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Website Dos and Don’ts: The Definitive Guide

Website Dos and Don’ts: The Definitive Guide
[lead]There are plenty of traps that await the online content creator. It doesn’t matter if this is your first foray in creating a website or if you’ve been through this process a time or two, whether it’s a do-it-yourself project or if you’re outsourcing to a seasoned firm. There are some pitfalls which should be avoided and some techniques that should be explored. Following this guide will help you figure out what questions to ask and what hurdles to avoid.[/lead]

Do This – Create A Dynamic Site

Modern websites should be dynamic. They should update frequently and entice a user to come back. If the copyright at the bottom reads 2002, chances are good that the website hasn’t been touched since 2002. Fresh content gives a user a reason to come back and every time a user comes back there’s the chance to convert that person into a client or a customer. If your site is dated and your site hasn’t been updated, don’t expect a casual browser to put any stock in your website’s information. And if your website deters visitors from becoming clients or customers, what’s the point of even having it?

Not That – Create A Brochure Site

You’ve heard the radio and television ads that promote websites for mere dollars a month. It’s true, they are offering a website, but their product only technically fits the term. You may think that there’s little to lose on $30 per year for a website, but the cold hard fact is that going with these types of  products is likely to cost you much more in the long run. Again, if your website deters a customer, what’s the point of even having it? Further, if all your website does is answer the 4 W’s (who, what, where, and why) don’t expect an online user to be impressed or prompted to buy what you have to offer.

Do This – Make The “Call”

This is the biggest flaw that I come across the most. A website that doesn’t have a call to action will fail. People aren’t going to simply buy your product or service, you have to ask them to. This goes back to the “brochure” type websites. Sure you tell us who you are and what you do, but you’re not asking me to do something. You may clearly articulate what you have to offer but you’re not giving me a reason to buy it.

Calls to action come in many forms and it’s the only way to turn the unknown commodity of “anonymous web visitors” into a known resource. Your online visitors have to identify themselves to you. And it’s not easy to do that. Online users are wary of giving away their contact information for free – they might get unsolicited phone calls or they might get signed up on a few email lists that they don’t want and can’t seem to get off.

In terms of products, the call to action is quite easy. Buy. The call could be buy one get one, free shipping, or some other offer tangible or intangible.

For service-based offerings, the call is a bit trickier. Offering a free consultation is an obvious and widely used route. Offering free whitepapers or documents that you author that provide real value for cost/benefit analysis for your customer base is also a widely used practice. For example, a lawyer offering traffic violation representation may offer up a document titled “Top 3 Mistakes Drivers Make When Dealing with Speeding Tickets”. After providing a name, email address, and phone number, the user will get the document. The lawyer has a clear lead (this person is likely searching for representation) and the user gets a valuable resource authored by an expert. A win-win.

Free quotes are also popular calls to action. A mortgage banker may offer a free quote for a home buyer or an insurance agent may offer a free car insurance quote with comparisons from rival companies.

The possibilities are endless but the end goal is the same: how do I entice the online user to identify themselves as a potential client or customer?

Not That – Pretend The Online User Will Contact You If They Want

This is the worst possible thing you could do. An online user is interested in your offering but you provide no easy, intuitive methods for them to reach you. There are no free quote forms, no whitepaper offerings, no way to actually purchase your product. You’ve teased them, but in the wrong way. Their next move? They’re going to find your competitor who makes it easy on them. The fact is that the online consumer can be some of the most fickle consumers. You don’t have the luxury of physical distance between you and your competitors. All an online user has to do is browse for your competitor and they’re in their shop 15 seconds later. This is your 15 seconds. Make it worth it.

Do This – Clearly Explain Your Product Or Service In Terms of Your Customers Needs

You have what they need or want. They found you. Now tell them why they should purchase your product or service. Don’t tell them how great your widget is, tell them how your widget will solve the problem that they have. Relate your product or service back to why it exists.

Not This – Brag

A website that does nothing more than brag about how great the company is will not be met well. First and foremost, it can be accurately assumed that the source writing the copy is biased. A user is not going to take your word for it because you’re not independent. Plus, what else are you going to say?

Let others brag for you. Do this in terms of testimonials or case studies. Let the results speak for themselves. If your product or service is as great as you think it is then the chances are others will too.

Do This – Tease

Teasers are hardly new in advertising and marketing. A quick stroll down the food court at the mall will yield many vendors offering samples up for free. The concept is simple: if you give someone something then there’s the implicit understanding that the receiver should also give back to you. Vendors on the web do this all the time. They offer up a free chapter out of a book, a free whitepaper,  a free quote, or a free consultation.

Not That – Give It Away

When you give teasers, be sure you’re not truly giving it away for free. The vendors at the food court have the advantage of standing there looking you in the eye as you eat their free food. A consumer can be much more anonymous and escape natural guilty feelings because they can easily hide behind technology. So before giving away your intellectual property, be sure to get some contact info first. Just a name and an email address is all you need. Having that allows you to communicate with the person who accepted your free teaser.

Do This – Provide Gateways to Social Networks

Everyone is doing it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and a dozen other made up words comprise a huge chunk of online activity. Maintaining an active presence on these services is almost a requirement. Since you may be participating in 3 or more separate social networks, it’s a great idea to use your website as the informational hub between you and your clients. Whatever gets posted to the website should also get posted to your social profiles. Your website should also cross-promote content from your social profiles and display them on the website.

Not That – But Not If You Don’t Use – Or Misuse – Them

Don’t advertise your social presence on your website if your last activity was 3 months ago. Nothing looks more stale than an out dated social presence. It’s even more of a reason to not promote a social presence on your website if you misuse it. And there’s a ton of ways a social presence can be misused.Ask the managers at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC.

Additionally, you need to be a legitimate social network user if you are to build a successful profile. Simply put: don’t spam your network with coupons or product offerings or news about your business. Be an actual person. Comment on stories that you see and like. Post tips from an industry insider that others may find helpful or funny. Don’t think like your business, think like a person who your friends like. And then, sparingly, post your coupon or update. It’ll be met much more positively from your followers.

Do This – Track All User Interaction

Google Analytics is a free tool that is an absolute necessity. Google Analytics will track who your visitors are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re doing on your site. The information provided is pivotal in determining what content is desirable and what content is not.

But don’t stop the information tracking there. The information a user provides via a form should always be stored away in a database or, with appropriate opt in methods, added to a mass email database for further communication with that person.

Not That – Maintain An Informational Black Hole

If you don’t know who’s visiting your website and you don’t know the relative value of your content, you’re powerless to maximize your web presence. Changes to copy and design should be carefully considered after analyzing all available data. Lacking that data, you’re guessing.

Do This – Outsource it!

After all is said and done, there is a strong case for outsourcing web-based projects. Just because website creation is now standard curriculum for 6th graders across the country doesn’t make the mastery of the subject any less difficult. Sure, creating a website isn’t rocket science. But doing it right most certainly is. There are many moving parts and pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of putting together a well-crafted website. And those parts and pieces change with each passing year. You’re in business for a reason. You’re really good at what you do. Don’t divert from that. You do what you do well and leave the Internet portion to people who do that well. If the company is worth its weight, there will be more work for you to do anyway.

Not That – DIY

Or even worse, get your kid, or your niece to create your business website. Internet users are much more demanding in terms of the Internet presence of the companies that they choose to do business with. It’s not enough to have a brochure website anymore. It’s not enough to spend a day and put up something resembling a website. It’s not enough to purchase a website for $3 per month. Your consumers expect more. And your competitors are privy to that fact.

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