What are your thoughts when you land on an old-fashioned ‘look and feel’ website that appears unappealing, uninviting and neglected? Most browsers assume the worst about the site’s company and products and hit the back button immediately! This is a scenario that is playing out daily, with hundreds of thousands of hits, as most web users understand the capabilities of attractive sites and do not waste time on sites not exhibiting a rewarding value-add experience.
High bounce rate is an indicator of visitors’ lack of interest.
Market studies support that it takes about ten seconds for a web site to successfully visually capture visitor attention, with an inspiring and attractive value-add proposition, before they disengage and move on. Also, web user research suggests that:
66% would rather view something beautifully designed than something plain.
40% will disengage from a with a website if the content and formatting is unattractive.
55% believe that the website’s design is key in deciding credibility of a business.
The Good, Bad and Ugly
There are Yin and Yang, right and left, hot and cold, black and white, and, good design and bad design. In this regard, there is a high percentage of small and medium businesses – SMBs – sites viewed as ‘poorly designed’ that significantly impact their ability to use the websites as a key marketing and sales tool, for building, growing, and maintaining a successful business. In the current environment, an important SMBs focus is to professionally design, develop, deploy, and proactively promote their websites as mission-critical meetings and communication points that reflect the needs and requirements of targeted market sectors and customers.
Market intelligence reports that about 36% of SMBs lack a website or are using one or limited page sites with modest content, graphics, and links. Also, over half of SMBs have not yet developed and deployed a supporting mobile app. Maintaining an optimized site is central to obtaining new customers, building market credibility, and building loyal customer relationships.
Remember that users scan, not read, online. Make it easy for visitors to quickly locate information of interest and proactively engage in a call to action. Website visitors rarely leave a site with a neutral feeling. For most, the website is an unknown quantity, so their first view of the business will either provide a positive or negative impression of the company products and services.
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
Web Site Redesign and Facelift
There is no generally-accepted timeline for companies to undertake web site assessment, redesign, and facelift projects. Some industry pundits and bloggers propose the average business website lifespan is 2 years 7 months. However, in the real world, the appropriate decision is totally tailored to individual organizations. Universally, the key drivers factoring into the timing decision include: sustaining alignment with company business model and goals; positioning within the targeted industry and competitive environment; leveraging latest and emerging web and mobile technologies and; maintaining compliance with current and new search engine rules and algorithms.
It is well recognized by most SMBs that web sites can quickly look stale, outdated, and out of touch with the competition. Best-in-class companies place a premium on their professional and quality online ‘face to the world’ and set-up and continually proactively manage a web site design group (within marketing) that monitors corporate web, mobile and social media activities, KPIs achievements and gaps, and initiating design and content changes and updates their online footprint as required.
Web Site Design Considerations
The topical management challenges and best-practice-influenced improvement opportunities for consideration in web site assessment, redesign, and facelift projects include:
‘Rule One’ for the development of highly-productive business websites is to understand and include the targeted user needs and typical web behaviors in the site design. The use of User Experience Design (UX) and User Interface Design (UI) techniques ensure that the appropriate technical capabilities and features are covered in the website design, as outlined below:
- User Experience Design (UX): the process of understanding and enhancing user satisfaction needs by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the web site. User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design and extends with addressing all aspects of web site services as perceived by users.
- User Interface Design (UI): design of user interfaces for devices and software with a focus on maximizing usability and the user experience. The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user needs.
The cost, employee effort, and time of revisiting and redesigning a website is a major decision point and concern for most SMB businesses. As a result, many take shortcuts with the use of free templates or hosted solutions. Numerous online vendors offer “drag-and-drop” website building apps that claim to allow users to launch a new website in short time frames at a modest cost. The problem with these services and their approach is that each design facet adds additional lines to the back-end code and makes the site load slower. Over time, this can lead to significant performance issues and technical problems.
Page loading speeds are vital design considerations for optimal user experience. Web users are conditioned over time to expect a site to load completely in less than two seconds and usually leave the site if the load is in excess of three seconds. Considering that Google includes user experience and page loading speeds as de facto ranking signals, improving loading speeds is essential for a successful site. Companies need to keep the employment of on-page elements and plugins to a minimum to avoid have the search engines down-ranked or completely omitted the site from the search results.
Poorly designed websites weaken the corporate brand and message the business needs to convey to prospects. Site visitors who experience a slow and unresponsive website will usually not initiate a relationship with the business. Additionally, they most likely will tell their colleagues about their bad experiences that will influence their future purchasing behavior with the business.
Headers, Sidebars, and Footers
It is a common assumption that website heading areas, footers, and sidebars are designed exclusively for advertisements. However, it’s a concern when web pages display a high number of ads and banners, especially when there’s little supporting content. These areas can be more effectively leveraged for monetization and additional navigation within the site.
Many SMBs communicate their ‘brand’ with the ‘everything factor’: “We’re the #1″, We offer the cheapest product,” “We never make mistakes”, etc. These branding statements commonly obscure the real brand and message, confuse prospects, and make them think the business is undistinguished at everything. Highly recognizable and successful brands, try to be known for one primary value, and continually focus on that point.
