On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever. It was not the fall of communism, flat screen TV’s or even the word processing system printer by Brother (there was such a thing, I had one in college). Most businesses didn’t know it yet, but in the grand scheme of everything a business manager or owner does on a daily basis, this is the day of the revolution. It wasn’t televised, it was launched on a small, mono-toned, tube screen with a home page titled ‘The World Wide Web’.
Now you know what the ‘www’ stands for in your URL, which is the Universal Resource Locator, or better known to you as your web address. On that day, CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) used the new world wide web as “a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.” And it was. History, law, The Bible and song lyrics are just some of the topics you could research. To see the old site archived, go here: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
Flash forward 10 years to 2001… websites became more common. Everyone was creating one. Your logo and brand information, phone number, who you are and where you are, were now the touch of a few keystrokes. We would begin to turn on our computers more and open our phone books less. Laptops were still a bit of a luxury.
While the first ‘smartphone’ – the ‘Simon Personal Communicator’ – was technically launched by BellSouth in 1994, what we think of as ‘smartphones’ was born in January of 2007. Steve Jobs introduced the first Apple iPhone and the old ways of marketing, advertising and functioning as a business were now changed forever. Phones, tablets, laptops and a general lack of patience due to the availability of information has changed the public consciousness. If you still haven’t changed yours, you will be or likely already have been left behind.
Today, websites are no longer a static online brochure or directory as originally developed. Customers and clients do everything on their smartphones, tablets and laptops. Your website must do everything your target audience expects when making a buying decision, as well as produce results quickly and in a variety of sizes, operating systems and devices.
According to AdWeek Magazine, 81% of shoppers conduct online research before buying. However, I recently heard a statistic that might be as high as 91%. I am still trying to verify that, but other sources concur on the 81%. In addition, since 2014, smartphones and tablets exceed computer usage. Let’s think about that for moment. Are you speaking to 81% of your audience or are you losing 81% percent of your audience?
As you create an online presence, a place for the customer or potential buyer to get to know you, your products and how your company will fulfill their expectation, consider what is NOT on your website could be as important as what is already on your website. First and foremost, if nothing else, you need to be mobile optimized. Not mobile friendly like the old days (a couple of years ago). That means whatever device is being used to view your site – variation of phones, tablets and desktop screen sizes – it renders (looks) good to the user AND is easily navigated on that device and operating system.
In addition to your mobile optimization, be sure your site is designed from the ground up for search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). In 2018, Google and Bing will be viewing any site not “secure” as less credible. If your site does not have an HTTPS in the URL, find out what you need to do to make it “secure.” If it’s not there, don’t panic just yet; your site will not be taken down from the web, it just won’t rank higher in the search results than a site that is “secure.” But as you plan on growing your business and on-line presence, take that into consideration. If you built your website more than five years ago, it’s probably time to consider a serious upgrade or a new one entirely.
Keep an eye on your Google Analytics. This free service tells you where users are coming from to reach your site and what keywords got them there, what page or link did they click on while on your site, how long did they stay on your site before jumping out to another website, who they are (demographics), what time of day they found your site, from where, the list goes on and on. This information will help you identify in greater detail what you need to do to keep your website relevant and competitive. In effect, guiding your updates and content and information you can use in your social media efforts as well as other advertising (even offline) efforts.
Are you capturing customer data on your website? Whether it is how they viewed your site for future targeted marketing initiatives such as a ‘Remarketing Campaign’ or capturing customer information by offering something in return for a registration, you should be capturing and using as much customer data as is available through your website. This is valuable and free!
Be sure you are relaying relevant content on your website pages that speaks to your target audience. Anyone can fill a website with information. Honestly, most retail customers are not as concerned with the brand and model of the water equipment you sell, just what it will do and solve their water quality problems. The old saying, “You don’t sell drills, you sell holes” is very relevant here. Your website’s content, which is searchable by search engines such as Google and Bing, and directories like Yahoo, is the key to being found by the right buyer at the right time.
On the flip side, as an OEM or a distributer, the buyer is mostly interested in the brands and models you sell. Solutions are important as well. Research and technical papers including PDF documents should be searchable. This is a good use of creating an account to view proprietary information and solutions. A Business-to-Business (B-to-B) website is far more direct than a Business-to-Consumer (B-to-C) website.
Keep your website current. This is extremely important. If you are not updating the content of your site on a regular basis, including images and links, this can negatively affect your site’s rankings and search results. Be sure to keep your news (or blog) and events updated, include training and how-to videos, update press releases and information about issues that affect your target audience in your geographic area. Your website should have a good method for sharing events and articles to social media as well. Posting a blurb about the company holiday party or summer picnic is fine. It shows you are real people not just a corporate machine. Just know that your social media content posts and articles, should have a good mix of relevancy and not speak over the heads of your clientele. And when possible, make sure the content comes from your website so readers link back via social media read more links. This is inbound traffic from a credible source which helps your SEO rankings as well.
Lastly, when it comes to design elements, not all sites are created equal. I’ve heard developers say scrolling banners are going away. I’ve also heard developers say ‘one-page’ websites are the way to go. My opinion to all the above is a definite maybe, but perhaps yes, and possibly no. Don’t let a developer, whether a staffer or vendor sell you on a one size fits all solution. Your design elements depend solely on understanding your audience and how they will use your website as well as your company’s brand. You need to know how much information your target audience wants or needs to make a decision. Once you understand your clientele, you will know what elements to include on your website. In the end, your website will be your most effective marketing tool working in the background while you run the rest of your business.