Think You Can Avoid The Conversation?

Think again. The epic failure of Kraft’s new iSpread 2.0 is the perfect example of the way the Internet has changed the way we communicate which in turn has changed the way we need to run and promote our businesses.

Don’t believe me? After running a nationwide competition to name their new Vegemite and cheese spread Kraft announced the new name, iSnack 2.0, on Saturday at the AFL Grand Final. The name was met with resounding horror. And so the conversation began. The Internet became abuzz with people Tweeting, blogging and even creating Facebook hate pages. People hated the name and were not afraid to say so. So much so that Kraft are now rethinking the name. Epic failure indeed.

There are some valuable lessons that can be taken from this example. In 1999 Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger and Rick Levine wrote “The Cluetrain Manifesto”. Apart from the attention grabbing line on the cover “the end of business as usual” it’s ideas turned the idea of business on it’s head. In summary they state that customers talk and the Internet finally gives these customers a powerful medium to talk on. If businesses want to do well in the future they need to become part of this conversation. It was not a conversation they could control and one where “marketing hype” and “corporate speak” are detected with alarming speed. Not only did they need to be part of the conversation they needed to talk to their customers authentically. And they needed to listen to their customers and their conversations. If customers didn’t like the service or thought a product was crap they could speak out and thousands, if not millions of people heard.

Back to iSnack 2.0. The customer has spoken. They hate the name and they aren’t afraid to say so. And Kraft have finally listened. Not 5 days after the announcement of the name they have canned it and gone back to the drawing board. It’s a good decision and great to see that they have listened to their customers but one wonders why they didn’t start the conversation earlier. It would have saved a lot of time and money. And face.

Website Health Check 101

We’ve had a lot of enquires lately from website owners who are receiving plenty of traffic to their websites, but little in the way of sales or leads. There’s been so many I felt it would be a good topic for this month’s article.

The goal of any business website is to convert traffic or visitors into some sort of action whether that be to generate sales, leads, subscriptions, advertising, newsletter sign-ups, and so forth. The general wisdom is that the more traffic you receive, the more conversions you should achieve. That’s not always the case and here are just some of the reasons why this could be happening.

Does Your Website Convey Trust?

Offline we judge a business by it’s outward appearance – whether that be the location, storefront or premises or the appearance of it’s employees. These factors help us determine whether we feel we can trust that business enough to hand our cash over to them. Online one of the first ways we judge a business is by the look or design of their website. We look for “pointers” such as:

  • A professional looking logo;
  • A clean, well designed website;
  • Navigation that makes it easy for us to move around the site; and
  • Consistent brand identity throughout the site.

You can often get too close to a design or may be unintentionally focusing on a design that you like rather than one that suits your customers. For this reason it’s a good idea to take a step back and get some independent feedback on the design of your site. Focus on trust and credibility asking if the user would do business with you based on the site design.

Is There a Face To Your Business?

Again your website is the face of your business online and the more prospects feel they know you, the more comfortable they will be doing business with you. With this in mind it is important you tell your prospects about your business and the people behind it. I always recommend incorporating an About Us page that provides information about your business including history, strengths, testimonials and information on the key people behind the business.

It’s also important to provide contact details – at a minimum email, phone and postal information. If you are a shop front, I also highly recommend providing maps of your locations, opening hours and any other relevant information.

Are You Using An Appropriate Domain Name and Email Address?

If you are an Australian business targeting the Australian market, the best possible domain name to use is one ending in com.au. This signifies you are an Australian commercial entity. If you are targeting an international audience you may want to consider a .com domain – although bear in mind .com is generally used by US companies as well as international ones.

Your email address should use your domain name. For example if your domain name is mycompany.com.au your email address should be myname@mycompany.com.au. I see far too many businesses using an Internet Service Provider (ISP) email address such as mycompany@bigpond.com. There are many reasons why this is not recommended but the main are (a) you are promoting your ISP and not you, and (b) the email address is not transportable — if you change ISP’s you will have to change your email address, something you don’t have to do if you use your own domain name.

Domain names are inexpensive these days so it really pays to choose one that accurately represents your business.

Are Your Products and Services Professionally Photographed?

I see far too many websites that use poor photography to showcase their wares. Your products and services are what your business is all about so they should be enticing your prospects to do business with you. They should look professional, be the right resolution and display colours accurately. In a store you can pick products up for a closer look, so if you are selling products online make sure your prospects can enlarge the photo for a closer look and even view the product in different colours if applicable.

