The internet is not like it used to be. It’s now a crowded, busy place and it’s certainly not as difficult to find a web designer as it was in the late 1990s. What’s also changed significantly since the 1990s is the sheer quality of the best websites in just about any sector you choose to name.
For your business, that means your site has to be brilliant to sustain any attention at all from prospective customers. Which in turn means that you have to devote some time, focus and budget towards getting it right.
It’s worth the effort though because a good website isn’t a novelty anymore, it’s part of the mainstream and a pretty basic expectation of most customers. With the right approach though, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great website for your business on a realistic budget.
I’m going to explain some simple ways that you can help stack the odds in favour of your new website – whether it’s your first or a redesign of your existing one – helping you to attract and retain customers.
Where many, many businesses go wrong
When a business needs to upgrade its website, most of them will do one of the following:
- Dive straight in and start listing the pages they want and maybe even choose colours, fonts, and photos
- Look at the current website and look at what needs adding or changing
There is a third way to tackle it, and in my experience, it’s far more effective and not nearly as difficult as many clients think.
“Start with the end in mind”
You’ve probably heard this phrase before and you might have wondered where it originates from. The book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by the late Stephen Covey has sold over 20 million copies, and yes, you guessed it – one of those habits is to start with the end in mind.
Colours, fonts, logos, and stock images are all jointly a means to an end, but not the end itself. Your current website is not the end itself either, otherwise, you wouldn’t be looking to update it. So what is the end when it comes to your website? Customers and prospects – you want their attention, engagement and a decent chance of getting them on board as a customer. Their needs and goals should be your focus from the start.
Now, of course, you won’t know all of this at the outset – especially for those that aren’t your customers already – but there are things you can find out, and things you can make a much more educated guess on. Overall, it’s well worth the extra effort.
So what does this all mean for a web design project?
Creating a new website is a big project. For any big project that ties up a lot of your time, money or resources you want the big potential for upside. If you focus on your current website and how to adapt it, you’re setting yourself up to only create a slightly better version of what you already have, which is a big limitation.
If you dive in and start looking at specifics too quickly, you’ll end up getting drawn into more of them. That will constrain your thinking which will also limit the upsides of your new site.
So instead you need to think about your customers and prospects – what do they need, what is their buying process and how can you give them the information and confidence they need to buy from you. Start with a blank sheet of paper and try to forget what you do now.
This sounds daunting, but many businesses are pleasantly surprised to find that they already have a lot of information about their customers and prospects right under their noses.
What can your current website teach you?
Now I know I’ve already said that you shouldn’t look too much at your current website. However, if you look instead at the behaviour of your customers and prospects on that site, that could give you some clues as to who is finding your site, what they’re looking at and what else they might like to see on there.
If you’re one of the many businesses that use Google Analytics, a quick look through your stats could tell you:
What are the age and gender split of your site users (NB – You may need to switch this feature on and allow time for some data to build up. It’s very easy to do, but many businesses have it switched off by default).
- Site searches
Are you tracking on-site searches? You should do and the search terms people use could give you some clues as to content that users see as important, but struggle to find. (On-site search is another feature that may still be switched off by default but is very easily switched on).
- Visitor metrics
By looking at the time users spend on-site and the number of pages they look at, you can see the depth of information they like to look at for your products or services.
- Popular pages
Unless your current site is a total disaster, there should be plenty of pages you need to keep. It’s good to know which pages are popular so you know which to keep and have prominent links to.
- Behaviour flow
Web pages don’t work in isolation – Google Analytics can also show you the common paths people take through your site. For example, if they go to a product/service page, do they go to the contact page next, or the about page or something different?
The true test of any website is whether or not people who come to the site are taking the actions you want them to, such as submitting a message or calling you. If you’re tracking these already on your website, you should look at how many people are converting and which pages and content are bringing you inquiries or sales.
