Since the Internet has existed for a number of years, everyone should understand how to create an effective website, right? Of course not! Although storefronts have existed for centuries, not every business has been successful. How is it possible?
Consumers are a finicky bunch. It is impossible to please everyone who visits your website, but you must provide certain standard components. In the same way that not every retail establishment will sell the same product, each will understand the consumer’s general expectations of it. Each will likely prominently display the product it sells, provide consumers with product samples, display its contact information, and have someone on hand to assist customers.
The same formula applies to the development of a successful website.
Here are some Web site MUST haves:
• An “about us” page that demonstrates your credibility; • Success stories and testimonials from satisfied customers or members; • A “call to action” or pricing page that clearly expresses your product or service’s terms; • A prominent “contact us” page; and • An online press kit that gives the media all the tools it needs to write or report on your organization (check for reprint permissions before offering copies of printed material).
Here are specifics regarding each of these website components.
The Home Page: Am I welcome?
For most people, the word “home” evokes feelings of comfort. Home is warm, inviting, and cozy, and so should the homepage of your website. You have mere seconds to persuade a website visitor to stay on your site; don’t scare them away with graphics that take an eternity to load or require them to provide any personal information just to enter.
Imagine someone dancing in the doorway of your storefront, preventing customers from entering or requiring them to provide their name and phone number before opening the door. No customer would tolerate such treatment.
Instantaneously upon landing on your website, visitors will wonder, “Do I belong here?” They may not realize it, but they are asking that. A person seeking pet supplies who visits dogstuff.com will anticipate to find dog stuff, not the personal website of an individual with the same nickname. Ensure that your product or service is prominently featured on your homepage. People need to quickly determine if they are in the correct location.
Diverse opinions exist regarding the content of the home page, but all Web designers concur that if your home page is to contain any words, they should pertain to the site’s business or organization. This is how search engines discover websites: by analyzing the keywords on the homepage. If Dogstuff.com sells pet supplies, effective key phrases would include “pet supplies,” “dog food,” “dog collars,” and “flea medication.” Not true: “Dogstuff.com: the place to find dog stuff.”
Also, if you offer any type of subscription, such as an eNewsletter, you must immediately bombard visitors with it.
Do I have faith in these people?
People are quite wary when it comes to purchasing goods or services on the Internet. Your website must demonstrate the credibility of your business or organization. Who you are? What is your purpose? Utilize testimonials and mention of prominent clients.
If your company or organization is relatively new, omit the information. The only time you should likely mention “years in business” is when you reach the ten-year mark. Mention any media coverage you’ve received in this section. Even better, include a link to your online press kit in this section. People tend to have a greater level of confidence in businesses and organizations that have been covered by the media.
What’s in it for me?
If your website visitor has navigated past your homepage and determined that you are legitimate, he or she will want to know if you can actually provide them with what they desire. What distinguishes your business or organization from its competitors? Here is where you distinguish yourself. Are you budget-friendly? Do you stand behind your work? Are there any promotions currently available? Even though they’ve passed through your site’s front door, you must still persuade your visitors that they’re in the proper location. Provide examples to support your point.
Most people utilize websites to learn about a business, organization, or product because they are unwilling to pick up the phone and call. They desire to investigate things on their own and make decisions without being subjected to sales pressure. They may not even be ready to subscribe, sign up, or purchase and are merely looking for concrete information. When you refuse to display the prices of your products and services on your website, you hinder the experience of your visitors.
Be transparent regarding pricing and terms. Explain if the price of something depends on the customer’s specific requirements. For instance, a wall paper outlet may not be able to give a customer the exact cost of wallpapering a specific room without knowing the dimensions of that room. In most instances, the customer will comprehend. Simply stating “call for pricing” is off-putting.
How do I get in touch with you?
Your website will not, contrary to popular belief, answer every customer question. Most website visitors anticipate discovering the “Contact Us” link in the primary navigation or along the footer. If possible, provide your email address rather than automatically launching the visitor’s email client. Not everyone uses their computer’s e-mail program as their sole means of communication. Typically, it is best to reserve a page on your website for your physical address, telephone and fax numbers, and email address.
If specific questions should be directed to particular individuals, please indicate so. When they fill out a “contact us” form or send an e-mail with a question, people like to believe they are reaching the appropriate individual.
Other General Rules
These five sections are not the beginning and end of website design. Providing customers with additional resources and links, as well as eNewsletters and message boards, are additional ways to encourage repeat visits to your website. You should ensure that your website is easy to navigate and regularly updated. As you’re designing or having it designed, have friends or coworkers evaluate it. Remember that your website is your storefront online. Take the steps to attract and retain customers the first time you build, because nothing is more frustrating (or expensive) than having to close for maintenance.