Navigating Your Website
Your company’s website can draw in new prospects and keep current customers happy just as easily as it can drive them away. “If you build it, they will come” may work in a baseball movie, but it’s a shaky strategy for your organization’s online presence. The key is to build it well. Is the site inviting, knowledgeable and aesthetically pleasing? Here are eight ways to help the process along.
1. Make it memorable
With the amount of registered host names on the Internet reaching nearly one billion in 2015, according to Internet Live Stats, it’s important to settle on something that ensures your business stands out. In other words, keep it simple. “Your customers need to easily remember and comprehend [your] domain name or else you could easily lose them before you even have the chance to acquire their business,” said Rob Giannone, website developer and designer, global marketing for BravoSolution, Malvern, Pa., and creative director and brand manager for Cross Brand Consulting, Philadelphia. “Make your domain easy to type, and make it easy to remember.” Doing so also makes the domain more recognizable in your digital and print marketing collateral.
Of course you’ll want to include your business name in your new domain, assuming it’s available, and from an SEO standpoint, Giannone suggested incorporating a keyword (or buzzword) associated with your industry. “Do not use hyphens or numerals in your domain either, as that goes against the cardinal rule of simplicity,” he added.
In terms of domain extension, “.com” wins for popularity, though Giannone mentioned other options, like “.co,” “.info,” “.us,” “.guru,” and “.xyz.” An “.org” extension, he said, is generally reserved for nonprofits. “And if you’re interested in maintaining online credibility, stay away from the ‘.net’ extension, too,” Giannone warned.
2. Put others first
The goals of your company’s site have to be evaluated before the visual design process can begin. Who is your end-user audience? Has all necessary functionality been investigated? Is content written and organized? “By designing for the content, you focus on what’s most important—the things that are actually of value to your customers, and the things that actually help your site show up in results,” explained Jaron Hendrix, Web aesthetics developer, LaunchPad – Marketing & Technology Services, Austell, Ga. “You wouldn’t start to write the next Great American Novel by designing the cover, and you wouldn’t plan your entire business by designing your office first, so why would you expect this approach to work with one of the most important, efficient and cost-effective advertising and informational tools available to you?”
Giannone agreed, and said that failure to understand the target demographic or the types of professionals navigating its site can be a company’s biggest downfall. “If you know who is coming to your site, you can design your site, the user experience, the navigation structure and the content strategy around them,” he remarked.
In addition to the “who,” you should also know the “where,” meaning where the traffic comes from. “Are they getting to your website via an email your marketing team sent? Are they getting to your website via an article you shared to a group on LinkedIn? Or are they landing on your website via an organic search on Google, Bing or Yahoo!?” Giannone asked. “Ideally, you want a healthy mix of all three.” The “who” and “where” can then be used to inform the “why,” the “what” and the “how,” when it comes to design, he said.
3. Streamline navigation
Your website doesn’t exist to appease you—the purpose of a customer-centric design is to provide a great user experience for clients and prospects. And, a website is only useful if it’s usable. “Regardless of our level of Web expertise, we’ve all been to websites and thought to ourselves, ‘Who designed that?’ You don’t want that to be your website,” Giannone said.
Hendrix pointed to the idea of the “scent of information.” Rather than assigning a top-level navigation link (the immediate option in your menu bar) to every section or page of the site, the content should be laid out in a way that the user can always catch the “scent” of what he or she is trying to find, he said. “In the past, it has been recommended that all information contained on a website be accessible by clicking on no more than three links consecutively, but as the depth and breadth of websites have expanded, this advice has given way to simply making sure that the user always knows where they’re going next,” Hendrix shared.
Giannone encouraged companies to research how some of the bigger names out there are conducting themselves online. “Take a look at what the Silicon Valley giants are doing and check out both B2B and B2C websites across as many different industries as possible,” he instructed. “A simple Google search for ‘best corporate sites’ will yield 172,000,000-plus results and can give you some great insight.” Then, perform a competitor analysis. What do they do well? Where do they miss the mark?