To overcome prospective buyer uncertainty, SMBs need to include powerful credibility elements in appropriate multiple website page locations. The most impressive credibility elements are customer testimonials; industry trade memberships and certifications, BBB and other recognized accreditations; and statistics about a number of customers, and other pertinent data that makes the business appear big, growing, and successful! Without credibility elements, website visitors can only rely on the often unreliable marketing propaganda to make business engagement decisions.
Mobile First Design
Currently, market research reports that most web access is from mobile devices versus desktop computers. If the website is not mobile-first with a responsive design, the business is potentially writing-off a significant amount of their targeted audience! Consideration must be given that websites without mobile-first design have evolved into negative criteria for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. Google’s search algorithm favors mobile-first sites and demotes those featuring only a desktop version. Thus, companies lacking a mobile-first design can quickly lose traffic and, in turn, loss of revenue.
When site visitors can not clearly distinguish between similar navigational categories or links, they usually struggle to find the appropriate path to the desired content. Category and link names need to understandable on their own and in concurrence with other site options. If many site pages and sections address the same or similar content, users have a challenge as they must explore each option, make their best guess, or simply leave the site.
Durable navigation should be intuitive and simple to make it easy for site visitors to quickly locate what they need and get back to where they were. A high percentage of business websites create too many navigation labels in the header, using non-intuitive text for their labels (“People” versus “About Us”), failing to use the sidebar and/or breadcrumb navigation to supplement top-level navigation.
Websites that use a clear and simple navigational structure rank significantly higher in the search results. Make sure that your website has a consistent, structured and highly intuitive navigation menu across all pages and that the visitors aren’t burdened with too many choices.
Call to Action (CTA)
Visitors won’t know why they are visiting a website if it lacks a Call to Action (CTA) facility. Even worse, most websites do not display appropriate contact data and contact forms and/or links in prominent locations on pages. If a business is not providing prospective customer visitors with a reason for visiting the website and a user-friendly way to contact and engage the company for additional information or a quote, they will usually click to a competitor.
Without website performance metrics integrated within a corporate Business Intelligence (BI) facility, businesses are unable to successfully track KPIs / performance and progress trends for organic and paid lead management activities, and customer purchase habits and patterns. Market research estimates that about 70% of SMBs do not effectively use analytics tools, like Google Analytics, to monitor and analyze their website’s performance within a structured and integrated BI system,
Because SMBs are not typically recognizable household names, potential customers need to be able to find these businesses in Google and other search results. Many website designs are poorly structured for SEO, making it difficult or near impossible for the search engine crawlers to identify and understand the site content and rank it accordingly. The result is that sites lacking a well-designed site with SEO focus are invisible in searches. Market intelligence reports that a majority of SMBs cannot be found in online searches because their websites earn a Google Page Rank of zero or have no Google Page Rank at all.
Online discoverability is critical to driving prospective customers to find the business. Many SMBs hesitant to implement a search engine optimization strategy, which effectively keeps them from better search visibility because they lack an understand of SEO.
Page Location & Navigation
Web site visitors can’t use the information they can’t locate! Many SMB sites offer poorly designed category names that don’t adequately or accurately describe the published content. Others are arranged based on how the business — rather than the user — views, organizes and uses the content in a tacit manner. When the site structure does not match the targeted users’ mental models of how content should be displayed the site is without value as traffic and engagement will be low or nonexistent.
Content Quality & Quantity
A primary search engine ranking criteria is the quality of the content displayed at the sites. SMBs frequently invest significant financial and human resources to design a sleek, beautiful site and then treat the actual content authoring as a secondary afterthought. This approach negatively impacts the number one way to engage prospective customer visitors and increase conversion rates.
To determine if the content is high enough in quality, check the bounce and click-through rates for website visitors. This metric will identify if browsers are viewing multiple pages and taking actions on the website or leaving quickly.
Stale and unoriginal content is quickly recognized by Google and other search engines. Companies should avoid using duplicate content, throughout the site, as they will quickly get reprimanded by the search engine for this negative activity.
Problematic content quantity includes:
- Dense walls of text make it difficult to scan for the content of interest.
- Overloaded pages are filled with items competing for users’ attention.
Content Edit and Refresh
Websites updated frequently regularly rank higher on search engines and are more engaging for browsers. Continual content editing and updating can be time-consuming and frustrating! A best practice to reduce the content editing activity work effort, reduce expenses, and improve productivity is to create the website on a recognized content management platform with rich functionality and technical capabilities.
Grammar & Typos
Website content must be 100% free of grammatical errors, spelling errors, ambiguous statements, and other shortcomings that show customers and prospects that the company doesn’t support total quality, pay attention to details and, lacks sophistication and professionalism.
Photography & Graphics
SMBs are regularly on a tight financial budget, so the use of stock photography is an attractive way to cut costs on website design. If visitors view the same image on multiple sites, it usually erodes trust in the company and products! This is a big mistake as most web users, over the years, have likely viewed thousands of websites and seen most stock images many times over. Stock photography generally conveys a lack of imagination and a business that is going through the motions and presenting a false image of their company and brand.
Dedicated IT Support
Most SMBs lack the technical staff to provide for a full-time professional website monitoring and management support activity. Without a dedicated and proactive technical system support effort, businesses risk security breaches and costly technical glitches and mistakes. Website technical support should encompass regular website updates, plugins, and databases, as well as optimizing performance and regular backups.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.“