Is Your Business Website An Asset or A Liability?
There are many opinions about what makes a good business website, but most consultants agree that every business must have one.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why your business needs a website, or what it needs to include?
I wanted to follow up last week’s article on marketing strategy with a deeper dive on how websites function as a component of your marketing program. The problem is, while most businesses have a website, few seem to understand why or how to use it effectively in their marketing strategy.
A Little History
A little history might be helpful to show how we got here and where we need to go next with the development of websites.
Prior to about 1995, nobody had a website for their business. Heck, most businesses didn’t have Internet service in their offices! To cultivate leads and close deals, companies sent human sales representatives to businesses in their region, or called them on the land-line telephone.
These sales reps carried trifold marketing brochures with them on sales calls or dropped them in the mail. The brochure was usually a brief synopsis of the company and their offerings they could leave behind for the prospect to read later. Most people I talk to seem to believe that a company’s website takes the place of that brochure, and most web design reflects this belief.
The Web Comes Home
It was around 1995 that personal computers began featuring web searching tools like Netscape Navigator, Webcrawler, and Windows Internet Explorer. Websites were built on very basic HTML code that only a handful of geeks in college computer labs around the country understood. As new disciples discovered this “dark art” of HTML code, simple websites emerged.
If you were around and browsing the web in those early days, you might remember how ugly and confusing those early websites were. The process of evolution involved the development of menus and linkable graphics that simplified how people found information within a website. But they were still ugly as hell.
By 1998, coders learned how to write “metatags,” which told web search engines what each page of their website was about, so their websites could be found easily. They also learned that they could “game the system” to get higher search rankings by “stuffing” each page with “keywords,” the search terms the web crawlers were looking for. In an effort to improve their chances of being found in keyword searches, developers bogged down their web pages with copy that was awkward to read and didn’t always make sense.
Business Websites Respond To The New Market
Over a few years’ time, thousands of businesses went from having no website to a simple website that basically replace their paper brochures and press kits. This created an interesting phenomenon: businesses that had traditionally been location-bound – like chiropractors, mechanics, and other services that had a limited service region – were now reaching people on the other side of the planet, whether they intended to or not. Suddenly, lawyers, restauranteurs, plumbers, and librarians were competing with (and being compared to) similar providers thousands of miles away.
Keeping Up With the Market
Many new businesses weren’t ready for the new levels of competition, and it ruined them. But several saw the opportunity to level up their businesses and create new channels of influence and revenue that reached around the world. They emerged as “thought leaders” and supplemented their “hands-on” businesses with knowledge-based models, where they became trusted advisors to world-wide audiences. Some found ways to market products to these new audiences.
As the Internet became more crowded with similar websites, companies began hiring full-time web developers to build massive, complicated structures with hundreds of pages, all in the name of being relevant and “searchable.”
Google Takes Over
Perhaps the biggest transformation in the evolution of the Internet was the rise of Google as the standard for search. They learned from the iterations of search development and rewrote the rules to simplify (and control) how information flowed. Their constant real-time research and development process led to the creation of tools like Google Ads and Google Analytics. The criteria their search tools use to classify and prioritize search results have reshaped search – for better or for worse.
Google is now the number-one most-used search engine in the world, by far. What’s more, they own the number-two search tool, YouTube. As a result, their rules for how search terms are used to find and prioritize information sources set the tone for how websites handle information. The days of “keyword stuffing” are over, as Google’s rules for search learned to recognize and punish websites that use this manipulative technique.
How To Hide A Website
How do you punish a website? By burying it deep in the search results. Google determined that most searchers quit after the top three to five search results, and less than one percent of all users continued the second page of results, even if there were thousands of pages of results.
It’s like the old joke, “Where can you hide a dead body? On page 2 of Google search results.”
As Google rose to prominence – and then dominance – in Internet search, they set the rules by which all websites are measured. Each time their algorithms have changed to address new developments in how the Internet was used, websites have been forced to get in line. At the same time, market dynamics have caused millions of businesses to rethink and redesign their websites. The results have been a mess.
Confusing Your Buyers – And How Not To
One of the maxims of marketing is “a confused buyer never buys”. Unfortunately, thousands of businesses confuse their customers every day by presenting them with complicated websites. I see this mistake all the time: the owner wants the customer to see ALL of the offerings at once. This creates paralysis for the customers, because they don’t know where to start or where to finish.
