3 Tips to Make Your Website Actually Useful

Gone are the days of a “form over function” internet. Where once the simple novelty of seeing a business online, in any fashion, was often enough. Now, today’s more savvy audiences simply want to get where they are going. So with the priorities of today’s business websites being speed and ease of use, here are 3 tips that can make sure you are providing your customers the information they require in the best way possible to help you make conversions either on your site or in person.


1. Where is the business?

Contact information is the most important information you can have on the internet. Seems simple enough, yet many well-intentioned websites make this information difficult to find. Studies show that people will tend to look at the top left corner of your website first, like they’re reading a book. This is where the most important information should be, your contact info—don’t make customers scour the page looking for a way to find your business.

There is lots of data you can include in the contact information section. The trick is finding the balance of information overload vs. unnecessary vagueness. There are three things you need to specifically include:

Hours of operation

People seeking this information are likely close to buying, so having your hours of operation listed accurately and in a fashion that’s easy to read is a huge priority. Here are two examples, one bad and one good, to showcase how your hours should be listed online

Don’t do it like this
We are open Mondays – 8:00 am-5:00 pm, Tuesdays – 8:00 am-5:00 pm, Wednesdays – 8:00 am-7:00 pm, Thursdays – 8:00 am-5:00 pm, Fridays – 8:00 am-7:00 pm, Saturdays 12:00 pm-5:00 pm and the service shop is also open until 7:00 pm.

Looks hard to read, right? It doesn’t look nice, it’s hard to look at specific days, and you don’t know if the service shop is just open on Saturdays, or if it’s always open until 7:00 pm every evening.

A better example
Sales:
Mon 8 – 5
Tues 8 – 5
Wed 8 – 7
Thurs 8 – 5
Fri 8 – 7
Sat 12 – 5
Sun Closed

Service:
Mon-Sat: 12 – 7

Looks a lot nicer, right? It’s a lot easier to read and find the information you need. The most important part is to make sure the hours are accurate. Even if it takes an extra line to better explain a confusing set of hours, customers greatly appreciate knowing when they can expect your business to be open.

Address

Unless you’re an online retailer, your address is an essential part of your contact listing. But just like hours of operation there is are a variety of ways to share your location. Here is how we recommend it. Provide enough information so that Google maps can locate the business. For people in major cities, often times just your street address is sufficient. But if your business is a little tricky to find consider linking to a map application, or have the map right on the website. If you’re going that direction, make sure to use an accredited map engine like Google Maps, instead of a hand-drawn creation. People tend to be a lot more familiar with popular map formats and might get confused/scared at the sight of your beautiful artwork.

Phone number

This is the number where customers can most easily reach you. Businesses with multiple departments equipped with individual phone lines, might want to stick those on a “Contact Us” page. There’s no sense in cluttering your home page with 30 different phone numbers. Businesses should have one phone number on the homepage display to be a catch-all for any inquiries. Don’t forget an area code for those out-of-town customers. Make it easy for on-the-go customers to hit a button and have their mobile device ring the business instantly.


2. Who is the business?

You likely have a lot to say about your business so the real challenge here is the distillation of your story. Here, think of the company from the customer’s’ perspective; what makes you unique? Why are you better than their competitors? What do you do for customers? These question will likely shed light on the most important information to share, at least at the top of the page.

Once you’ve got your top level information cased, consider designing a way for interested customers to learn even more about the business. There you can dive deeper into your history, philosophy, and share any achievements or media coverage your business has had in its past.


3. What does the business do?

This is where functionality needs to be the highest priority. Customers are looking for confirmation that your business is what they are looking for in the moment they are searching. You can’t afford to have this information be anything but concise, easy to find, and extremely helpful. It’s challenging to know the exact right strategy for your business but a tactic we recommend is taking a look at your closest competitors for insight.

Look at those website and assume the perspective of their customer. If you like something about the way their website works, make a note. If you find something super inconvenient or confusing, again, make a note. Have these notes inform your approach.


Conclusion

A lot of people think a website should be an online version of your business. In reality, this is virtually impossible. A website is more like a messenger for your business. It’s a tool for relaying information about the business to potential customers. If your messenger is long-winded, confusing and tries to use flashy bright colours to grab attention, the customer is not going to be engaged. If your messenger relays all the information in a simple, concise and memorable way, customers will be much more likely to engage. It is quite likely a website is the first impression the customer might have of your business—remember, you only get once chance to make a first impression!

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Business Website Essentials

Telling a small business owner to “assume the perspective of your customer” is one of those classic easier said than done problems. It’s not for lack of trying, but owning a small business isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. And when you put that level of passion and commitment into something, your unique familiarity with it can be tough to shake.

