We all know that having a website is now essential for business. Whether it’s a tiny brochure site or a complicated ecommerce site, there’s no denying that an online presence can help you to position your brand, get found more easily by prospects, and drive sales and growth. But that doesn’t mean that simply having any old website will be beneficial to your business.
The cost of getting a quality website done by a professional agency can be prohibitive, especially to a new or small business. For those that don’t have thousands in spare cash, the wide range of free or cheap solutions can offer at least a short-term solution to getting online.
However, if you aren’t expert in this area, or have taken advice from the wrong people, there are lots of ways your website could be letting you down. Here are a few examples of problems that could actually be turning clients away, or stopping them from even finding you in the first place.
1) Your website is ugly
Be honest with yourself, how does your website look? If you’re not sure, here’s a challenge: ask 10 random people you don’t know what they think of it. An ugly or outdated website is the quickest way to lose a prospect, because – no matter how great your product or service is – it won’t convey a professional image that makes people value what you do.
Poorly designed websites will convert less, it’s a fact. If your website is a mess, if it’s hard to navigate or if it isn’t clear what the visitor should do, the chances are they will leave. Good design isn’t subjective – just because you don’t happen to like blue doesn’t mean it isn’t the right choice for your business. Good design takes into account principles of balance, alignment, space and colour (amongst others) to create a harmonious layout which will lead to a positive user experience.
Opt for clean and simple designs
If in any doubt at all, stick to a clean, simple layout that works on any device. Avoid flashing text, blurred images, Comic Sans, complex navigation, tiny text, giant adverts, popups, and TYPING IN ALL CAPS… and you’ll be fine!
When assessing how ugly your site is, remember that form follows function. In other words, if your site works the way it should, you’ll already be on the way to a nice-looking website. What you don’t want to do is frustrate visitors by making it hard, or irritating, for them to complete whatever task they are trying to achieve there.
2) Your site doesn’t appear in search
You may have the best website in the world, but if it isn’t optimised for search it might as well not exist. Optimisation doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, if you just apply a few basic rules you will dramatically improve the visibility of your site. If you use WordPress, you should start by installing the ‘Yoast SEO’ plugin, as this will make optimising your site much easier.
The following are the elements you must have no matter what:
- Each page, post, portfolio/case study, etc. should have a descriptive URL, a clear heading that uses your main keyword for that particular page, and a custom meta description that makes your content sound appealing.
- Give your images descriptive file names, and always give an ‘Alternative text’ when inserting images on your site (known as an ‘alt’ tag).
- Make sure your texts are well-structured and include formatting elements such as headings, bold text, lists, etc. Make sure every page has a main heading (this is the <h1> tag and is called Heading 1 in WordPress) and at least a couple of subheadings (<h2> or Heading 2), with <h3> – <h6> as required, depending on the content of your page (stick to a top-down hierarchy).
- Make sure your pages link to each other where it is helpful to the user. For instance, if you mention a service you offer in a blog post, link to the service page in question. Google uses these internal links to understand your website better. It’s also a good idea to have authoritative websites linking to you, for instance your clients or leading websites in your industry. However, lots of links from poor quality websites will harm your SEO, so use moderation.
Half the battle with SEO is to think of the user
There are lots of other elements that impact on SEO, or are going to have an increasing importance in this area in the future. I’m thinking about things such as HTTP secure (https:// instead of http://), Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), rich snippets, speed, localisation, responsive design, etc. However, nail the basics first and then build in these other tactics when your time and budget allows.
3) Your website isn’t social
With just a bit of effort, social media can be a great source of traffic. If you’re spending time creating great content (for instance, through blogging) or have just paid good money for a new website, you can’t afford to ignore it. Making it easy for people to share your content, and ensuring the content looks its best on social media, is a great way to increase brand awareness and reach new audiences.
