7 website essentials for a successful online presence

Web Design Button on Keyboard The basic principles of good website design are universal, regardless of whether your website is a small brochure-only site or an all singing, all dancing interactive experience.  Understanding and implementing the following suggestions will help result in a positive online experience for your customers’ which in turn leads to the increased likelihood of sales and repeat visits for you.

Whether you are building the website yourself, outsourcing development to a web designer or reviewing your current online presence, an understanding of what makes for a good website is essential. By combining a number of key elements you are more likely to create a successful commercial website.

1. Start with your website goals

Before you begin have a good think about what it is you want from your website – what purpose does it need to serve? Are you looking to sell your products online and therefore need it to be e-commerce enabled? Do you need a site that serves as an online showcase or catalogue for all your products? Or is it primarily an additional channel to enable customers to contact you? It is important to have a clear idea about your website’s objectives prior to embarking on any design and development.

Navigation hand with compass2. Navigation

Navigation is essentially how simple it is for the end user – your customer –  to move around your website. Can your customer get to the information they are looking for within a few clicks?  The more complicated it gets the higher the likelihood that your customer gets lost, gives up and abandons your website.  A good rule of thumb is to try to keep the number of clicks it takes to reach any piece of information to a minimum and to make sure your menu arrangements, page layouts and signposts are clear and logical.

3. Usability

Usability is a test of how straightforward it is for a user to complete an action on your website such as purchase a product, fill in a registration form or book an appointment. Your customer should be able to complete these tasks efficiently and effectively. Get people to test your site  – not just you or your web designers – but people who are representative of a typical user of your site. Ask them to perform specific task whilst you observe how easy it is for them to complete the process. You can then identify where, if necessary, changes need to be made.

Hands catching TRUST letters4. Credibility

Does your website make a customer feel secure enough to feel confident about completing a transaction on your site? Or does it make them leave to find a site that feels more trustworthy? In addition to making sure your security credentials are clear to see, there are lots of other things you can do to build-up credibility and trust online. For example make sure customers can get in contact with you easily and that your organisational details (registered address, VAT no. etc) are available. Content should be accurate, up-to-date and error free (no matter how small, errors make your site look unprofessional). Include testimonials or client lists and deal with queries any quickly and efficiently. Essentially make sure your site, no matter how small, looks and feels professional.

5. Accessibility

Accessibility is a central requirement for your website. Legislation states that your website needs to be accessible to everyone. Your customers should be able to interact with your website regardless any disabilities they may have. A full checklist of guidelines for website design and HTML coding is available from the World Wide Web Consortium, following is a link that gives you a useful overview of the guidelines. http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/ Another aspect of accessibility you need to consider is that your website can be viewed equally well from any device, whether it is a laptop, desktop, iPad, or a handheld mobile device.

6. Content

61% of global internet users use the internet to research products online (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012).   Don’t underestimate the importance of quality content and clear, concise copy on your website. Your customer has come to your website to look for specific information and so you need to ensure that the content on your website is accurate, informative and reflects your customer’s information needs. How your content is presented is equally important; visually it must be clear and easy to find. And, don’t forget to continuously keep your content fresh and up-to-date.

“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” Steve Krug, Don’t Make me Think: A Common Sense Guide to Usability 

People read information differently online, they tend to scan information and jump around  the page. Users are unlikely to read through reams of text.  It is therefore essential you keep your copy concise and to the point using key words and phrases that customers are likely to pick up on. Your page layouts should be clean and clear, so it is easy for your customers to scan the page and find the information they are looking for – quickly.

Sitemap image7. Design and structure

‘Keep it simple, keep it stupid’ Bryan Eisenberg

A sensible approach when looking at the design and structure of your website is ‘simplicity is best’. Everything should be self-evident to customers so they don’t have to think too hard about anything. Here is a link to a useful article by Bryan Eisenberg that despite being written well over 10 years ago gives some helpful website design advice – much of which is still relevant today.  For example:

  • Make sure everything is obvious to the end-user
  • Do not assume your customer is an expert user
  • Keep everything short, sweet and to the point
  • Use simple and consistent navigation

The key things to think about are how the overall structure of your site works, individual page design (paying particular attention to your landing pages) and how you present your content to your users. Make sure your website is visually attractive and remember, if an image is appropriate then ‘ a picture paints a thousands words’.  The effective use of  relevant visuals can engage a user and reinforce a message.

