Business Website Advice from Greatson MediaAs well over 90% of people now turn to the Internet as their primary information source, it’s crucial to your bottom line to ensure that your Web presence is as effective as possible.

Yet 95% of the more than 5,000 Websites that I’ve reviewed since 1995 were leaving money on the table, sometimes a lot of it – and often in ways that could be easily avoided or rectified.

Many of these issues are caused by one of more of these factors:

* Lack of strategic planning and consideration of the full range of visitor types to the site, their needs, and likely emotional responses.

* Lack of clear positioning and navigation elements that drive visitors around the site to ensure that they see relevant content.

* Lack of cohesion between the Website and the organization’s social media presence.

* Lack of coordination between departments to maximize leverage of content and calls to action – sometimes this is inadvertent, but sometimes it is deliberate.

* Lack of sufficiently senior and informed management oversight to ensure that appropriate strategies and systems are in place and acted upon.

All these can cause significant loss of potential revenue, since the failure to engage visitors with your Web presence reduces conversion and referral rates.

This article briefly explores the above issues, showing how they manifest, their impact, and how they can be detected and resolved.

Lack of Thinking about Visitor Types

A common mistake in strategic Web design is to create a site based on a homogeneous view of the typical visitor. This assumes that all visitors will think in the same way, will use the same vocabulary, and will follow similar paths through the site.

Of course, this is far from the truth. Visitors will have a wide range of needs, levels of literacy and language skills, decision-making processes, and will respond differently to
various types of calls to action. It is very important to consider this for your particular demographic, so that you can create copy and navigational structures that appeal as widely as possible, and to avoid losing visitors and revenue-generating opportunities.

One of the most valuable exercises that you can undertake is to define a set of typical visitor “personas.” Think about all the different types of individual that you might attract to your Web presence, not just current and prospective customers. These can include potential investors or partners, bankers, insurers, job seekers, media, and even members of the public who may find your site by chance, but who are interested in your content.

In creating these “personas,” consider these characteristics:

* Gender / age / language(s) spoken
* Education level / income
* Their reason for visiting the site – be very specific
* How do they make decisions – are they visual / emotional / data-driven?
* Content / elements that are likely to attract them to respond
* Content / elements that are likely to deter them from interacting with you further
* Any other relevant details?
* Give them each a name!

It’s best to do this with input from a wide range of both senior and junior staff, and from all departments and levels of interaction with the public so that you can build as complete and varied a picture as possible.

Once you have this list, try walking through your current or proposed site structure in the shoes of each “persona,” seeing it as they would, and trying to interact in the way they’d prefer. This will almost certainly be an eye-opening experience!

Lack of Clear Positioning and Navigation

Web usability studies have consistently shown that a clearly articulated value proposition and / or differentiation statement can have a major impact on your results. Visitors need immediate confirmation that they’re in the right place for what they need, and that you have competence and credibility. They’re looking for the geographic locations that you serve, your specialties, and any recent awards or notable news.

Your home page is where visitors will expect to find this information, even if it’s not where they first enter your site. So it’s important to look at the impression that your home page gives:

* What’s “above the fold” (i.e. visible in the first screen of content – often visitors won’t scroll past this point on the home page)

* Which elements stand out more than others? Are they appropriate?

* Are your key messages visible?

* Are the navigation tabs and labels intuitive and easy to understand?

Designers love rotating elements. They’ll tell you that they allow much more information to be given on the page. However, relying too heavily on these is dangerous because you can’t assume that the visitor will wait until the piece that they really need to see comes up, so they may get the impression that what they’re looking for isn’t available, and leave your site.

It’s also dangerous to use words or phrases on your site which will only have meaning to those who are already familiar with your business. Other visitors will fail to respond, and they may miss the content which would meet their needs because the navigation labels do not draw them into the appropriate pages.