If you are unable to take professional looking photographs yourself it’s highly advisable to invest in a professional photographer who will ensure your products and services are showcased at their best.

Are You Asking For The Sale?

Online you need to guide people through your site encouraging them to take a desired action. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use Call To Actions (CTA’s). Call To Actions are words and/or graphics telling your visitors what to do next. Examples of these include:

  • Order Now
  • Buy Now
  • Add To Cart
  • Checkout
  • Contact Us
  • Subscribe

As well as providing relevant information about your offerings make sure you guide your visitors to take the desired action by implementing strong, enticing CTA’s.

Do You Provide Clear Shipping and Returns Policies?

If you are running an e-commerce website it’s vital that you make your prospects feel as comfortable as possible when giving you their credit card details. For this reason clear, easy to find shipping and returns policies go a long way to make people feel comfortable doing business with you.

You should also consider making it easy for customers to return or exchange items easily. One of the big drawbacks to buying online is not being able to see and “test drive” the product prior to purchase. Time and time again I’ve seen sites double their sales by being flexible with their returns and exchanges.

Are You Targeting The Right Keywords?

Just because your website is receiving lots of visitors, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right visitors. A poorly researched keyword strategy could mean that you are targeting a market that is not looking for what you are selling.

I always recommend reviewing your keyword strategy on a regular basis to make sure you are focusing on the right keywords and are not missing any vital ones.

The above issues are just some of the major stumbling blocks that could be stopping your website from converting visitors into customers. If this is happening to your website it’s worthwhile reviewing the health of your site with an eye to the issues addressed here. It might also be a good idea to get an independent review of your website – it’s amazing how a few tweaks can make such a difference to your bottom line.

Planning Your Website Re-design

By now many businesses have a first website and are looking at re-designing it. There can be many reasons for this re-design: to make it more up to date, to add more content, to rank better in the search engines, to fix errors discovered in the first site and to increases it’s overall success.

A website re-design is also a perfect opportunity for you to analyse what works and what doesn’t on your current website and to make changes that will boost your site’s overall performance.

If you are considering re-designing your site the following article can help you plan the project to ensure the re-design is a success. I recommend that the re-design be done in two parts:

  1. Review the performance of your current website.
  2. Use this information to help you and your web designer plan your new website.

Review the Performance of Your Current Website

To start it’s a good idea to review the performance of your current website. Discovering what is working and what is letting you down will help you determine what you need to keep from your existing website and what areas will need improving.

Review the Look and Feel of Existing Website

Depending how long ago your current website was created it may be looking tired and outdated. There are two issues to consider:

  1. Has your businesses identity changed and if so does this need to be reflected in your new website?
  2. Has the website used online design trends that are now outdated? A note here: design trends move fast on the internet. As nice as it is to have a website with the latest online design trends it’s more important to ensure the website’s look can be usable for more than just the next trend.

In most cases an updated, fresh look and feel is a good place to start in a website re-design.

Review Your Current Site’s Usability

The usability of your website is vital to it’s success. If you prospective customers can’t use it they’re hardly going to buy from you. Take a look at your current website and ask yourself how easy is to use. Questions to ask yourselves:

  • Can I quickly see who this company is and what they offer?
  • Is it easy to find what I am looking for?
  • Does the website structure and navigation make sense?
  • Is the website easy to read?
  • Does it compel me to take the next step (place an order, make an enquiry, subscribe etc)?
  • Are order forms easy to use?

It might also be worthwhile to spend some time watching other people (friends, family, clients) use the site and ask for their feedback.

All this information will help you and your web designer plan the website structure and content of your new website.

Review Traffic and Conversions

What is your current website’s traffic like? How many visitors do you get a day? How many pages do they look at? How many visitors convert into customers or subscribers? What are your most popular pages and your least popular pages? Where do your visitors come from?

All of this information will help you decide what pages are vital in your new website, what can be left off and what pages need improving. It can also help you determine if you are maximising the amount of visitors and sales you are getting. If your traffic figures are low it is good to discuss tactics to increase these visitors with your web designer. If you are getting a decent amount of traffic and no sales this also needs to be addressed.

Review Search Engine Rankings

If your website is currently ranking in the search engines it is vital that you make a note of what pages are ranking and for what keyword phrases. You need to share this information with your web designer and make sure that these rankings are not lost in your re-design. Any good web designer will be happy to discuss this with you and take it as seriously as you do.

