Working the web to your advantage

The old saying that you only have one chance to make an impression applies to the net

The Internet has allowed businesses to break through the geographical barriers and become accessible, virtually, from any country in the world by any prospective customer with online access.  It offers ‘instant gratification’ with round-the-clock accessibility and ‘contact now’ functionality. 

In many ways, a web site is the ultimate self-service medium for the consumer and the ultimate marketing tool for businesses. 

A majority of website development efforts start with an inward focus on what the website should look like.

This is a big mistake and commonly leads to a website ill-suited to your audience's needs.

The correct approach starts with identifying who your audience is and what they would like to see in a website.

Gone in 60 Seconds...Or Less

Sadly, many businesses – even those with web sites - fail to leverage the value of the Internet.  That’s because the web sites they create have not been designed with the most important thing in mind:  the experience of the prospective customer.

It’s been said that when a person first looks at a web page it is like reading a billboard at 60 mile per hour. 

According to respected research firm A.C. Nielsen.

- Online site visitors spend less than 25 seconds on a page

- One in five site visitors will leave a site in the first five seconds.

The age-old saying that you only have one chance to make a good impression applies specifically to the Internet. 

When a visitor arrives at your web site, your online ‘place of business’ should be open, welcoming, and ready for business.  If it’s not, it will only be a matter of seconds before that visitor clicks away, never to be heard from again.

Fortunately, over time, various strategies and techniques have evolved to help businesses connect with site visitors fast.

The Big Three

When people visit a web site, there are three questions that are likely to be at the top of their minds.  Here they are, and what you can do to answer them on your home page.

- Who owns the site (Be sure to include your company name and/or logo)

- How do I navigate the site to find what I want? (Have multiple navigation bars at the top, side and bottom of all pages)

- Is it obvious what I should click on next? (Include copy and graphics that make it easy for a site visitor to move step by step from page to page)

Tell Your Story

Online or offline, marketing is story-telling.  It’s a way to communicate information that compels the reader to take a desired action. 

Typically, the online ‘story’ of a web site includes:

- Product/Service (a description of  product/service features and benefits)

- Price (the ‘value proposition’ and what makes the product/service a ‘good deal’)

- Place (where the product/service is available)

- Promotion (copy that stimulates brand loyalty or credibility)

- People (the ‘human’ side of the business as represented by customer service)

Words and Pictures

No matter how ‘pretty’ a web site looks, if it isn't practical, it's not doing its job. So web design involves a new set of content and graphic requirements to deal with. 

While no site looks identical on all monitors, browsers, and computers, you can design sites that look good on as many systems as possible - but only if you test the site as much as possible.

‘Experience’ your site the way your visitors will...all your visitors.  At an Internet connection speed of 28.8, visitors will download as much as 2K of information per second, but at a connection speed of 14.4, the download time slows by 50% to just 1K per second...and every second counts when it comes to holding your visitor. 

Be sure to check different speeds, different resolutions (640x480, 800x600, 1024x768) and different color depths (256, 16-bit, 24-bit), on a variety of browsers (Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari, and others) and operating systems (Windows, Mac).

Here are other things you can do to make your site pleasing for visitors:

- Think Small – If possible, keep text files under 10K in size.  Long text files should be broken into logical chunks and linked. Remember, if a home page doesn't load quickly – 3-5 seconds -- visitors can lose interest and jump elsewhere

- Be Inclusive - Using cutting edge technology can exclude readers. Many if not most users will be at least one generation behind from a technology standpoint, so don't shut them out.  Be backward compatible and ensure that people using older hardware and software can still read your message.

- Be Repetitive - It's important to include your company name, address, e-mail, and your phone and other contact information on every page so that visitors don’t have to search for it.  Accessibility is key component of trust and trust is a key component of sales.

- Stay Fresh - A web site needs constant tending.  Be prepared to update your site, at least once a month, adding new information, discarding anything out-of-date.  Repeat visitors are always desired, so give them a reason to come back.  This can include contests, news, and other information of value.

- Don’t Use Flash Needlessly - Flash websites can be very eye-catching and appropriate to some businesses, but it can also create problems.  First, flash websites can be slow to load, especially if the visitor is not using a fast Internet connection. Additionally, flash websites are bad for search engine rankings as there is no content for search engine spiders to crawl through.  So if flash isn’t essential to your presentation, opt for simple HTML instead.

- Stay Away from the Dark Side - Dark web designs are very popular and can have an elegant and creative appeal, but they are not suitable for every website and should be used only when appropriate. With a dark design comes less readability, less appeal for most readers and less opportunity for conventional design elements.

Husam Jandal (husam@wsime.com), is a Digital Marketing Consultant at WSI

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