To organize their offerings, most websites include navigation menus. The intent (organized structure) is nobel, but the result is often more complication. As businesses try to keep every possible option in front of their visitor all the time, they build overcomplicated, multi-level menu structures that end up frustrating people.
Ultimately, you need to reevaluate what your website will be used for, and how you want your customer to move through it.
What Does Your Website Need To Do?
It might sound counter-intuitive coming from a guy who built his career online, but some businesses do not need a website. Everyone should have some way for customers to find them online, but not necessarily a full website.
Google has tools to make your business searchable, as do Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and other sites. By the time you are reading this article, another app is probably changing the way people find the businesses are services they need. So, it’s not like you’re never going to grow without a website.
That said, if you are going to have a website, you have to be clear on what you want it to do and what tools you need to do it:
- If you want your website to generate sales, make it easy, with one decision per page (e.g., “this one or that one”).
- Some businesses use their website to let customers book appointments. The Calendal app links to your Google calendar and highlights available appointment blocks.
Be Clear On What Is Working
As Google has grown, their analytics tools have developed by leaps and bounds. They can provide a robust view of what is working to move traffic and what is not. You might be shocked at the results. Things you spent a great deal of time and money developing might be going totally unnoticed and you don’t even know it.
Have A Plan
Ultimately, the clearer you are on what you want your visitors to do when they visit your site, the clearer you will be on what you need to include on your website…and what you need to leave out.
Yes, it’s true. Some things absolutely should NOT be on your website. I love the looks on peoples’ faces when they realize that almost nobody visits “about us” or “contact us” pages. They do nothing to move the visitor toward a decision to do business with you. Nothing.
Some Things Don’t Belong
Some of what you have on your website right now is wasting space. It’s keeping your customers from giving you money. How can I say that?
- You have too many options to choose from.
- Funnel items are in the wrong order (e.g., testimonies coming before the problem).
- You emphasize things people don’t care about, like mission and values (put those in your blog, not your home page).
- The action you want them to take is too low on the page or after a click.
- You include graphics or moving elements that don’t move the sale forward.
- I can’t find your phone number or CTA.
Why Is It Here?
Everything you put on a web page has to answer these questions:
- Is this part of our marketing strategy or branding?
- What do we want the visitor to do after seeing this? Does this item move the visitor toward that action?
- Will web bots recognize the purpose of this page for search?
Your website might be gorgeous and cutting-edge, but search engines can’t see that. They can only see if you have the proper codes, keywords, and analytics in place. If you love your website but it doesn’t serve your strategy, don’t change the strategy, change the website. It’s easy.
Just about anyone can get their 14-year-old nephew to design a nice-looking website with tools like Wix and WordPress. That doesn’t mean all the parts are in the right place, doing the right job to advance a decision. It also doesn’t guarantee that the tools and analytics that measure your effectiveness are doing so.
Easy Mistakes To Make
If you spend a bunch of money on advertising to get people to your website, then your website better do a good job of converting those leads into the activity you want, whether it’s sales, appointments, donations, or whatever else you’re after. Otherwise, you’re just flushing that money down the toilet.
I’m always shocked at the “rookie” mistakes I see on big companies’ websites:
- They don’t design their sites to be responsive to mobile environments.
- The Calls To Action are missing or buried somewhere that it’s hard to find.
- Their copy doesn’t motivate people to take action
- They write copy for the wrong audience (they aren’t clear on their customer avatar).
- The SSL security is missing or inadequate.
- They don’t use analytics to show them where they are weak.
Get A Proper Diagnosis
If your website is not getting the outcomes you want, you need to understand why. You can change it all out and still be wrong. Don’t guess. Every dollar you spend on advertising that sends your leads to a website that doesn’t convert is wasted. There are so many other things that cause businesses to fail, don’t add a weak website to the list.
Play by the search engines rules. In 2015, they were looking for sites that were mobile-friendly. This year, they are focusing on SSL management. Next, they are going to emphasize tagging and analytics. That’s two skills your 14-year-old coder doesn’t know anything about.
Next, it’s all about analytics and tag management. Those are two critical skills that I guarantee your kid doesn’t know.
We have a team of really great web designers that I have worked with for years. They would be happy to help answer your questions about your website. Our team offers website assessment as a part of our overall review of your operations. Plus, we offer webinars, masterminds, courses, and tools at venturestudio.com that are designed to help you optimize your web presence as part of your overall business strategy. Visit venturestudio.com to learn more about our business optimization systems. I look forward to visiting with you soon.