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To do this properly, you need to use a solid mix of not only creative design techniques and web development knowledge, but also other techniques, such as good marketing practices and procedures, user experience design and an understanding of how users will interact with the website, and what their ultimate goal of using such a site is likely to be.
Only when these elements are drawn together can a truly engaging site be created that will perform for you and your business.
Here’s a quick guide…
Make sure your site looks at its best.
A great looking site is key. In this day and age, that’s really a given, but with the market getting tougher, it’s crucial to ensure you commission a creative agency to design you a site that will outperform your competition and help put you ahead of the game.
A great web design says a lot about a company, after all, it’s the outside world’s view of your business, and it should therefore look its best at all times, and be targeted in a way that engages with your visitors and positions your business as you require, whether that’s as a premium, high end provider of certain goods or services, or a value orientated brand, the design of your site can say a lot about your business and have an effect on potential customers’ perceptions of your company.
Get the technology right.
Web technologies are forever changing, with new platforms, software updates and techniques that allow good web agencies to push the boundaries of what can be done online.
Ensure your site is coded to the correct web standards, with the user and the wider target audience in mind. Good, clean, well-developed code is key. Whilst you might not see the code yourself, don’t ignore it. Sloppy code that is poorly formulated and non-web standards compliant can negatively affect your site and lose your business valuable rankings on major search engines.
This can also effect the speed of your site, which deters both visitors and search engines alike. Then we have Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), SEO goes much deeper than simply key words and meta description tags – the way the site is coded, built and structured all play a critical role in ensuring your site performs as well as can be expected on major search engines.
Marketing your goods and services properly.
Marketing your business properly is key. Your site should be an invaluable tool that allows you to interact with your customers and tell them about your latest offers and deals in a visual and appealing manner.
Ensuring social media accounts are tied into your site can provide a valuable link from social conversation to online sale. Ecommerce stores that utilise the ‘suggested / recommended products’ function allow your customers to see other related products that may be of interest, therefore encouraging a further sale and increased revenues from your website.
Providing customers with detailed product information, reviews, testimonials and spec sheets and videos is a great way to market your products better than the competition. Whilst there’s plenty of work involved in doing this, customers are more likely to value a website that gives them the information they want without the need for additional, and time consuming research.
User Experience (UX) Design.
Plenty of thought should be given to the layout of the site and how the user is going to interact with it, this is known as User Experience (UX) Design, and is becoming more important as the online marketing world increases its sophistication and techniques in this field.
Firstly, making sure your offering is clear and easy to understand is critical. If your users begin to experience choice paralysis (a term relating to consumers being given too many options), you’re less likely to find your site producing a sale or enquiry, so keep the layout as simple and easy to navigate as possible, making the information search process much quicker and easier for your potential customer.
Think of your site as a retail shop, retailers each year spend billions of pounds making sure their store is a great environment for customers to be. You too need to take this offline thinking and apply it online. Only once your online presence is a highly inviting, nice place for consumers to be, will customers come back time and time again.
Your navigation is a key tool in ensuring users can find what they want, when they want.
Research has shown that lengthy, very wordy navigation menus just don’t cut it anymore, with many website visitors often missing the information and moving on to another site; this is a missed opportunity, and a potentially expensive one at that.
To counteract this, ensure your website has a clean, well structured approach to it, with easy to see menus that aren’t too long. If you have the space, try incorporating product or category imagery into the menu too, which will add interest for the user and make the search process that much easier.
Breadcrumb trails and large category imagery and product imagery also help to make the navigation process easier as they act as sign posts to where the user may want to go, so ensuring these are well developed and positioned also enables the user to interact with the site much easier, often helping to lead to a purchase.
Make it fast.
We’ve all been on websites that are really just so slow; it’s like waiting at the checkout of a busy super market. The longer you have to wait, the more likely you are to just leave the store and go to another competitor who have more staff to get you served quicker.
Exactly the same principle exists online.
Making sure your site is fast, and your checkout process (if you sell online) is even faster is critical. This process comes down to quality coding, and well thought through navigation. By making your checkout much quicker and easier, your customers are more likely to buy or enquire about your offering, as the experience has been positive. This positive experience is often likely to lead to recommendation also, meaning an easier sale without the need for marketing to that customer.
AIDA is a well-known, tried and tested marketing technique that has been used offline for many years, and is just as relevant online too. AIDA stands for Awareness, Interest, Design and Action.
Once you have your users Awareness (possibly through marketing, Google Adwords, a separate advertising campaign or social media campaign), you need to try to turn that awareness into interest.
This is often achieved through showcasing the benefits of using your company, product or service and how you can help them. Many businesses do this through the use of testimonials, product features, benefits or demonstration videos (or all of the above), which not only create an interest, but also a desire to buy into the product or service providing the marketing has been done well.
It’s at this stage that users need to be given an action – a route to purchase or enquire.
Quite often with ecommerce sites, this will be a simple ‘buy now’ button, whereas service providers may wish for the user to input their details into an enquiry form, or pick up the phone to speak to an advisor.
Whatever the process, this ‘action’ stage should be monitored carefully and refined wherever possible to ensure potential customers are being given the best chance to interact and buy from your business.
Plan your customers’ journey.
If you don’t know what you want your customers to do once they visit your website, how do you expect them to?
To make sure your site is effective, you need to plan your customer’s journey, understanding the possible routes and avenues they’re likely to follow before making a purchasing decision.
By carrying out this exercise, you can ensure your content is created in a manner that guides them seamlessly through the process, giving them a final action point, such as contacting your business or making an online purchase.
By planning the routes your customers are likely to follow, and the possible obstacles they might hit along the way, the website can be optimised to improve usability and the enquiry/buying process, meaning better conversion rates and return on investment for your business, not to mention one very happy customer who is likely to return, and hopefully bring some friends along with them too!
Need a little advice?
If you’re struggling to plan your website effectively, why not speak to Cornerstone who can guide you through the process and how best to develop your site for your specific business.