Creating a Customer Driven Website
First time web developers often don't know what information and how much information to provide when developing their first websites. This guide is meant to quide the novice web designer or small business owner contemplating their first website through the pitfalls of developing a profitable website.
My first website was extremely poorly done. It had far too much information, the navigation structure was gargantuan and difficult to follow, and each page was text heavy. The site had hundreds of pages of valuable information that was never read by my prospective clients. There was just too much to take in, and my potential clients moved on to other companies that had websites more suited to their needs. Sometimes, a 5 page website works better than a 500 page website. I know that limiting the number of pages limits your SEO potential, but you can have the best of both worlds. Here are some guidelines:
Make sure that the information YOUR user needs is at their finger tips on whatever page they land on. If you are selling widgets, have a prominent image (not text!) with a teaser about your special pricing on widgets. The user will click on that link before reading any of the text on the page. Every user visiting a website has a problem they need solved. That problem may be as simple as needing a little entertainment or as complex as purchasing a large product or service offering. Gear you website to solving this problem by providing clear-cut and easy to follow images with impactful, yet concise messages. A button with the text "we can sell you widgets at the lowest price around because we are the best widget company in the world" will be less successful than an attractive (but not garish!) image that states simply "$5 widgets - Click Here For More Information".
Plan your website around a core of pages that all contain "calls to action". A Call to Action is a marketing term defined as giving your users a REAL reason to click further into your website and offer up their contact information. A website selling clothing may have a Call to Action: "Sign up for our newsletter and receive a free t-shirt." Not only does the clothing company now have an email address and possibly address and phone number, they can market to someone who has given permission to be marketed to. This Call to Action should be on every one of your core pages.
Build hundreds of pages with fresh and unique content. Put the entry point to these pages in only a single location, even an unobtrusive location. Search engines will dig these pages out eventually, and since they all link back to your "core" pages, you are churning up the rank in your own site. If a user is REALLY interested in the information, they'll find it themselves, even if you've hidden the link way down at the bottom of the contact page or another informational page. These hundreds of pages should be filled with your keywords and have correct Titles, Meta descriptions, and Meta keywords added to them.
Create a navigational structure that allows each of your core pages to be reached by only 1 or 2 clicks. If your core pages don't number more than 6 or 8, the user should have the ability to click only once from any of these pages to reach any of the other core pages. If you make life difficult for the user, they'll leave and find a website that IS easy to navigate around.
Track your visitors using whatever tool is available. If nothing else, you can sign up for a Google Analytics account and track your sites that way. However you track your visitors, there are some signs to look for. If your "Bounce Rate" (defined as the number of people who visit a page then exit your website for greener pastures) is too high (65% is too high in my estimation, but it differs by industry), then you need to look at how the page with the high bounce rate is structured. Does it solve the problem the user is facing? Is it optimized for the incorrect keywords? Is there a STRONG Call to Action on the page?
Don't overwhelm your visitors with the coolest, flashiest website you can build. Not only is it expensive, but there is very little proof that the flashier a website is, the more successful it will be. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are for industries where flash and glitz is expected. Do you really need the expensive glitz to sell your homemade glass figurines? Websites should still be attractive, but most important to the user is usability and whether the website solves the problem they face. Some of the most successful websites in the world look awful, and some of the least successful sites are on the cutting edge of fashion, flash, and glitzy technology. If you really want something flashy, put it only on the home page, and incorporate a Call to Action hidden amongst the glitz.
Make sure that the user has an easy way to contact you, purchase your product, or get the information they need. A user who has to dig around for the contact form is a user that is likely to be gone.
Leave the text to the fiction writers and newspaper columnists. The average user will read only a sentence or two before jumping at the images you have on the page with your powerful Calls to Action. If you have a home page with paragraph after paragraph of text, no matter how well written, you are going to chase a lot of users away, and the dollars they might spend with your business.
Leave the slang, jargon, and cussing out. Remember that the internet will provide you with a diverse cross section of society, and the highly conservative farmer from Iowa doesn't want to read your liberal diatribes on your widget website. Try to be as inoffensive as possible. If you hate Zoroastrians, so be it, but keep it to yourself. If you publish your views on your website, it's entirely possible that you'll have a huge blogosphere of angry bloggers saying bad things about your company and products. Remember that viral marketing can work the other way around.
Customer Service: this should be obvious, but Americans have had their fill of companies with poor customer support. If a user emails you, even if you can't help them or turn them into a customer, respond with a personal response, and thank them for their interest. If you can't sell them something, maybe their neighbor down the street will get recommended to you because of your courteous response.
There are no "set in stone" methods for creating a highly profitable website that converts users into customers, but there are some easy-to-follow guidelines that can help increase your percentage of conversions, and help to attract new customers.