So that’s already quite a few things you now know about your customers and prospects and it hasn’t even taken a great deal of effort. Better still though, there is still plenty more you can do to make your new website more effective.
Having already looked at those users that visit your website now, let’s look at how people use the internet generally in your market.
How Keyword Research can give you better content at launch, and beyond
Looking at your current website users was a great place to start, but you presumably want your new website to help you grow your business. That will mean looking further and wider to help encourage more new people to your site.
‘Organic’ (free) search engine traffic is the largest source of traffic on most sites that I’ve worked on, so I always recommend Keyword Research as part of any new website build. Just a few hours spent researching the keywords people use on Google can go a long way in ensuring that your content hits the mark with customers.
You might be using more industry jargon than you realise and could find that customers describe your products and services very differently from the way you do. Although Google is getting better all the time at recognising synonyms, using the exact same words as your website users will also resonate better with customers.
Keyword Research can unearth three types of keywords:
- ‘Head’ keywords – those which describe your main products or services (eg ‘business insurance’).
- ‘Longtail’ keywords – these might describe a slight variation on your main product and might be used more than you think and therefore warrant a page of their own (eg ‘business insurance for a locksmith’).
- Semantic keywords – these might be linked to the main keyword and give you ideas for other words you can include on the main page (eg ‘business insurance online quote’, assuming of course that you can offer a quote online).
- Question or list keywords – sometimes the research will show up questions or other searches that require a detailed answer, such as ‘how do I…..?’ or ‘best ways to…..’. Keywords like this can be great for blog posts, videos or free guides to keep the site updated after it launches.
So that’s another step in the right direction of getting to know your customers and prospects, but there is still more that you can do. The more work you put in, the better your website will be in the long run and the following tips are much easier in that they can largely be done in-house, with no technical or web design knowledge required.
Taking customer understanding even further
So how can you make good use of the knowledge and information you already have within your business? Well, here are a few simple ideas – if you have your own marketing staff, you can use them to gather this information, but if not then you might want to get your web designers to do the research themselves as part of the project:
- Tap into existing sales contact
You may speak to customers and prospects on the phone or have a salesforce that visits them in person. Either of these is a great opportunity to listen to the conversations that salespeople have with staff and understand their questions and what’s important to them.
- Research your customers
If you already send your customers surveys or email newsletters, then you could easily build in some questions about their buying behaviour – online and offline.
- Check out trade shows and publications
Trade shows are a great way to speak to prospects in person and also to see what competitors are doing and what seems to be popular with customers. If there are none coming up then trade press titles are a good option – especially the online versions which might also have comments and forums where your target market share their opinions freely.
- Build personas
If you really want to go the extra mile you can even go as far as building some customer personas (or customer avatars). These are detailed ‘pen pictures’ of some typical customer types, to help improve your marketing to each key market segment.
By now, even if you only do one or two of these few items above, you’ve created a really rounded view of your customers, prospects and the market in general. Now, you’re in a much better position to move on to planning the content of your website
Planning your content
Now it’s time to sit down and start planning out your content. This is a big task on its own and I may write a blog post on this subject in the future. However, the prep work you’ve done so far will put you in a much better position to start this process, and help you finish it more quickly and effectively.
Applying the ‘gloss’
So you may remember me saying at the start of this article that diving straight in and choosing colours, fonts, and images was not the right place to start? Well now, if you’ve done a good job of the tasks above it finally is time to get down to specifics and making a great website that really resonates with your customers.
If you start with the end in mind, the chances are that by the end of your project, you’ll be glad you did. Not only will you end up with a more effective website that really mirrors the needs of your customers, but you’ll also probably save time and effort along the way and not have to rework fundamental parts of your site.
The time you invest upfront in getting to know your customers (and articulating what you already knew about them) will pay dividends in the long run. I hope this article has been helpful and has shown you the level of detail needed to succeed online nowadays. With the right approach though, finding customers online needn’t take forever or cost the earth.