We like to cover more in depth topics here, such as SEO, SEM, Content Marketing, and the like. But at the core of all of these efforts is the website itself. If you are using the web to promote your business, you absolutely MUST have a quality website in place to maximize your reach out into the Internet.
This week, let’s take a step back from the promotional, inbound, and outbound areas and focus on the hub that sits in the middle of all those spokes.
Top 8 Characteristics For Quality Business Websites
There is a massive range of approaches to building a quality website, but some of the key ingredients remain consistent. Rather than make this a list of every possible decision point, I will focus on only the top eight most important things to get right. If all of these items are managed properly, you will have a lot of leeway in other areas and still manage to come out with a very high quality website in the end.
Let’s get right to the list…
1. Well Designed
One of the first things anyone will look for on a website is the design. After all, an aesthetically pleasing website will not only satisfy overanalysis by internal teams (and let’s face it, most internal teams obsess over design during a relaunch), but also woo visitors when they land on the website itself.
The other thing to keep in mind with designing a quality website is that you should not get too carried away with it. A decade ago, many web designers focused on style over utility. Some still do today. Don’t get caught up in that. Why? Because a quality website should be…
2. Easy to Use
Would you rather have a window to the Internet that is the coolest looking thing ever, or that people can figure out how to use and navigate? If your answer was the former, I implore you to reconsider that stance.
User Experience (UX) design has become a hot topic the past several years, and for very important reasons. What is the purpose of having a website in the first place? What do you want people to do on your site? How easy is it for them to figure out how to do it?
UX plays a key role in helping visitors, use, understand, and stick around on your company website. There are several levels of UX that absolutely must be balanced with design if you want the website to provide value. Some of the basics include:
- Build a logical navigation architecture in a hierarchy that makes sense
- Keep the navigation as shallow as possible, and try to avoid building silos within the website where a visitor can get lost
- Put buttons, dropdowns, and other items in logical places where a typical user might find them
- Use language that makes sense to your target audience – i.e. avoid corporate speak, uncommon industry jargon, and vocabulary that is too advanced for your typical customer
- Allow the site room to breathe, and use consistent layouts as much as possible across the site
Obviously, this is a simplified list of tactics that play into how effective the UX is on your website. There is a whole discipline behind UX design, and if you don’t have a knack for usability and user experience, I highly recommend you bring in someone who does. It will save you headaches down the road.
3. Well Optimized for Search
As an internet and inbound marketing professional, Search Engine Optimization is something that I take very seriously. It’s not enough to build a nice looking website that is easy to use. You also need to position it to earn traffic. Otherwise, all that effort in design and UX will be for naught.
At the most basic level, be absolutely sure that the keywords and content on your site are optimized to align with terminology that real people try to find. Get yourself familiar with the basics of on-page SEO, or bring in an SEO agency or consultant to help get it done right the first time. Be sure to ask them about what areas of SEO they cover.
On-page by itself is not enough – you need a provider who can understand and address technical issues like page load time and how you get search engines to crawl and index your website appropriately. They should be able to help you manage your off-page efforts to build domain authority over time, as well as content and social media marketing to help expand your inbound marketing footprint.
I always recommend that SEO be part of the website build out or redesign, as early in the process as possible. If that’s not possible, be sure to bring it into the fold as soon as you can. Otherwise, your competitors will get a bigger head start on you, and it will take that much longer for you to catch up.
4. Optimized for Mobile Visitors
Over the past year or so, mobile browsing has finally surpassed desktop browsing in total volume of searches. If you have been putting off optimization for mobile traffic, you are already behind the curve. Every single website needs to be optimized for mobile visitors in 2014 and beyond.
In 2013, there was still debate about the right way to optimize for mobile. Some argued that we should have a separate mobile website that served up on those platforms. Others, myself included, argued that responsive website design was the future. Responsive websites sense the screen resolution of the device loading the website, and “respond” by resizing or reflowing the content to best fit those dimensions. It is one website that essentially morphs into the user experience that is best for the device. One set of code, one website to optimize for SEO and ranking.
Today, it is generally accepted that responsive is the better option. Google has even come out and publicly recommended it. So don’t waffle on it, just go make your website responsive and reap the benefits.
5. Incorporates Social Sharing Features
So you are building a fancy new website and planning to take advantage of content marketing to grow your presence? Don’t forget to include a plugin for social sharing.
SEO is great, but you want to make it as easy as possible for readers to share your content with their networks. Social can drive a large volume of traffic, and that includes both social networks and social bookmarking-types of services. It’s also worth noting that your reach on social media can positively impact your search ranking.
You don’t necessarily need social sharing on every single page. After all, unless you offer a product or service that no one else in the world boasts, your product and service pages are unlikely to be shared at all. But if you have blog posts, educational videos, market research, infographics, or some other type of unique and interesting content, be absolutely sure that sharing is one click away. Most users won’t jump through hoops to share the content. They are accustomed to it being fast and easy.
6. Business Location Clearly Designated
Did you realize that Google’s local ranking algorithm operates completely separately from the organic SERPs? It’s not enough just to build an SEO-friendly website. You also need to spoon feed the search engines the information they need to rank you in the local pak.
Some tips for location content on your website:
- Always have a contact us page with your address on it, and a map if it makes sense
- Include your address in persistent content, preferably in the header or footer of your website template
- Employ semantic markup to tell the search engines that the address is your local, physical location
You should also create your business page on Google My Business, and add publisher markup to your website to show that you are the same entity as is represented on that page. Google’s My Business service plays an important role in ranking within the local pak.
7. Multiple Options To Contact The Company
I don’t know about you, but it always frustrates me to find a website that limits how I can get in touch with a business. I’m sure there are ample reasons you might want to limit contact to a form or other contact method. I’m recommending that you rethink those reasons.
Prospects are all different. They will want to engage with you in the manner that they each prefer. Some want to call and get answers immediately. Others want to email you to set up a time. Still others are okay submitting a form and waiting for a response. Heck, you’ll even find that some people, especially from Gen Y and younger audiences, may only want to interact with you on your social media profiles.
So give it all to them. Have multiple ways to reach you on the website. That includes telephone, email, and a form. Link clearly to your most important social channels.
Include the materials in persistent content – my own website has a phone number, our “info” email alias, and our top social profiles right in the header. And include some way to join your mailing list, so interested parties can keep up with you until a time later when they are ready to hire you.
Just like most readers won’t care to share your content if you make it too hard, many prospects won’t chase you down to buy what you are selling. Make it easy to engage with your company. It matters, a lot.
8. Clear Calls to Action Across the Site
We do a lot of website audits. Some of them are strictly to review for SEO. However, conversion optimization is also something we provide.
Do you know what the purpose of your website is? Do you make that clear to readers?
If your website simply pitches product but never asks the reader to do anything, they may do what you ask – nothing. Make sure you have clear calls to action (CTAs) on the site.
End every page of content with a “what’s next” – maybe request a quote, download a white paper, or share the content they are reading. Every single page or post you publish should have a CTA. Otherwise, you are voluntarily overlooking the opportunity to increase engagement, build your visibility online, and engage with a new customer. Don’t do that.
Although there are limitless options for how to build a quality website, some basic tenets should remain consistent if you want to get the most value out of your online “window to the world.” Follow these eight tips, and you should see improved results in short order.
What other areas have you found to be of the most value and importance? Do you think these tips would change based on business model or business type? I’m curious what you might add to the above. Please share in the comments below.