How to make your website the route to new customers
Gone are the days when customers saw your website as a static brochure. Here are the areas to consider so you can ensure you don’t get left behind.
Richard Stobart, managing director of web consultancy Unboxed Consulting, explains why taking an established website to the next level needn’t require hefty investment.
Your company’s website is more important than ever before. Many companies are opening up their site as a portal for customers to engage with the company and each other, to buy, browse, comment and criticise. In the current climate it’s an easy way to extend your reach to new customers, encourage existing customers to spend more with you rather than someone else, and it can be used to automate processes, making your company more efficient. Gone are the days when customers saw your website as a static brochure, and here are the areas to consider so you can ensure you don’t get left behind.
- Understand your visitors – There are plenty of free analytics tools that will give you advice on your website and improving its search engine ranking, and that means more eyeballs and paying customers. Google’s Analytics and Webmaster Tools can give great insight into your site traffic and online marketing. Ignore the advice at your peril, follow it and you will be flying up the search rankings in no time.
- Keep it fresh – New and updated information makes you sticky and keeps customers (and Google’s spiders, which means a better search ranking) coming back for more. Using a Content Management System (CMS) means that you can quickly change the site, add products and even pages, without needing technical expertise. Both small and large websites will benefit from this.
- Create a community – Through your website you can show customers you are interested in their opinions and are open about your products, which has been proven to make companies more attractive. It’s easy to integrate public commenting into your site using services such as www.disqus.com. Respond sensibly to negative comments and loyal customers will jump to your defence. You need to keep commenting clean so look at www.socialmod.com to moderate user generated content.
- Mobile browsing – In the last two years, with the rise of the iPhone and other smartphones, the amount of browsing that has moved onto mobile phones is huge. Test whether your website works properly on these much smaller devices. Visit your site on one and see if it’s easy to find your address, phone number and products. If this task is difficult then this area should be looked at urgently.
- Get in the cloud – If you want to lower costs and are going through an IT review, then it’s time to seriously consider putting your website infrastructure in ‘the cloud’. Services such as Amazon’s EC2 allow you to grow or contract your infrastructure at the flick of a switch. Their S3 service gives you almost infinite storage. Services like these mean that you get all the benefits of a professional data centre such as resilience, capacity management and security at a fraction of the cost of owning the hardware yourself.
- Twitter – This very simple social networking tool will help your customers and interested parties that follow your company receive information you push to them, such as special offers, news or product information. This removes the need to proactively visit your site, and they get the information on their device of choice (computer, PDA or phone). Don’t spam people though, keep content interesting – overdo it and you will lose followers. Look at www.hootsuite.com to manage your tweeting.
- Automation – If customers contact you regularly for quotes or to check the status of orders, you might be able to save your staff a lot of time by making the information or services available through your website or on mobile devices. This gives customers 24/7 access to you through a device and location of their choosing. This can often be easy to do, as you are simply making existing information available through another channel.
- Count the clicks – For ecommerce sites, design makes a huge difference to whether customers purchase or not. If it takes more than three clicks to get to any important part of your website, you will be losing customers unnecessarily. A redesign could be as simple as improving navigation, but might involve a full overhaul. In any case, make sure you employ a User eXperience (UX) web designer to do this, not a web developer; you wouldn’t get a brickie to do your interior design.
- Focus on the important things – It’s easy to get hung up on the things that are easy to change on the website, or that you want to do. Customers are the best source of information, so ask them what they want to see change, and then focus on the features that will return the highest business value first. Run a customer experience workshop with a focus group and use simple tools such as http://silverbackapp.com/ to understand how your customers use your site.
- Go Open Source – If you are planning a website redesign at any point, if possible switch to Open Source software, which is free to acquire and continuously developed by a huge community. Today, many of the biggest websites in the world use it because it is so reliable.
Richard Stobart is managing director of Unboxed Consulting, an Agile consultancy and web development agency.