Focusing on Essential Elements For Websites - Part 2
In my previous post on essential elements for websites I talked about some essential pages and tools your website needs. You want your site to draw traffic, engage your visitors, and turn those visitors in to customers, clients, and raving fans. It doesn't happen automatically as soon as you hit publish - it takes thought, planning, and some extra hard work but it's worth it.
Making sure you incorporate these elements will go a long way in helping you get the results you're looking for from your site. So let's dig a little deeper this time and cover some things you can use to make your site awesome!
Clear Contact Information
Have you ever noticed some sites seem to have their contact information buried twelve pages deep and that you can only find it by stumbling upon an obscure link in the footer? You get the feeling that they’re not really interested in you finding a phone number and you get in touch with them. You get that feeling because they really don’t want you find that information and call them! Bottom line - if you don’t want people to get in touch with you then you need to question why you’re in business to begin with.
Now, assuming that you are in business to actually serve your customers and clients it’s important to make sure that you have clear contact information linked in to your main navigation. Easy, right? Who doesn’t know that? Take a look around the web and you’ll see there are plenty who don’t have it there. The point is you want your visitors to be able to find a way to contact you so they can get in touch. Zappos provides the greatest example of this. They’ve placed a link to live help prominently on each page. If you know anything about Zappos, you know that they’re rabid about delivering outstanding service and there is much we all can learn from that company.
In addition to clear contact information you need to make sure that it’s easy to follow you and/or your business on the regular social media sites: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Make links to these social media platforms prominently and obviously on your site so that your visitors can find you and follow you.
The bottom line is that you should want your customers to contact you and give you the chance to blow them away with your company's commitment to professional service on all levels. Make sure it’s clear, make sure it’s prominent, make sure it’s easy to find then, over-deliver, leaving them wanting more!
Accessibility & Usability
The best way to judge how well you’ve implemented these concepts in to your site is how familiar you are with the terms. Never heard of them? Well, it would be a smart bet to get to know them - they’re more important to your site that you might think.
My first serious encounter with accessibility was during my time working on the web team at Florida’s Department of Corrections in Tallahassee. There are rules and regulations for that site that go far beyond what I’ll discuss here. Suffice it to say that the DOC’s site must be accessible to all people and to assistive devices that many with disabilities have to use to browse the web, and you as a website owner should take this in to account when you’re building your site. Bottom line, “Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web.” Web Accessibility is something that you need to become familiar with. Make sure that you make plans to implement sound accessibility principles along with solid design and development practices in to your site. That leads me to my next point....
Are you familiar with usability? If not it’s time to start paying attention. What you think may be intuitive may be nothing of the sort. Website usability boils down to how easy it is for people to make their way through your site and accomplish their objective. There are plenty of websites that fail miserably on this task, but look really nice. Smashing Magazine wrote this article that succinctly addresses usability and provides some great info on how to make your site more usable. Beautiful site design is only as good as it is usable. If you’re going to invest the time and effort to build a website in the first place, then take the time to make sure it’s user-friendly and intuitive for your users. Steve Krug wrote Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition which is an absolutely awesome book on web usability. Do yourself a favor as a website owner and pick up a copy, it’s worth the time and effort to learn this stuff.
Hosting is usually thought of in terms of how much can I get for as cheap as possible. But if you are a website owner of any length of time you’ll know that you need a good host and good support. There isn’t anything wrong with inexpensive hosting services, but the performance that can accompany low-rate services can be problematic. You need your site to be up and running at peak efficiency, any down-time for a site can be disastrous for your online reputation. Do your homework and find a host who has a reputation for delivering outstanding support.
What you pay for your website hosting is so much more than just the server space needed to host your site. It also includes domain-specific email addresses, database capabilities, and support. Support is every bit as important to your site as its performance because if there is a problem you need it resolved and quickly. It should have an intuitive and easy-to-use control panel and you should be able to get your work done there quickly and easily.
Having a good domain is also incredibly important, but it's also becoming more and more difficult as most top-level domains are already registered. I wrote an entire post on how to pick a good domain name, so I won’t rehash the specifics here. What I do want to point out is that you need to remember that you are building a brand - intentionally or not. Your virtual reputation is in part dictated by your domain name. Gary Vaynerchuk talks about selecting domain names in “Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion” and it’s vitally important to have a good domain name that represents you and your brand well. So, when you’re thinking through potential domain names for your site, keep in mind that this is a domain that you’ll want to have on your printed materials and will be vocally communicated as well. If you have a hard time communicating it using your voice, you may need to rethink your name.
Frequently Updated Content
After all is said and done it’s your content for which visitors come to your site. It’s absolutely imperative that your site not stagnate with old out-dated content. If it looks like you haven’t made any changes in years, do you really expect them to contact you or pay you to do something for them? Keep your site content updated. Go through your site and audit all of your pages quarterly at the very least; monthly would probably be better. Go through and make sure that all of your links are working, and you’ve removed your Christmas party notification that’s still lingering after all these months. Make sure that your services page are clear and accurate and, if you have it on your site, that your pricing is correct.
Be professional in your content, but also make your content engaging. You want your visitors to have a memorable experience on your site, not be bored. As Gary Vaynerchuck says, be true to your DNA and communicate your passion to your visitors! Gary is a great example of being real. How can you you communicate your passion for your business in a way that’s true to who you are and do it in a way that’s inviting and engaging? Answer that question and you’ll be well on your way.
I’m preaching this - as well as all these other principles - to myself too. If a site is going to perform up to your expectations then it's a really good idea to implement these elements in to your plans for your site. Orracle Media is in the planning stages for a complete update and facelift, and my blog will be updated too. It's going to take thought, planning some extra work to get it right, but it will be well worth it, you won't be disappointed. Nothing worth having ever really comes easy does it?
Have a thought or a question? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.