WEBSITES: A Site For Sore Eyes – Making the web work for you

The primary objective of most websites is to generate revenue, via an e-commerce sale, or an enquiry that can be followed up and converted into cold hard cash. But what is the key to achieving that? After eight years in the website business – helping clients design and market their sites to achieve optimum performance – David Kelly has some clear ideas.
First off, he says, the days of gimmicky websites – where users have to wait for an intro screen to complete its ‘wow factor’ party piece – are long gone. People just don’t have the time to sit and wait to get what they want – no matter how clever or interesting Flash intro page may be.
“There is clear move away from gimmicks or trying to entertain people as companies move toward good clear grass roots business principles,” says Kelly, chief executive of website design firm Zeald.com. “Company managers are saying, ‘the website is business tool, it costs reasonable amount of money, so what are we looking for by way of return’.”
And when it comes to the two Ps of presentation and persuasion, there is, says Kelly, clear pecking order.
“Persuasion comes first,” he says. “Because that is your foundation. Companies need highly persuasive website. And once you have got that right, then you can promote it.”
Having completed thousands of website audits during the past five years – process where one of his team pulls apart client’s website to find out how it is performing – Kelly has found that it is typically website’s weak ability to persuade people to act that is nearly always at the root of the problem.
And that, he says, is stopping the companies that own them from moving forward, generating sales and making their website pay its keep.
“The website audit is quite formal process where we visit the client, look at their website and drill down to find out what they want and how the site is performing,” says Kelly. “It is ideal for those people who are not sure what to do with their site.
“When someone decides their website is not working, the first thing they think of doing is promoting it more.”
He says it is often the case that website draws lots of visitors, but not enough of them are making purchase or taking the next step and contacting the company for more information – creating much-needed sales lead.
“The people we meet are often surprised to find that the promotion or marketing of their site is not too bad. But once the visitor arrives at the website it is not persuading enough of them to take action,” he says.
When it comes to promoting website Kelly says almost everyone has suggestion.
“They can usually come up with half dozen ideas – from advertising in magazine, dropping leaflet in letterboxes, or TV and radio adverts,” he says.
“But we have done lot of research over the years and have discovered that when it comes to being able to persuade someone to do something – the call to action – lots of businesses, managers and website owners have no idea. Many admit that they do not know where to start.
“People find it quite confusing and see it almost as an airy-fairy kind of an area. But that really is the foundation. Promoting website that does not have powerful call to action is waste of money.”
In other words, every dollar spent promoting business has to have measurable results. And just because businesses are expected to have website, they shouldn’t be let off the hook when it comes to poor performance.
However, once you have your site up and running, drawing crowd and converting them to buy your products or call for quote, what next? It seems websites live and breathe and need ongoing attention to keep them fresh and interesting. Kelly says search engines constantly crawl the net looking for sites that have been updated.
“One of the things that search engines like to see is website that has been updated,” says Kelly. “So from that perspective it is good idea to add or alter content on website.”
And like top-notch concert grand piano, websites have to be tuned to perfection.
“It is impossible to develop website where you get everything right in your first attempt,” he says. “And the key to getting website that is very persuasive is to tune up certain areas.”
So programme of ongoing testing is needed which not only updates the website (which search engines look for), but will ultimately make the site easier to use.
“Tuning is not so much case of altering content for the sake of it, it is more case of refining content. It is very important. The bottom line is there must be good reason for changing any element of website.”
Kelly’s advice to business owners is to think of the website as an extension of their business.
“No one ever launches business and gets it right on day one,” he says. “Just like business, the website has to be worked at and refined. You can’t launch website, forget about it and expect it to work perfectly – it is impossible.”
The onset of what is commonly termed Web 2.0 is something else keeping companies on their toes. The phrase refers to websites that allow users to contribute content, share ideas or create blog – user-generated content.
“There are all manner of definitions for Web 2.0,” says Kelly. “A lot of it is based around social networking sites that are designed to offer the user some level of interaction.
“It is controversial area. It is not really for every website owner or business and the common perception that blogging is only for the young is incorrect in my experience.”
He says different age groups are now taking up the option of sharing their thoughts online – particularly the over 50s who may have time on their hands.
“When email came out everyone said it was for the younger generation, now everyone uses it,” he says.
But Kelly does warn businesses not to get too caught up in the latest buzz and trends before they get the basics right.
“Even though Web 2.0 can enhance website, you need to get the foundation right first. I am not saying Web 2.0 is not important. It is. But you have just got to be aware of where the priorities lie – otherwise you end up with gimmicky website that is not doing its job.”
He says the future lies in companies offering the option of RSS feeds, so visitors can choose to have updated information from the website sent straight to them. So, instead of people returning to website to catch up on news or the latest special offers, an RSS feed means the information the user wants is sent in an email or appears in news reader on their computer.
“Just as you collect all your correspondence in your email program, so you can collect your news. It is time-saving tool for the user – but companies are realising now that they can use RSS as marketing tool.”
Kelly offers the example of someone who buys stationery. They may want to be told of the latest offers on pens and so will select that on the retailer’s RSS-enabled website.
“Then when the retailer puts out special offer, the people who are interested – and have signed up to the RSS feed – will be sent details of the offer,” says Kelly.
“RSS really started with news organisations because it has natural fit for people who want to keep abreast of issues that interest them – but marketers have now cottoned on and so it is becoming more widespread. People are now able to advertise within an RSS email too. So an RSS item can be sent and when you open it you also see an advert.”
Video content on websites is also becoming increasingly important, says Kelly. From presentations by the CEO to product promos and instructional videos – companies now have plenty of opportunity to show and tell on their websites.
But the videos have to be of good standard warns Kelly. Using your webcam to make quick video probably won’t cut the mustard, he says.
“Video is very powerful tool. But like anything there is difference between doing it well and doing it poorly – and that can be the difference between success and failure.
“Talking on the phone is one way of communicating. Ta

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