Before getting into the nuts and bolts of making a website that serves, supports, and sells, there are five web marketing steps that should be considered in the following order so that time and money are spent where they count: credibility, usability, sellability, scalability, and visibility.
As in life, you never get a second chance to make a great first impression online. Credibility is an absolute must, and website design is a large credibility component of web marketing. Website design includes information architecture (organization of content, color selection, and use of graphics and fonts). These elements set the tone for the user’s experience. If a picture says a thousand words, then a website speaks volumes. Design is the first element to make a website credible. With competition only a click or two away, every website building block must count.
When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site’s purpose. Good design evokes trust, makes navigation clear, establishes branding, appeals to target customers, and makes them feel good about doing business with the website they are on. Design does not have to be expensive for it to work. It does, however, need to represent an organization and appeal to a visitor. Professional design is not something organizations spend money on; it is something they invest in to support trust, positioning, and long-term marketing.
Web usability is best explained as the ease with which visitors are able to use a website. A pleasant and easy user experience is imperative to the success of a website. Usability makes site viewers stick and click.
Usability is an important part of the design, architecture, and development of a website. Is the purpose clear? Is the site easy to navigate? Do clickable items look clickable? Are there clear calls to action (“Buy Now,” “Learn More,” “Watch the Video,” “Sign Up Today,” etc.)? Strong usability helps visitors do what marketers want them to do. Web surfers scan before they read. Usability tells visitors visually and textually what to do, where to do it, and how to do it. Remember that people who can’t use your website, won’t. It is that simple.
Marketing preplanning ensures that purpose and selling power points are built into the design (credibility) and user experience (usability) so a web solution serves, supports, and sells.
The next success step is making sure the site supports sales. Showcasing case studies, testimonials, and whatever makes your organization different from or better than the competition is imperative for sellability success. Make sure contact information is easy to find. Some wavering potential customers still like to pick up the phone to consult with a real person before they make a purchase commitment.
Communicating value and distinction, sharing strong selling points, addressing frequently asked questions, helping overcome objections, and sharing success stories/testimonials are all ideas to help make a website a productive selling solution. Today’s consumers are empowered—they need to know, like, and trust an organization before they contact, fill out a lead form, or buy. Make sure your site does more than look pretty. Websites become web solutions when they support sales.
A healthy, scalable website must be architected and developed in a way that can accommodate ease of expansion (adding pages, video, content, etc.), and be built on a reputable, manageable platform so it can grow over time. Amazon.com didn’t always have so many categories, products, and services. Their website was built to scale and has successfully grown over time. Usability and technological platform have strong connections to scalability.
Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics) is website tracking technology that allows site owners and marketers to see things like traffic, sources of traffic, time spent online, actions taken, top pages visited, and more. Smart websites can scale more seamlessly when they have website statistics built in from the beginning. The data from statistics allows marketers to see patterns, track user behavior, and optimize sites over time.
The type of technological platform a website is built on needs to be considered before any coding happens to make sure that the platform is going to be supported in the future. Some organizations launch websites in phases, making scalability critical. For example, some organizations will post a “Coming Soon” page as a site is being built, and/or launch a testing site (often called a beta site) while the full site is being built out. If this is the case, the scalability phases need to be integrated into the website plan. Tools like making website wireframes before a website launches, or having site specification documents, can help manage the site build, rebuild, or optimization process.
Building or redesigning a website does not guarantee that people will flock to it. You need a plan to drive traffic to the site. Web marketing has many tools (beyond the website itself, such as e-mail marketing and online advertising) that can be tapped to increase awareness. Search engine optimization best practices (to increase search engine visibility) can also be built into the site as part of the design and development process. You don’t want to wait until a website goes live, wasting time and money retrofitting the site to make it search-ready. It is important to have a clear understanding of visibility options, which will drive awareness, traffic, and actions to a website, before the website goes into design and development. There is a common misunderstanding that online marketing begins after a website is built. This is grossly incorrect. Knowing how the organization will use web marketing must be addressed before the build, so that it is incorporated artistically, technically, and strategically into the site.
If building volunteer awareness and communication is needed, then a page just for volunteers may be built into the website map and navigation. A designer may even add a box that says “Volunteers Click Here” or give a specific volunteer news feed. If increasing the e-mail list is a goal, then having an e-mail sign-up box is something that must be designed into the wireframe and programmed into the website development. If affiliate marketing is part of the program, then a page to promote the affiliate program will need to be added to the website map and sales copy.
Search engine visibility is one of the primary ways to drive traffic to a website. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is built into the website development. Website page headlines and copy can have search friendly key phrases woven in as well as keyword-rich links in them pointing to other pages on the site. Even the URLs of inner pages can be programmed to have search phrases in them to boost natural search visibility.
If search engine advertising is going to be part of the post-launch visibility plan, then it may be necessary to have pages that match the ads to help close sales or “squeeze” an action faster than driving clicks to a large corporate website. A squeeze page asks for a single action to occur, like signing up for an e-mail list or a free trial. Squeeze pages generally don’t have exit links. A landing page, by contrast, may be narrowly tied to an ad campaign or demographic (“what coaches need to know about our Little League training”) with several calls to action and links to the main site. Squeeze pages are very focused.