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POWER POINTS

Tips for improving your website Add to ...

It’s easy to take your website for granted. The site works, after all. You paid special attention and invested heavily while developing it in the past. But in a digital world, your website keeps increasing in importance. And it may need updating.

Copywriter Tom Trush lists six signs it’s time to act:

– You need a designer just to make simple website updates: Search engines are focused on high-quality, consistently updated material, so it’s vital you can make regular changes. Ideally you want a content management system that makes such improvements easy.

– You don’t have a clear sales-lead funnel: Your website should not just be an online brochure, providing information about your company. “It should prompt action from your visitors in a way that grows and maintains relationships. If your website isn’t part of this process, it’s probably not doing much good for you,” he says.

– Your website looks outdated and isn’t mobile-friendly: Your website needs to compare favourably to competitors – it’s your storefront, and should be modern, accentuating your brand. And it must be mobile-friendly, something on which many sites get a failing grade. Ironically, some firms are failing by trying to be mobile-friendly: A Nielsen-Norman Group study found that the attempt to hide navigation behind a hamburger menu (the three-line button, often to the side of a page) because of smaller mobile screens, only makes reading sites more difficult. It found a 20 per cent drop in discoverability on both mobiles and desktops for sites with hidden navigation, hampering people from completing their tasks.

– Your bounce rate is high: If 70 per cent (or more) of visitors to your site only view one page, Mr. Trush says your content may not be delivering enough value to people. But he adds that landing pages can skew your bounce rate, making it seem worse than it is because users were directed to the page they needed from elsewhere.

– Your organization has made changes: If you have added employees, moved locations, or adjusted your marketing approach, the website should reflect those changes.

– You haven’t made updates in a year: Search engines love fresh content and you should love being of high appeal to search engines (and through them, potential prospects). Fresh content shows you’re active and improving. “If you’ve neglected your website, what message does this send about how you handle other areas of your business?” Mr. Trush concludes.

If you decided on an update, digital marketing consultant Monika Beck offers three tips to make it exceptional:

– Don’t make your website a brochure: Echoing Mr. Trush, she stresses the best sites are interactive, a dynamic source of information. Brochure sites tend to be static, and don’t grow in scale easily. “Brochure websites are about your business. The best websites should be about your target market. … Your website must be able to educate, inform, and even entertain your visitors,” she writes in WomenOnBusiness.

– Create a powerful first impression: Most people will land on your home page and the first few seconds there are critical. If poorly designed, it will drive people away from your company – and products. You want an effective call to action that indicates what you want folks to do now that they are on your home page. Give them a hint – and incentive – for what’s next. Include customer testimonials (at least one on the home page with links to a testimonials page) and write about how you are helping your customers (instead of focusing, as too often is the case, on your company). Add impactful images that tell your firm’s story, avoiding stock photos, and offer contact information, preferably with a phone number at the top of the page and physical address at the bottom. “Showing your contact information is an instant credibility builder,” Ms. Beck says.

– Optimize for search engines: This will include making a list of the target keywords you want to rank for – she recommends having 100 – creating at least one page for each keyword, and making sure that keyword is in the first paragraph and also found three to five times throughout the content. “Don’t stuff the keyword. Having your keyword in the content 25 times will not help. Use related keywords,” she warns.

There’s much more, of course. But those hints should help you evaluate your site and what can come next.

2. Finding honourable closure

Sometimes things go on and on. Your team is drifting, and needs somebody to provide an escape hatch – but one that honours your effort. On her blog, consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner cites these four instances for such closure.

– Is the meeting over?: The end of each team meeting is an important moment. You need to indicate what comes next and get people prepared to follow through on commitments. “Honorable closure creates focus and clarity. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to recap decisions, next steps, appreciate what was accomplished and to thank team members,” she writes.

– Has the original goal been met by the team? If you don’t formally close a project that is completed, team members may continue to meet without a sense of what they are doing and why. Call a special meeting to acknowledge and celebrate what was accomplished. If other items seem worth attacking, define it as a new project. “Perhaps the same people will continue, but don’t assume it. Look at the project goals, the skills required, the interest of current members, and whether additional members are needed,” Ms. Stoner says.

– Is the purpose still relevant?: There may be more work to be done but times have changed and the issue is no longer significant enough to justify the effort. Refocus your purpose, or honourably call a halt.

– Have the members outgrown the group?: A support group can meet for a number of years but is no longer needed because the members have matured. But nobody wants to quit as that would seem disloyal and the group might well have moved from providing crucial support to each other to just becoming a social gathering, leaving some satisfied and some dissatisfied. Acknowledge what has happened and seek honourable closure.

3. Surviving the blade years

Entrepreneurs celebrate hockey stick growth, times when their sales and profitability grow rapidly at an angle that resembles a hockey stick’s handle. But before that cheerful time can come a period when growth is as flat as the stick’s blade.

Entrepreneur and angel investor Bobby Martin says almost every business has to endure what he calls “The Blade Years” to get to a point where it thrives. That phase usually lasts three to four years during which revenue is low if not nonexistent. “The stress of inadequate funds, feeling burned out, and experiencing extreme highs and lows leaves many founders overwhelmed and in a place of wanting to give up and wondering if they should keep going,” he writes on Thoughtleadersllc.com.

That’s a period to bootstrap, taking on as many projects as possible yourself to save money on staff and also seeking an outside source of income to free you from the emotional burden of not having revenue from the company. Don’t overspend in this period on marketing, which unfortunately too often is the case. Instead, spend time researching your market and improving your offering.

Finally, avoid sudden changes. “When the going gets tough, it is easy to want to make big changes and quickly. Knee-jerk reactions like these, especially during The Blade Years, may be catastrophic to the business,” Mr. Martin observes. Weigh your options, considering whether tweaks will beat lurches.

4. Quick hits

Etsy, the global online marketplace, encourages employees to document their mistakes and how they happened in public e-mails. “It’s called a PSA and people will send out an e-mail to the company or a list of people saying I made this mistake, here’s how I made that mistake, don’t you make this mistake,” CEO Chad Dickerson explains.

– Venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently looked through the iOS and Android app stores looking for non-game apps that had broken into the top 100 and stayed there for months. He couldn’t find any and that suggests launching a consumer-focused mobile app and getting sustained traction is almost impossible right now. Sure, somebody might manage it but the odds are stacked against such businesses these days.

– Boards dominated by conservatives pay their CEOs more than boards with a preponderance of liberals, research shows.

– The value for an in-store shopping trip comes from discovery, trial, and instant gratification, says marketing consultant Bryan Eisenberg. Apple stores understand that, with their test drives and passionate employees helping you discover the gadget’s features and making the sale if you’re dutifully enchanted. Rethink your store’s shopping carts and checkout lines. Eliminate friction – things that slow down customers – and give them discovery, trial and instant gratification.

– Consultant Jurgen Appelo advises redesigning your checklist of travel items so each has a preferred spot: Personal items, carried on your body; shoulder bag; carry-on luggage; check-in luggage. This provides smaller individual lists, is easier to oversee, and helps you know where chargers and other items are.

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