Finally, remember to always keep your end customer in mind and try to think about  the points we have listed above as a useful checklist that will help create and maintain your online presence.

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Competitor Benchmarking – How to Compare Competitors Online

Comparing competitor websitesCompetitor analysis is an integral part of any business planning. In a previous blog ‘Getting To know Your Competitors’ we discussed the importance of competitor analysis and how gathering insightful competitor intelligence leaves you better equipped to shape your own business strategy and plans.

In this post we will give some tips on how to conduct an online competitor benchmarking exercise, by comparing key competitor websites against your own. This is a particularly useful exercise for small business and start-ups as it is something you can undertake yourself with little cost. A bit of time spent researching competitor websites can provide you with some really valuable information and gives you a real feel for what your competitors are focusing on.

What competitors should you  include?

The first place to start is deciding which competitor websites you are going to examine. It is probably both unrealistic and counterproductive to include your whole competitor landscape. Instead carefully select who you consider to be your top one to three direct competitors alongside perhaps an indirect competitor that you could gain some interesting ideas from.  Think about using some of the criteria below to put together a meaningful competitor list:

  • From your own knowledge – who you believe to be your key direct competitors
  • Who poses the greatest potential threat
  • Other businesses who appear close to you in search engine ranking pages (SERPS) or who have a high page rank with the keywords you would like to be associated with.
  • New entrants to the market that you need to understand better
  • More indirect competitors that could provide you with some interesting ideas to help you move  your business forward

Online Competitor Benchmarking Table

Start by creating a simple comparison table of your chosen competitors. Put your measurements down the left and side and your competitors across the top.

Online competitor benchmarking table

Measurements – what should you be comparing?

Spend a bit of  time thinking about what measurements are going to be the most useful to your business. For example only comparing measurements in areas that you know you excel in isn’t really going to be of much value to you. To get you started, outlined below is a list of standard online comparison measurements you may wish to include .

1. Usability

“Don’t make me think.”  Steve Krug

Site usability is all about the user’s experience. Does  the website work well? Can an average visitor use the site and find what they are looking for without getting frustrated and leaving? Are the pages intuitive and self-explanatory?  A user shouldn’t have to think too hard about how to get the information they need.

Think about navigation. How easy is it for a user to navigate around the site? Are pages accessible within a few clicks? If a user gets lost is it easy to click back to the home page? Is there a site map or site directory?

2.  Brand Image & Credibility

Is the look, feel and content  of the website consistent with the brand image. Does the site reflect the values its brand conveys?  Does the practical experience on the website match up with the users brand expectations?

How credible are the websites and how do they establish their credibility? Do they use testimonials,  product reviews or client lists?

3. Brand extensions

Have the websites introduced any brand extensions? Have they used their brand to extend into other products or services? Are there any ideas or opportunities that could be used in your future business planning?

4. General Accessibility

Are the sites easy to load (you can see average page speed by checking out https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights  ) Are the websites multi-device friendly? Do they meet Web content accessibility guidelines?

5. Levels of interaction

What are the levels of interaction with the customer?  Do they have a blog or community discussion forum?

What sort of social media engagement do they have.  What is their comparable use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Google + ?

What devices or communications do they use to engage and convert their customers? Special offers and promotions, free trials, webinars, email newsletters.

6. Site content

What is presented to the user in terms of graphics, images, text and audio? Is the content up-to-date and time sensitive (offers, promotions and so on). Is there a good balance between information, products and services? What functions are available – is there a blog, discussion forum, news articles, search facility?

7. Search metrics

There  are number of free tools available that can help you put together a list of comparable metrics for yourself and you competitors.  Spend a bit of time getting to know how the tools work and what they can offer and you’ll be able to include interesting analytics in your comparison chart – such as page rank, traffic estimates, link analysis, website page speed, bounce rate and competitor keyword research.

Free tools for metrics:

https://adwords.google.com

http://moz.com/tools

http://www.alexa.com/

http://www.smartinsights.com/search-engine-optimisation-seo/link-building/best-link-analysis-tools-for-seo-and-online-pr/

Hopefully this gives you a good starting point for creating your own online competitor comparison table. Just remember to:

  • Choose your competitors carefully
  • Think about using measurements that are going to help inform your business and marketing strategy
  • Continue to review and monitor competitor websites at regular intervals.