The Internet has been around a few years, so naturally, everyone should know how to create an effective Web site by now, right? Of course not! The storefront has been around for centuries, yet not every business is successful. How can this be?
The consumer is a finicky breed. It is impossible to please everyone who happens by your Web site, but there are some standard components you must present. Just as every retail outlet isn’t going to sell the same product; it will understand the consumer’s general expectations of it. Each will probably express the product it offers prominently, provide examples of its product for consumers to see, display its contact information, and have someone on site who can attend to customers. The same formula applies to creating an effective Web site.
Here are some Web site MUST haves:
• A welcoming home page that contains key words to attract search engines;
• An “about us” page that demonstrates your credibility;
• Success stories and testimonials from satisfied customers or members;
• A “call to action” or pricing page that clearly expresses your product or service’s terms;
• A prominent “contact us” page; and
• An online press kit that provides the media with all the tools it needs to write or report on your business or organization, as well as links or copies of media coverage you’ve already enjoyed (check for reprint permissions before offering copies of printed material).
Here are some details on each of these Web site components.
The Home Page: Do I belong here?
The very word “home” evokes comfort for most people. Home is warm, inviting, and comfortable, and so should your Web site’s home page. You have seconds to impress upon a Web visitor to stay in your site – don’t scare people off with flashy graphics that take forever to load, or require them to give you any personal information whatsoever simply to enter your site.
Imagine having someone dance around in your storefront’s doorway, blocking customers from getting in – or requiring them to hand over their name and phone number before opening the door. No customer will tolerate that kind of treatment.
The instant someone reaches your Web site, they will ask themselves “do I belong here?” They may not realize they’re asking that, but they are. A person seeking pet supplies who visits dogstuff.com is going to expect to find dog stuff – not the personal Web site of someone whose nickname is “Dogstuff.” Make sure your product or service is featured prominently on your home page. People need to know if they are in the right place as quickly as possible.
Opinions vary in terms of content on the home page, but all Web designers agree that if your home page is going to feature any words, make sure they are words related to site’s business or organization. This is how search engines find Web sites – through keywords used on the home page. If Dogstuff.com actually sells pet supplies, then words like “pet supplies,” “dog food,” “dog collars,” and “flea medication,” would be effective key words. “Dogstuff.com: the place to find dog stuff” would not be.
Also, if you offer any sort of subscription, such as an eNewsletter, you must hit visitors over the head with it immediately.
Section Two: Do I trust these people?
People are pretty cautious when it comes to purchasing products or services online. Your Web site must provide evidence of your business or organization’s credibility. Who are you? What are you all about? Use testimonials and refer to high-profile clients.
If your business or organization is relatively new, don’t mention it. The only time you should probably throw around “years in business” is when you hit ten. If you have been covered in the media, mention it here. Better yet, provide them a link to your online press kit in this area. People generally tend to trust businesses and organizations more if they’ve been covered by the media.
Section Three: What’s in it for me?
If your Web visitor has moved past your home page and finds you to be legit, he or she will now want to know if you can really give them what they want. What is unique about your business or organization compared to your competitors? This is where you differentiate yourself. Are you budget-friendly? Do you guarantee your work? Are there any special deals available? Even though they’ve ventured beyond your site’s front door, you still need to convince your visitors that they are in the right place. Reinforce this by providing examples.
Section Four: How much?
The reason most people use Web sites to learn about a business, organization, or product is because they aren’t ready to pick up the phone and talk to someone. They want to explore things on their own and make their decisions without dealing with any kind of sales pressure. They may not even be ready to subscribe, sign up or buy and are simply in search of tangible information. When you refuse to display the costs of your products or services on your Web site, it hampers the visitor’s experience.
Be up front about pricing and terms. If the cost of something depends on the customer’s particular needs, explain that. For instance, a wall paper outlet may not be able to give a customer an exact cost of wallpapering a certain room without that room’s dimensions. In most cases, the customer will understand that. Simply saying “call for prices,” is a turn off.
Section Five: How can I contact you?
Believe it or not, your Web site is not going to answer every customer’s question. The general expectation of most Web visitors is to find the “Contact Us” link in the main menu or along the footer. If possible, try to offer your e-mail address as opposed to automatically opening the visitor’s e-mail program. Not everyone uses the e-mail program on their computer as their sole method of communication. It’s usually best to set aside a page of your Web site that contains your physical address, phone and fax numbers and e-mail address.
If certain questions should go to certain people, provide that information as well. People like to think they are getting to the right person when they complete a “contact us” form, or e-mail a question.
Other General Rules
Web site design does not begin and end with these five sections. Providing additional resources and links to customers, eNewsletters, and message boards are also ways to keep people coming back to your site. In general, you should be sure that your site is easy to navigate and kept up to date. Have friends or colleagues test it out as you’re designing or having it designed. Remember, your Web site is your virtual store front. Take the steps to attract and keep customers the first time you build, because there’s nothing more frustrating (or costly) than having to shut down for repairs.