Yet this is the simplest way to quickly optimize your website. By deeply considering your customer’s perspective and buying journey, we can make decisions that put everything in the right place for the customer to easily and quickly complete their interaction with your business and maybe even leave a nice review to boot.

While it’s absolutely essential to have each of these elements be part of your website, the specifics of their presentation need to be in consideration of your specific customer demographics. Most notably will be the difference between information on an online store, where the priority is to drive sales, versus a traditional brick and mortar business, where the priority is to get them to visit you.


The must haves

Contact information

Much of your web traffic will be coming from customers looking to use your website as a tool to communicate with you. Whether by email, phone or in person, the information that helps them accomplish this needs to be a top priority. Placing an easily found “contact us” link in the top right corner of your website is never a bad move. But if your customers aren’t web savvy, consider putting your address, phone number and hours of operation right on the home page. Additionally, if your business location is a little off the beaten path, consider using a map application on your website to help people better understand your location.

Product information

This is a growing priority for small businesses online, as a huge number of searches now happen on mobile with the intent of “in the moment” product research, sometimes even in-store. This means that the more specific information you can have online about what you sell, the better. This may even lead to customer conversions while they are in a competitor’s store.

Keeping an up-to-date and functional product catalog online can be a lot of work, but it is most certainly worthy of consideration given the potential value. This is particularly important if your demographic skews younger and more web savvy.

Business description

Give a quick, easy-to-find snapshot of your business and history available for people interested in learning a little more about you. Keep in mind, if people are looking at this part of your website, they are likely close to buying. Make sure you put in a little marketing effort here to help seal the deal. Make it concise but include things like business history, location, relevant achievements and philosophy. It’s also not a bad idea to include customer testimonials if you have them.

Quicklinks to social channels

Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all great tools to help foster a direct line of communication between your business and its biggest fans. Your website should prioritize getting those follows and likes as easy as possible by installing a quick link widget into the footer or header of your website. That way, no matter where you customer goes on the site they are always one click away from connecting with you on Social.

Content/media

It’s becoming more and more common to see small businesses feature active content strategies and it’s easy to see why:

  1. Content is authentic – No one likes being sold to, and content is a great way for a business to build a relationship while leaving the hard sell on the shelf.
  2. Content is made for local – A good content strategy can help a business establish itself as grounded in its local area through authentic stories that are for and about their community.
  3. Content is hyper-targeted – Based on how you answered the first three questions your website, at least a little, is likely targeting customers at a specific part of the sales funnel. Having a fully realized content strategy allows you to add balance to your site. For example, if your site is designed to drive new sales, perhaps the content can be targeted towards customer retention by adding value to those people already in the fold.

Easy content strategy win = how-to videos

These can be extremely effective and easy to produce. Plus, creating how-to videos gives you the platform to demonstrate your expertise. Double-win if it’s related to your business.


Putting it all together with design

When considering design and layout, it’s completely appropriate to look at it as an opportunity to infuse some of your business’s personality into your website’s look and feel. But heed this warning: design is where it’s most critical to consider the customer’s perspective. Too often small business owners create a website that works perfectly for themselves while failing to consider how it will work for their customers.

Here are two top level considerations when choosing a design.

Mobile functionality is king

This has to be top of mind at every stage of design. While most modern design templates are mobile functional, it’s worth taking second looks at the ones that do it best. And if you haven’t updated your website since the inception of the smartphone, you might want to think about a redesign.

Keep it simple

You may have noticed that this article really pushes the need for priorities. With that in mind, consider putting only the most crucial information on the home page. Your home page must include easy links to: contact info, product info and business description. After that, it becomes really dependent on your goals and objectives. But when considering the perspective of your customer, oftentimes less is more.

Build for speed

By keeping things simple and prioritizing mobile functionality you are likely also building for speed. But this point is critical enough that it bares repeating. Your site needs to be fast! According to a study from Forrester Consulting 40% of shoppers will wait no longer than 3 seconds of load time before abandoning a retail website. As well, Google uses load time as factor in determining your search rank so a slow site might even be keeping customers from finding you when they look online.


Final thoughts

All in all, it’s a pretty swell time to be building a website for your business. Hosting is cost effective and secure, design templates have never looked nicer, and there is plenty of great content out there to help guide you through the process. But if you are ever curious if your website is serving you well, just follow this tip from Kevin Lao at Google: take out your phone, pull up your site and ask yourself “do you like what you see?” Now go to your closest competitor’s site and ask yourself the same question. Your answer will tell you all you need to know.

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