Your website is your company's virtual storefront. At its best, it presents your business to current and potential customers, showcases your products and services, and influences – or even facilitates – purchasing decisions. But poor information architecture and content strategy can turn clients away. Here are five mistakes you might be making on your website, and how to fix them.
1. Burying key information
A restaurant's mission statement and glamour shots of the food might seem like the top priority. But most of the time, people are landing on such sites to find out one of four things: hours, menu, location and contact information. At best, it's annoying to customers to have to click through several pages to find out if you serve lunch or take reservations. At worst, it might make them give up and go elsewhere.
Fix it: When planning what goes where on your website, put yourself in your customers' shoes and imagine the top things they'll be looking for. This information should go in a prominent place: the home page or even a footer that appears everywhere on your site. (The CN Tower, for instance, has a very basic landing page that gives the majority of visitors exactly what they're looking for – and lets those who want more click through and explore.) And don't forget a place to post updates such as holiday hours or seasonal promotions, even if it's simply a Twitter feed embedded into your site.
2. Forgetting SEO
Search engine optimization, or SEO, isn't some dark-magic alchemy that requires a highly paid specialist. At its most basic, it's simply a matter of having a website that loads quickly and includes all keywords relevant to your business. If you don't come up near the top in Google when people search for your company name (and city, if the name isn't unique enough), you have a problem.
Fix it: There are two key things to think about here: first, ensuring people can find you when they're specifically searching for you; and second, working toward your site coming up in search results related to your business. Make two corresponding lists of all keyword phrases someone might type into Google to find your business. For instance, if you're a florist in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the first list would include your business name together with words such as "hours" and "address," and the second might include phrases like "Mount Pleasant florist delivery." Ensure these keywords are included in your site copy in an organic way – i.e., not so it feels like a bot wrote them.
3. Letting information go stale
If you used to be open seven days a week and you're now closed on Mondays, you'll have some angry customers venting on social media if they show up to a locked door. And if your site updates are so infrequent that Halloween lasts until the end of November, visitors might wonder if you take your business seriously. As for broken links, they can make for a frustrating online experience.
Fix it: Ideally, have your site built with an easy-to-use content management system, so that a designated member of your staff can quickly update text and photos without having to depend on tech support. And whether you keep yourself organized with a paper calendar or a Web-based task management system, set regular reminders to review the site to ensure that it's up to date.
4. Favouring flash over function
Auto-play music, animated splash pages and intro videos might have been cute in 2001. But this far into the Internet age, they're just a distraction keeping people from efficiently finding the information they're looking for. As for layout, we're long past the time when the goal was to be mobile-friendly. Nowadays, it's mobile-first, and if, say, your e-commerce site is clunky on iPhones, you're likely to be missing out on sales.
Fix it: You don't have to kill that fancy video – just don't put it at centre stage, and make sure it works on mobile. Similarly, ensure that your whole site is at least readable on smartphones, and ideally uses a responsive design that sizes itself to browser windows automatically. (In most cases, a separate mobile site with limited information is a bad idea.) And kill anything that auto-plays. No one needs surprise audio blasting from their cubicle at an inopportune time.
5. Being uninformative
A bare-bones site is fine for launch, but at some point, it needs to be filled out with content to draw in customers and help them assess your business. After all, not everyone will take the extra step to contact you with questions. And for companies that might want media exposure, excluding facts such as the city in which they're based and full names and bios of founders – not to mention, for some kinds of businesses, easy-to-download photos, logos and other resources – might mean getting left out of stories.
Fix it: Build up your site with informative content, be it FAQ pages, behind-the-scenes stories and photos, or profiles of staff. Give potential customers multiple reasons to do business with you, and encourage current customers to stay engaged with meaningful articles that help them feel part of your community.
Kat Tancock is co-founder of Tavanberg, a Toronto-based marketing agency that helps businesses plan and execute successful content strategies.