If you are not ranking in the search engines this needs to be addressed in your re-design.

Review Current Website Hosting

Ask yourself how happy you are with your current website hosting provider. Things to consider include: the service you receive, how often the website goes down, the response times when there’s a problem and the speed of your website, ie how long does it take for your website to come up in a web browser.

If you’ve found your hosting provider to be good it might be best to stay where you are. However if you have had problems discuss this with your web designer who can help you find a better alternative.

Planning Your Re-Design

All of the above will provide you and your web designer with a lot of valuable information that can be taken into account when re-designing your website. I recommend breaking your website re-design down into 6 stages:

  1. Redefine Your Online Goals
  2. Finalise The Website Structure
  3. Develop Your SEO Strategy
  4. Define Your New Look & Feel
  5. Prepare New Website Content
  6. Develop Your Website

Redefine Your Online Goals

This is a good opportunity to redefine your online goals. Are they the same as before or are there some changes? These goals can include:

  • Selling online
  • Promoting your brand
  • Generating leads
  • Earning advertising revenue
  • Cutting costs

The goals you set will help you and your web designer decide how to best approach your website design.

Finalise The Website Structure

The website structure is the blueprint of your new website. It defines each section and page of your website.

This structure should take into account your website goals and the performance of the pages on your current website. I strongly recommend you work with your web designer to finalise this structure. Their expertise can help ensure your website is laid out in a logical, usable way to maximise the return on your investment (ROI).

These days many people want to be able to update the content of their website themselves using a Content Management System (CMS). If this is something you are interested in now is a good time to discuss this with your web designer.

Develop Your SEO Strategy

You’ll want to make sure your re-design does not loose all your current search engine rankings and also look at how you can improve your search engine strategy. For example is there a new product or service you’d like to promote that is not on your current website?

It is important to remember that not all web designers are skilled at optimising websites for the search engines. It’s really important you find a company that can do this, or find a search engine optimisation company who will work with your web designer to ensure your new website is search engine friendly.

Define Your New Look & Feel

The first step in defining the look and feel of your website is to ensure that your new website has the same look and feel (or branding) as your existing marketing materials. It’s always a good idea to provide these to your web designer so they can get a feel for your businesses identity. You may also want to give your web designer a list of websites you like and dislike to help give them an idea of your tastes.

This is also a good time to talk about the longevity of your website and how often you feel you will want to make it over. If you want to ensure the website has a long life it would be best to avoid design the website using the latest online design trends and go for a look that is more timeless.

Prepare New Website Content

Once you’ve defined your website strategy and structure you’ll need to create the content for your site. This content can be created by you by a website copywriter or your web designer (if they offer this service). Again, use the feedback from your current website to ensure that this content is suited to your customers, is compelling and engaging and supports your online goals.

Developing Your Website

Once you have completed the first five steps it’s time to build your website. By this time you and your web designer should have a clear idea of what your site’s goals are, how they can be achieved and the steps required to fulfil them.

Putting It All Together

A website re-design is an excellent opportunity to capitalise on the success of your current website and to rectify any mistakes that were made. It’s also a great time to listen to your customers and build a website with features that will encourage them , and new customers, to come back time and time again.

Seven Sins of Website Design

Your website is one of your most important marketing tools. Unfortunately what many people don’t realise is that a badly executed website can let you down and cost you sales if it’s not built properly. I consult to a lot of people who approach me when they realise their website is not performing as they expected. When analysing these sites I find the following 7 website mistakes crop up time and time again.

1. Inconsistent Brand Image

This is perhaps more common with websites that were built over 3 years ago but so many websites have no connection with their company’s brand image. When building a website you need to make sure that your web designer has a good understanding of you business’s goals, brand and current marketing materials and can reflect them into the design of your website.

When starting work with a new client I always ensure they send me copies of their current logo and any marketing material they use. This includes, business cards, letterhead, brochures and any advertisements they run. I then use these to help ensure that the design we come up with is an accurate reflection of their company’s image and brand.

2. Not Including an About Us Page

People like to deal with other people not anonymous corporations. If I’m looking to buy a product or hire a company online one of the first things I do when I land on a website is check out their About Us page. I want to know who I am dealing with. If I can’t find one I wonder what that business has to hide. Worse is the boring bland About Us that makes me wonder whether the business is run by humans.