Lack of Cohesion between your Website and your Social Media Presence

It’s important to ensure a consistent message and presentation across everything that you do online. Otherwise you risk weakening your brand and the emotional connections that you hope to make with visitors.

Too often, an organization’s social media messages present a very different image than the website. There may be a Facebook fan page which is energized and exciting, where the corresponding web information is bland and boring, or filled with legalese, destroying the motivation of the Facebook visitor.

It’s entirely possible that this happens because the social media and web presences are managed by different teams within the organization. If so, this is a great example of a situation where a higher level overview of the entire Web presence would identify and implement these opportunities for cross-fertilization , with potentially significant impact on response rates.

Lack of Cohesion between Departments

One of the key messages that I always emphasize is that it’s crucial to have compelling calls to action on every page of your site. If you don’t direct visitors to the next step that you would like them to take, there’s a better than 40% chance that they’ll leave or do something other than your desired outcome.

Since this is a “web” and visitors enter and progress through your content in many different ways, it’s important to leverage all possible opportunities to cross-link between pages.

Online press releases are often a prime example of this issue. They attract a lot of traffic because their content is naturally full of keywords, but they fail to link to other pages on the site where the visitor can find more information or buy the products and services that they highlight.

Again, a higher level review of the whole site would identify the instances where they were failing to capitalize fully on their investment or achievements.

Lack of Management Oversight

Somehow “gremlins” can creep into even the best and most professionally designed sites, even those that tested fine last week!

Many of the issues discussed in this article can be detected by informed analysis of your Web traffic reports, which are generated by Google Analytics and similar programs.

The key word here is “informed.” These reports can contain a huge mass of data, pie charts and graphs, and can certainly appear very daunting to the untrained eye. I’ve seen many situations where excerpts are distributed to relevant personnel who immediately glaze over. There is a major temptation to look at the “dashboard” executive summary, and if the number of overall visits is higher than last time, to assume that this is a good sign, and ignore the rest.

The most effective way to gain actionable information from the traffic reports is to look for answers to specific questions. Examples of these might include:

* Which are the main landing pages for the site (i.e. the first page that a visitor sees)? Do visitors progress from these pages further into the site, or do they leave immediately?

* What keyword searches bring visitors, and to which specific pages? Are there keyword searches that consistently generate high numbers either of visitor responses or of immediate exits?

* What proportion of visitors comes to your site from mobile devices? Do you know what your site looks like when viewed through a Blackberry, Android or iPhone?

It can also be helpful to break the reports into relevant sections for each department, rather than expecting staff to look at data that they don’t necessarily relate to nor have responsibility for.

However you approach interpreting your analytics, it’s important that key personnel are able to see them so that they can perform their tasks around the Website as effectively as possible.

Who’s your “Web Ambassador?”

My recommendation to ensure appropriate oversight and maximum return on investment for any Web and social media presence is to appoint a “Web Ambassador.”

This person should be a member of the senior management team, ideally reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer, with sufficient authority within the organization to be a respected voice at the table, and to be heard during budget and spending decision-making discussions. They should have a complete understanding of the organization’s ongoing strategy, marketing and patient service plans, etc. so that they are always well positioned to advise on how the Web can support, enhance and grow the business goals.

This understanding and authority will allow them to ensure that traffic reports are appropriately analyzed and acted upon across all departments, and that optimum use is made of cross-linking and other online revenue-generating opportunities.

I also recommend that the Website and social media presence be placed on the management meeting agenda at least every quarter. At this time, the Web Ambassador can report on their evaluation and suggested improvements, with possible costs, projected benefits and appropriate priorities for each one.

There are many excellent tools and utilities available to help you to maximize your return on your Web and social media investment. One of the most critical factors in your success will be your willingness at a management level to take a serious and ongoing look at the resources that you’re expending and the results that you’re generating. This may require some departures from traditional activities and organizational structures, but the ensuing gains are available and potentially significant.

By Philippa Gamse (c) 2010