4. Promote your brand
Your brand is your most valuable asset. Make a strong impression by communicating your brand through colors, fonts, images and layout. For example, leverage your company colors as much as possible in your site menu, buttons, links and page headings, Giannone said. (Decisions as seemingly insignificant as selecting the right shade of blue can impact sales.) Choose a Web-safe font to ensure it renders well for users and whatever Web browser they might be using (e.g., Internet Explorer/Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, etc.). Make sure the imagery on your site matches your company’s capabilities, but try not to overuse stock art as it can make your site feel less personable and trustworthy, Giannone noted. Finally, direct attention to your company logo by placing it at the top of your site in the header area.
Hendrix recommended implementing a brand style guide and providing it to the design team before they start working on the visual aspects of the site. A good guide, he explained, should include a listing of all typefaces, brand assets—such as logos, trademarks, colors, slogans and taglines—as well as type sizes and so on. “The well-formatted style should also include rules for use of the company assets—for example, containing instructions like ‘Our logo should always be oriented horizontally, with a minimum of 0.25 inches clearance from other items in print, or 50 pixels of clearance on consumer electronic devices,’” Hendrix said. “[...] The business should also be aware that it is not always possible to exactly match a brand’s colors, and that the colors will display differently across multiple devices.”
5. Tell a story
Presenting a company’s story to clients and prospects has become an increasingly popular trend. “This strategy can work very well if your company’s principal business is offering solutions or services where relationships can be extremely important,” said Hendrix. “These types of Internet visitors may be more apt to vetting vendors for longer-term business engagements, such as ongoing projects and extended sales cycles.”
Giannone expanded on this point. “You can integrate a ‘company news’ or ‘recent/upcoming events’ section that highlights things like company functions, charity work or internal employee rewards,” he mentioned. “While creating and maintaining features like these take time and effort, they go a long way in answering this very important question for your visitors and prospective clients: ‘Why should I do business with you?’”
If your main focus is e-commerce, Hendrix added, it is important to remember that customers are on your site with a simple mission: to purchase a product quickly and efficiently. “In that scenario, you should ensure that your customer’s primary available actions are clearly centered on finding products and placing an order with as few steps as possible,” he said. “Including your company’s cultural background can still play well in this type of environment, however, it should become tertiary to ensuring a smoother e-commerce process.”
6. Establish credibility
A sleek design means little if you don’t have the content to support it. “Having valuable content that is easily ‘crawlable’ or ‘searchable’ by search engine can make or break your website,” Giannone explained. “You can have the best looking website in the world, but it doesn’t take long for a visitor to identify the value—or lack thereof—that your website provides them.”
His advice? Start a blog within your website. Not only are you offering clients and prospects useful information at no cost, you are building industry credibility and increasing the user’s level of trust for your company, Giannone said. Do be sure to update your blog on a regular basis.
7. Get connected
If your website is the “home base” of your digital footprint, then social media channels (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.) should be treated as an extension of your digital branding efforts, Giannone said. Sharing links to articles, resources and content that live on your site via social media is an effective way to establish yourself as an authority within your industry. “Having something meaningful to say and share on social media stems from having something meaningful and insightful living on your website,” Giannone remarked.
8. Design for mobile
Having a mobile-friendly website isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. According to Ovum, an independent analyst and consultancy firm, 13 percent of the world’s population (i.e., one billion people) will connect to the Web exclusively through mobile devices by the end of 2015. Hendrix recommended a responsive Web design, which allows your site to automatically adapt to the size of the user’s screen and eliminates the dreaded pinch and zoom. “A mobile-first design begins by showing how the size will appear on a mobile device—primarily a smartphone—and adding to this design incrementally as the size of the display is increased,” he said. “[...] Think of it like this: You want to eat a meal outdoors. If you’re going tailgating, you pack a larger cooler and a grill. If you’re catering an outdoor event, you set up tables, a buffet line and provide an entire catering van full of food.
“The same thing applies when moving from smartphones to tablets to laptops and desktop-sized displays,” he continued. “You progressively display more content in a more detailed manner as the space permits. It is important to consider this strategy when writing your content, and designing your site.”