing. Driving traffic to a page that’s just going to cause customers to bounce is a waste of customer goodwill. So don’t do that.

Limited Traffic Sources

I once worked on a site that got almost 80% of its traffic from organic search and a big chunk of that organic search traffic from a relatively small set of keywords. Guess what happened. Search traffic fell during the economic downturn (it was a luxury products company), and the overall business suffered. As one company executive put it after I showed them the issue, “Google sneezed and we caught a cold.” You’ve all heard the adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Well, the same holds true for your website. Look at the sources driving traffic to your site, then build a plan to grow each of the following categories:

  • Natural search
  • Referrals
  • Direct navigation
  • Email
  • And, if you’ve got the budget, paid search.

You’re looking for both quantity and quality here, so don’t just jump on spammy link-building techniques or wasteful spend solely to get additional traffic. Instead, focus on quality partners and proven tactics to increase across and within each of these key categories. While it can’t guarantee you won’t “catch a cold” when someone upstream sneezes, it will help you spread the risk and improve your “immunity” to any changes in the marketplace.

Conclusion

You’ll notice I didn’t talk about conversion rate or returning visitors or more detailed metrics for your site. It’s not that those are unimportant; they are. Very important, in fact. But it’s more important that you get the basics right first. Focus on these five areas to start with, then look at building a more detailed picture of your customers’ online behavior. Building a high-quality, customer-focused website is an ongoing process that requires constant attention and clear goals. Look at where your customers come from, what they’re trying to accomplish, and how well your pages support their goals at each step along the way. It won’t guarantee you’ll win every sale, every day. But it will help you attract and retain more customers in the long run. And that surely doesn’t suck. Main photo credit: Ivy Dawned via photopin cc

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Tim Peter

Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs. Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association. Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies. Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at tim@timpeter.com or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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