Nowadays, it seems like the standard maintenance plan for a web site is: launch it, watch it for three years, replace it, repeat. Web projects have become these expensive, cumbersome tasks that instill fear into the hearts of the marketing and IT departments, and the “excuse mill” starts cranking out reasons to not bother updating the site. “We don’t have the time!” “We don’t have the money!” “We don’t have the staff!”
That’s right: you don’t have the resources to do it this way. Lucky for you, 3-year redesigns aren’t the right way. There are a few key things you can probably change very quickly and affordably that will improve the usability and quality of your website. In no particular order:
- Remember what your home page is for.
Your home page serves one purpose – tell visitors who you are and what you do, and do it quickly. Is your homepage full of product information that doesn’t make sense to someone who’s never heard of you? Does it tell users in clear language what your company does and what you can offer them? You’ve got a matter of seconds before someone decides if they’re in the right place or not – how well are you telling them?
You need one line, front and center, which says in very plain language what you do and how you can help. A simple formula that works?
“We provide (service) for (main industry focus) companies looking to (benefit).”
For example, “We provide design services to food service companies looking to improve their marketing materials.” It sounds so obvious and dry, but in two seconds, that line will tell them if they’re in the right place, or not. If they’re not looking for design services, or they’re not in the food service industry, they can carry on their search elsewhere. If those qualifications do apply, you’ve just made a connection with them by providing information that they immediately relate to.
- Try to use your site’s navigation from the perspective of a visitor.
Imagine that you don’t know your company’s jargon or brand names. You don’t know the witty meaning behind your taglines. Given this “blank slate” in regards to your business, how easy is it to navigate your site? Do you need to stop and decipher cryptic page names? Do you have products named something vague like X11-LT, or DynaMaster?
Remember, your site navigation is just that: navigation; you’re leaving road signs for people so they know where to turn, and those signs need to be in their native language, not yours. You can introduce your wacky branded terms within the content of the pages; when it comes to your menus, clarity is king.
- Helping the visitor is the focus. Benefits for your company are the result.
How many websites have you gone to where every page seems to say the same boring thing? “We’re XYZ Company, and we’re great.” “Thought Leaders this.” “Innovators that.” Users aren’t visiting you to hear you boast. They don’t want to hear why they should help you by giving them money. They’re visiting because they’ve got a problem, and they’re desperately hoping you can help them.
You need to tell them what you can do for them. Empathize with their problems, show them you understand and then point them at the product or service you have that can make it all better. You don’t need to tell them you’re great if you can direct them to the solution they want quickly and easily. They’ll know you’re great, and because they came to the conclusion on their own, the feeling will stick with them far longer than any bland corporate “chest-thumping” will.
- Not everyone’s ready to buy right now. Occupy them until they are.
Some products and services have long sales cycles, and visitors my just be on your site doing initial research. If the only call-to-action on your site is to talk to a salesperson, they’re probably going to go elsewhere and forget about you. They’re not ready yet, and you’ve got to romance them a bit first.
Offer them a download: a brochure, a whitepaper, a short e-book, a case study. You know they’re not going to talk yet, so you’ve got to get something in their hands that will keep your company on their minds while they’re still “window shopping.” Write a document highlighting the top 10 things to watch out for when choosing a (company that does what you do). Post an FAQs document that answers some of the questions they’ll inevitably have to ask you later on. These kinds of collateral paint you in a caring and service-oriented light and enforce your expertise in your field. The visitor will remember that you helped them and be more likely to choose you later on.
It’s hard to take off the “Company Hat” and view your site the way a typical visitor does. Making the effort to do so will open your eyes to many more things like the items presented here – things that individually aren’t completely breaking your website, but add up to a hefty usability hit.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how shiny your graphics are, or how cool your home page Flash animation is. If the site isn’t easy to use, you’re turning people away at the door.