Help fans spread the word
Firstly, help people to share easily with social sharing buttons on your site. WordPress offers lots of plugins that allow you to add buttons to pages and/or posts with a couple of clicks. Make sure the buttons are easy to find, but not obtrusive. You can also include more enhanced sharing tools such as a Click to Tweet feature. These are pre-prepared tweets that you put, for instance, in a blog post so that it can be shared with minimal effort. Like this:
Click to tweet: “Five ways your website is hurting your business, and how to fix them! via @scarletmerrill”
Look good on social media
Make sure that links to your site preview nicely on social networks. You’ll already have set a good title and description for each page/post for SEO purposes, and with a little extra code (or a plugin) you can make sure these show correctly when your links are shared. Most importantly, you can specify an image for the preview, even if there is no image on the page. It’s a fact that social media posts with images get higher engagement, so this is really important. He’re an example of a preview on Facebook (a story from the Guardian):
The information that makes this happen is called Open Graph tags (on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+…) or Twitter Cards (on Twitter) and you can add this code manually if you want. There are lots of options you may or may not need to use, but here’s what I’ve used for this blog post:
4) Your site doesn’t work on smartphones
You might have heard that the future of the internet is mobile. Well, that’s not actually true… the PRESENT is mobile! Mobile is now the primary way people access the internet. Google has used mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal since early 2015, making this issue something businesses can no longer afford to ignore. We’ve all been frustrated when visiting a website only to find the text impossible to read, buttons too small to click – yes, you can always zoom in to read what it says, but usually I prefer to simply go elsewhere.
Responsive design adapts to your device
You might choose to solve this issue by creating a mobile version of your website. However, the best solution is to implement a ‘responsive’ design. This allows the same website to adapt to the different size screens it’s viewed on, giving the best viewing/reading experience possible. At its simplest, responsive specifies styles for your text according to the size of the browser, avoiding that teeny-weeny-text problem. But it’s a powerful tool that you can actually use to deliver a different experience to different devices – you can hide or show certain elements, use different images, hide the images altogether, the possibilities are endless.
If you have no idea what your website looks like on mobile, you can run a quick test on this Google tool by just typing in your site’s URL. If you’re on a platform like WordPress, the good news is that the choice of responsive themes is vast now, so making the change will be fairly painless.
Faster pages on mobile
Another exciting development in mobile is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP, as mentioned above). The AMP Project aims to make consuming mobile content an even better experience for users by dramatically improving the performance of the mobile web. Here’s Google’s video showing their vision for AMP:
AMP is basically a stripped-down, streamlined version of HTML that removes quite a lot of the clutter you find on a typical website page (forms, for example). For an idea of how this looks in practice, take a look at this same story from the Guardian in normal and AMP versions. Importantly, AMP results in search show above other results (in a swipeable carousel) making this a great way to get found.
5) Your website is too boring
Another way your website could be hurting your business is through its content. Firstly, is there enough information on it? Apart from it being a good idea to inform your prospects of what you do and why they should choose you, a website with a decent amount of content is going to rank a lot higher than one with a few lines of text.
Don’t be anonymous
One thing I’m a big advocate for is good ‘About’ pages that show the human faces behind the business. An About page is a great tool for small or young businesses, because where you may lack the big-name clients or decades of experience, you can instead communicate the other benefits that your business can bring, such as passion, flexibility, innovation, speed, etc. There’s nothing more dull than an ‘About’ page that is just a recap of the services provided or a banal mission statement.
Your website should be an invitation to start a dialogue. Make sure it’s welcoming and will engage visitors. Always, always put your contact details, including your physical address if you’re a local business. Use your content to build trust and make it more likely that visitors will buy from you – you can do this by including reviews, case studies, testimonials, photos, and prices.
No two websites are the same, but you want to try to cover the following areas:
- Who is behind the business and how did it come about? Who are your clients?
- Why buy from you instead of the competition?
- Full description of your products or services, including prices if at all possible
- Examples of past work, with reviews or testimonials
Educate and empower your audience
Once you have the basics in place, think about adding more valuable content that will be of benefit to potential clients. Lots of businesses have had success from blogging about topics related to their industry. The best blogging strategy is one that educates visitors; it might feel counter-intuitive to give away information for free, but if done right this will actually increase sales and make the product or service you sell seem even more valuable.
Last, but not least, make sure your texts are well-written and accessible. Remember that not everyone is an expert, so if you’re in an industry with a lot of jargon and acronyms make sure you either leave them out, or explain them in plain English. Also, try to avoid sounding pretentious or over the top – in my experience, nothing beats honesty and simplicity. Always, without fail, ask someone else to re-read your texts; nothing creates a poorer first impression than a website littered with typos and bad grammar!
This is still one of my favourite pieces of nonsensical text from a website… please don’t write like this:
Find me some tech copy that is more offensively hyperbolic than this pic.twitter.com/IYPLUYBwJ9
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) June 22, 2015
As you can see, there are lots of elements to consider when improving your online presence, but just getting the basics right could well be enough to put you ahead of the competition. It’s not a one-off job, though… the best sites are constantly being tweaked and it’s important to keep up with current best-practice, as well as keeping your site fresh and up to date.