Is your site humanized? Is it warm, welcoming, a fun and helpful user experience? Are search and feedback mechanisms built in and easy to use or is the entire site a monolith of worship to your company without thought or compassion for the visitor who is damned for clicking upon it? Too often, when planning a web site, marketing to the message is clouded by sales figures and non-creative thoughts that fail to consider the user experience. That is the first and biggest mistake of many companies.
When planning the development of your web site or any redesign, you must consider several important steps.
Ease of use
If navigation is difficult, if the viewer cannot find their interests quickly and easily and they have to work hard to find what they want or order from your site, they will go on to your competition.
Wealth of consumer-friendly information
Whatever you are selling through your site, the consumer wants ALL of the information immediately!
Not speaking AT the viewer but talking WITH them
Although digital, it’s still sales and your web site is a digital salesperson.
Content that creates a fan base and assures return visits to drive sales
That sentence speaks for itself. If you think putting up your information and then sitting back for the next decade or even month and sometimes week, you are missing out on return customers.
It’s not just the share function and RSS feed that allows you to let visitors do some important marketing for you but your social media outreach that ties people into your site and company.
A Closer Look at the Basics
When looking at ease of use, think in terms of priorities. For instance, you want people to buy your newest product or service. That is number one. You also want people to see your other products and services. That is number two. Then, you want them to be able to access those products and services easily. That’s number three. This is your tree of basic needs – your triad of success, so to speak.
Branching off of the trunk of the tree are things like company information (about us), a blog of important new information, useful tips for consumers, news items, etc. and any other page of useful information. Above all, people have most probably found your site by searching out their need for your product or service so you want them to be able to see what they want, make an informed and firm decision and be able to purchase it easily and quickly.
That firm decision will be easier when there’s a wealth of consumer-friendly information. If you’re selling a product, then have large and plentiful photos. All of the product information should be present and easy to read. Returns for goods that are not represented correctly or in their entirety are costly not only monetarily but also bad for your brand and a negative consumer experience. If it brings bad online reviews of your company, that is bad public relations you will find hard to correct and it will affect sales from possible new customers. Transparency in sales and service is the utmost in user experience with web sales (or any type of sales, for that matter!).
A big mistake companies make with their web content is the copy. How you communicate with the customer is the basic of sales. A face-to-face salesperson that rambles on and doesn’t acknowledge the customer isn’t going to make the sale. Copy that speaks in natural and easy language will answer questions before they arise and sell the product or service quickly and with more appreciation from the user for the experience.
Having the mechanisms for questions is also important. Most sites have an interactive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, some with multiple functions, to answer questions. Some sites have live chat, which is the pinnacle of user experience for sales and service. Immediacy is the name of the web and consumers don’t want to wait for answers if it gets in the way of a firm decision. Lost time losses a sale and return visitors and more sales.
Changing content brings back customers who want more. Have you ever heard of the “1,000 True Fan Rule?” Simply stated:
A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings.
They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
Naturally, this works for any company that wants to drive sales to a strong consumer base. A guaranteed income base with continued growth from the occasional buyer still means growth for any business, large or small.
As with other important points referred to in this article, contact is important:
The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.
The technologies of connection and small-time manufacturing make this circle possible. Blogs and RSS feeds trickle out news, and upcoming appearances or new works. Web sites host galleries of your past work, archives of biographical information, and catalogs of paraphernalia. Diskmakers, Blurb, rapid prototyping shops, Myspace, Facebook, and the entire digital domain all conspire to make duplication and dissemination in small quantities fast, cheap and easy. You don’t need a million fans to justify producing something new. A mere one thousand is sufficient.
Changing content, introducing new items and services, highlighting specials and other consumer-interest material will build a growing fan base and keep them coming back on a regular basis. Changing content will also help your SEO and keep you high on Google searches, which make you easier to find when a consumer wants your product or services.
Part of content is not only the copy and visuals; it is also the use of technology to help visitors while on your site. Have you ever seen a walk-on video on a site you’ve viewed? Walk-ons are when a spokesperson walks into the frame of the site and speaks to the viewer. It might just be a sales pitch, an announcement of a special or feature or be a video tutorial that helps you navigate the site or help with ordering. It’s effective but if done incorrectly, it can be annoying as hell. When using this technology, keep in mind that the professionals who provide this technology have done it for dozens or hundreds of companies and they know what they are doing. Don’t try to control the outcome. Give them all the information you want to put forth on your site and let them work their magic. If you insist you want your eight year-old niece to be the spokesperson or to have your dog bark out instructions to visitors, you are outsmarting yourself.
There is always evolving and new technology which will take your web presence to the next level. The important thing to remember is to always use and trust professionals. A web site that hasn’t been updated in the past two years is hopelessly outdated – that’s how fast the technology changes. Work updating your web presence into your business budget.
Social media for your business has become a must these days. It’s the new advertising in place of falling newspaper, magazine and other print media numbers. Likewise, satellite radio is killing commercial radio for advertising and unless you can afford TV advertising fees, using the internet for marketing is how companies, large and small get the word out about their product, specials and news.
You’ve no doubt heard of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media channels. They not only provide free marketing and advertising but they led themselves to viral marketing where people will spread the word for you. One of the web tools you need to start is the share function on your site and a RSS feed so people can post your content elsewhere with a simple click.
Social media, however, is not just tweeting cold hard facts or 140 character sales pitches. SOCIAL has meaning and outreach has to not only inform but also entertain and intrigue. Take a look at these top social media campaigns spotlighted in an article in Forbes.com. They are not only smart uses of the medium but well-crafted and brilliant innovations.
As with web design and content writing, it’s important to have a seasoned social media expert handle your marketing outreach. Freelance people can handle your account better than handing over the duties to someone on staff who has no knowledge of how to write effective communications, protect the brand and control all social media channels. Another big mistake is to start and then drop your efforts. A blog or Twitter account that sits idle for several months will have prospective customers wondering what’s caused the lapse. Is business bad for you? Why? Is it your product or service? Social media is as important as any day-to-day operation of your business.
You don’t have to be everywhere on the web for effective social media and not every channel is right for every business. It’s better to start off small and keep that or those channels active than to have all of them open and only some updating on a regular basis.
Invest in Success!
Using all of this technology is not cheap but is your chief sales tool where you want to cut corners? Often businesses invest without thought into office equipment, computers, and other materials and then look for bargains when it comes to brand, identity and web development. This is a huge mistake. Having an art student design your logo or web site because they do it for free or next to free is… well, the old adage of you get what you pay for has stuck around for eons because it’s true. This isn’t to say you need to spend a hundred thousand dollars or close to that but you can’t expect that cheap will work. By all means shop around and find a freelance designer or firm that will serve you well as a trusted vendor as if they were an accountant or lawyer who will handle your business with your best interests at heart. A cheap source of design will collect a check and go off, expecting to never see you again, even if you promise further work (they will only expect requests for free or cheap work again and see no future with you or loyalty). A design source is just as important as a key employee who works in your office. Would you trust them if you made them work for free or $25 a week? What kind of work and loyalty would you expect?
Humanizing your website comes down to the interactions and the intentional planning and design you put into those interactions. Being intentional about user experience in those small details that are typically neglected, you can showcase the personality of your company or brand, as well as building loyalty among users. Taking cues from the best websites will help you look for ways to infuse your project with emotional intelligence and usability, hence, popularity.
You can create loyal user base with a willingness to sweat out the details and infuse projects with this emotional intelligence. The small things can really make a difference in the success of your website. Taking the time to create these well-crafted experiences is one of the most potent ways to create fans and bring your website to life, not just as a sales tool but also as an entity that works for you 24/7.
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