Use your About Us page to engage your prospects, tell them about your company and to encourage them to want to do business with you.

3. Not Including Contact Details

Many websites avoid including their contact details. A big no no in my book. Contact details can reassure your visitors that your business does exist and they are able to get in contact with you if they need to.

This is especially important to websites that are selling products online. If you’re wanting people to hand over their credit card details you need to let people know how they can get in touch with you. This is how you establish trust between your site and your prospects.

In the very least I would suggest including a phone number and postal address. A company with no physical contact details is generally not one you’d want to do business with.

4. Ignoring the KISS Principle

In the words of the renowned usability expert Steve Krug “Don’t Make Me Think”. You have about 3 seconds to capture a visitor’s attention. In that time you have to tell them who you are, what you do and what’s in it for them. If you don’t do this they’re out of there – hitting the back button to try their luck, and spend their dollars, elsewhere. Here are some simple ways to help your visitor’s experience:

  • Design each page to have one main objective. Tell your visits what the page is about and what you want them to do next.
  • Keep your navigation labels (Services, Contact Us etc) simple and self explanatory. It should also be consistent throughout your website. This is probably a little outdated these days (well I hope so) but don’t use obscure images in place of text. We call that mystery meat navigation.
  • Make it easy for your prospects by making sure clickable links look like clickable links. Online, an underlined word signifies a link. If it’s not a link don’t underline it.

5. Not Making Your Website Search Engine Friendly

I’m horrified at the number of websites I see that have not taken search engines into consideration at all. Search engines are one of the most common and popular ways for people to find your website. If your website has been designed and built in a way that is not search engine friendly you will have no chance of ranking in the search engines from the get go. Unfortunately there are many web design companies with no knowledge of how to build a search engine friendly website.

At the very least consider:

  • Incorporating targeted keywords into each page of your website. To do this you need to perform keyword research to select the most appropriate keywords related to your business and then assign one or two to each page of your site.
  • Make sure each page has a unique Page Title that incorporates your keywords and is compelling to encourage prospects to click on the link to your website.
  • Including unique Meta Description and Keywords on each page of your website. Again your meta description should be compelling and your keywords should be the same as those in your page title and body text.
  • Make sure your website includes a Site Map. A Site Map is a hierarchical tree linking to every page on your website. It is useful for visitors trying to find a particular page on your site and also helps the search engines crawl and index all of the pages on your website. You can see an example of a Site Map on our website.

See my list of resources at the end of the article for more information about search engine optimisation (SEO) and building a search engine friendly website.

6. Having Splash Pages

The vast majority of people visiting your website have a task in mind. They want to land on your website do what they need to do and then go. So why stop them with some fancy animation page before they can view your site. In a bricks and mortar store would you stop everyone at the entrance and make them view your commercial first? I thought not. So why put them through that on your website? I can’t think of a better, or quicker way to encourage someone to go elsewhere.

7. Websites That Lack Information

Website visitors are generally goal driven. Prospects visit your website with a goal in mind – whether that be purchasing a product, requesting more information or researching a future purchase. If your website does not provide them with the information they are seeking they will no doubt go elsewhere. Unlike many other mediums cost is not relative to space so you have much more opportunity to provide detailed information about your offerings. Use it. Or risk losing a sale.

I’ll give you an example. A while ago I was looking for a barbeque. I went to the website one of the most popular Australian barbeque brands. They listed everything about the barbeques except their prices. Being in a helpful mood I rang their customer number and explained how annoying it was to research their products but not to find prices. I was told they left off prices to stop their competitors seeing them. I kid you not. They figured they’d rather inconvenience their prospective customers than risk their competitors seeing their prices. Something a quick visit to a store or a phone call would fix. Not surprisingly I bought my barbeque elsewhere.

So there you have it, 7 of the most common website mistakes. If you already have a website it may be time to review the site and it’s performance and make changes where necessary. If you’re about to start a website design talk to your web designer about the points made in this article and be sure to address them. Online success is not guaranteed but with careful thought and planning you’ll go a long way in ensuring your website provides your visitors with a positive experience and performs as you expect.

Under New Management

Seth writes an great post about Under New Management notices:

If I liked your store before, now I’m on notice to be careful–it might not be as good.

If I didn’t like your store before, why on earth am I paying attention to your little sign and why should I go out of my way to take another chance?

If you aren’t reading his blog you should be.