Preventing Website Failure: Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up

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Corporate website development has matured a great deal in the past few years. It’s rare to see gimmicks on commercial sites such as animation, background music and ‘intro’ pages.
Business has recognised that target audiences are task focused and want to access particular information, in a particular way - and fast.

Gone are the days of ‘browsing’ and ‘surfing’, therefore brand building and marketing online must be built into your site and not a distraction to your audience’s needs.

Having said that, customers are still being frustrated by design, content and systems that are either confusing or that waste their time.

One of the greatest causes of website failure is the lack of a strong dialogue between web developers and business owners. Business owners aren’t stupid, they know what they want and they’re good at what they do, they simply have trouble articulating this to a web team who ultimately have control of how that business is perceived in the online space.

A weak dialogue results in discussions centered around things like which content management system to use, what coding language the website will be developed in, the type of hosting required and what sort of imagery is used.

Developers know how to speak tech and executives nod in agreement and think ‘we’ll leave it to them they know what they’re doing’.  Yes they do, but are you sure they know your customer base and their demands? Do they know your target market and what will encourage them to make contact? What about your sales process and brand strategy that you’ve spent a lifetime to carefully establish, how will this be conveyed to build competitive value and trust?

To improve this dialogue and get more from your website I’ve included some key points that you should discuss at your next web strategy meeting:

Identifying the sales process

Your website is an essential part of your marketing, but it’s not a sales tool. In fact if its aligned properly it’s a key part of your sales and operational processes. Once you see your website in this light you’ll be able to develop design and content that will help to grow your business.

Think about how customers got to your website. In most cases you’ll find they’re already aware of their need so you don’t need to waste time ‘selling’ to them. Instead you need to make it clear and easy for them to make the critical next step. Think about your two key audience types:

1- Pre sale: You need to build trust and provide clear next steps that gets them into your sales process, for example; join our mailing list, speak to a consultant, arrange a demonstration, compare models, find a store, free resources, upcoming seminar dates and so on.

2- Post sale: Aligning with operational process, you need to help existing customers quickly find relevant information, for example; book an appointment, pay an account, warranty and returns information, service centers, technical support, calling from overseas, order parts or spares, refresher tips, ordering workbooks, downloading conference materials etc.

Content that tries to ‘sell’ to people is simply another barrier to building and retaining trust. Catering to real needs is more likely to generate revenue and repeat business from your site.

Don’t become a slave to technology

Websites are a marketing issue, not an IT issue. You need to think about how you can improve relationships and add value. Determine your outcomes first and use web technology sparingly to achieve them.

The same applies to social media, are you implementing it because it adds real value or because everyone else is doing it?

Brand building online

The next step in creating a relevant website is to ensure your website is integrated with your brand. Firstly, online branding has little to do with graphics and everything to do with information and functionality. Therefore the branding styleguide is not the primary document you hand to your developer.

Website functionality will either correctly convey your unique brand value, or contradict it. I’m not talking about colour, images or choice of font. Of course these support your brand, but the functionality, information layout, choice of link names, accessibility of information, the complexity of order forms and product lists - these represent and communicate your brand.

Just as the operation, feel and behaviour of a motor vehicle helps determine its price point, the operation of your website is either detracting or contributing to your perceived value.

Discuss your brand values and competitive difference with your developer and how they can be reflected through website structure and content.

For example;

  • If you’re about speed and promptness: do your ordering systems operate with minimal fuss?
  • If you’re about simplicity and openness: are you making it easy to contact and connect with particular people within your business?
  • If you’re about knowledge and expertise:  have you got valuable content that you can readily offer?
  • If you’re about versatility: are you offering a number of ways to stay in touch or showing people how other customers have used the product or service?

Reflecting your brand online is not as hard as you think. You need to study what makes you successful in the offline environment and reflect that in as many ways as possible. The outcome is that you’ll grow your business by attracting preferred audiences.

Don’t be afraid to question everything that your development team is doing, it’s your brand and livelihood. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about how to best serve the needs of your customer and target audience.

There’s no such thing as perfection so don’t chase it. You need to continually ask; is this the best way of doing this? is this what my audience wants?, and will this help my customer?

If these are the only questions you ask I can guarantee that the end result will be 50% or more effective than your nearest competitor.

© Hamish Chadwick 2011. All rights reserved.