Tim Berners-Lee built the very first website on August 6th, 1991. It was basically a large list of all of the different w3 (world wide web) components and research information accumulated up until that point. Everything was completely text based and a bit of a pain to interact with. But, it was definitely ground breaking, and it had people hooked on the possibilities of the web. Fast forward 21 years and websites today look nothing like they did in 91. Images and video are injected into almost every corner of the web, and websites are amazingly engaging and powerful. Yet with all of this advancement, the very first website still does some things more effectively than a number of sites today. If your website is underperforming, maybe it’s time to get back to the basics and make sure some website fundamentals are covered.
Fundamental One: Confusing Architecture
Almost every day I browse a website that has me completely turned upside down and confused. Granted, part of my job in to visit an enormous amount of sites to do research, but regardless, confusing architecture on websites is still much too common. When website visitors get confused it is bad. They lose trust in your brand and company, they lose interest in your products and services, and they ultimately move on to another website (competitor) to find what they need. Unfortunately, determining just how confusing your site is to potential visitors is challenging. Most employees are too close to your company and information to truly understand how new visitors may perceive it. If you are unclear how your site is being interpreted by visitors, look into running some focus groups or usability tests. Define a list of objectives you would like a tester to accomplish, and watch them try and perform the tasks. Sometimes just working with a handful of testers can highlight some very large problems, which is well worth the time and effort. There are also online tools that make this even easier to pull off, for example this one and this one.
Fundamental Two: Poorly Written Copy
Poorly written copy happens to be one of my pet peeves. Not necessarily poor grammar, or even poor writing in general. I have a problem with copy that is either completely irrelevant or completely confusing! It is frustrating to read through a bunch of information, and then sit there completely perplexed, wondering what the heck you just read. I see this very commonly on large websites when sales and marketing run rampant; but it is also effecting a growing number of small businesses as well. Especially now that images and video are so easy to produce and cram onto webpages. It seems like copy has taken a backseat, and companies are devoting less and less time to properly creating solid messages. Although I agree that images and videos can be powerful; if the copy on your website is confusing, it will still be disastrous. Online visitors still read. I know, shocking, but true. And when they do read, your messaging needs to be helping, not hurting. This is the time when it pays to hire a professional writer to help craft your copy. The more understandable your message, the more it supports your brand and builds trust. Keep it simple, clear and effective.
Fundamental Three: Broken Pages and Errors
I don’t think this one needs a lot of explanation. Broken links and page errors are bad. They cause a loss in trust and confidence in your company and brand. Unfortunately, as websites grow, this becomes more and more challenging to monitor and manage. Adding to the complexity, more and more website tools are allowing page creation to be decentralized. Meaning different departments, and even individuals can control some portions of the website. Which of course makes page maintenance even more difficult. Fortunately, there are a number of tools online that can help you scan the pages of your site to find broken links or errors. Do a quick online search and you’ll find a number of free ones to test. Also, make sure to repeat this process every month so you can keep on top of any potential issues.
Fundamental Four: No Goals Defined for the Site
How can you determine if your site is performing without defining goals for it? In most cases, you can’t. Even if the goal is something as straightforward as number of new leads, at least you have it defined. And properly defining these goals is a key step in building a successful site. Goals give you something to measure, and that measurement gives you control. If site changes move the needle in the right direction, good; if not, bad. Sounds pretty basic right, well it can be. But it is a step that is skipped all too often. If you are confused as to what goals are right for your business, that’s okay. Defining the right goals that tie your website to your company’s strategic direction can be a little daunting. The trick is to start with some basic ones and then dig deeper as you get more information. Also, build off of others success. Rob Orr has a good post from 2104 about goals here, and it is still very relevant today. And, worst case, new leads or contact form submissions are pretty much always a good measure of performance.
Fundamental Five: No Way to Track Against Goals or Performance
Now that you have goals defined, make sure you have the tools in place to track them! Website analytics, as well as a number of third party online tools, do just that. They take the visitor information from your site, measure it against your goals, and provide you usable reports. The reports can identify trends in user behavior, and give you the insight to make good decisions as they relate to your site. Having goals without an accurate way to measure them is like driving a car blindfolded. Everything you need to avoid the accident is around you, you just can’t see it. A good tool to get you started is Google Analytics. The free version is easy to configure (for your web team), and the reports out of the box are very helpful. You can also configure your specific goals and create reports based upon their performance over time.
Overall creating a successful website that helps drive revenue for a business is a long, challenging process. So don’t make it harder on yourself. Make sure you have the fundamentals covered so you can focus your time and resources on making adjustments specifically to hit your goals. Having to overcompensate for items that are easy to fix ends up wasting unnecessary time and money.