Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Years Website Health Check

by Andrew Seidel

There has never been a better time than right now to give your website a health check. Businesses around the country are using the start of the New Year as a great excuse for redefining goals and setting new targets, so why not include improving your website as one of your New Year's resolutions?

I'm always amazed by the number of businesses who don't take the opportunity to invest time or effort into developing or improving their websites. The end result being a shabby representation of their business. All too often, websites have been quickly thrown together without much thought or imagination, or the website is years old and out-dated.

Starting the process can be difficult, so I've put together a checklist:

Step One - Appealing to the eye

The first step is to consider whether your website is appealing to most people and whether the design is modern and up-to-date. If you are unsure, you can easily find out by asking staff, colleagues, or friends. I would also recommend that you take a look at your top main competitors to see what they are doing with their websites. And,... if you find yourself apologising to people for how your website looks, this is a definite sign you need to upgrade fast... The simple fact is, if people see a website that doesn't visually appeal to them, they will leave before they even get to see how good your products or services are.

Step Two - Content

How up-to-date is your content? Does it accurately reflect all the products or services you offer?

Do you have content that entices visitors to return to your website at a later stage? This is really important, if on their first visit to your site, they are early in the buying cycle, then you want to make sure they remember you so that when they are closer to making a decision to purchase, you will be number one in mind. Having interesting hints, tips, or features of your website is a good way to bring them back at a later stage.

And while we are on that note, if they are early on in the buying cycle, what can you introduce to your site to better educate them and bring them closer to making a decision?

Step Three - Usability

Is your website easy to navigate, enabling your site visitors to find the information they want quickly? For websites that grow quite quickly, it's easy to lose the right navigation structure, making it difficult for website visitors to get around the site. Take the time to map out the flow of your website on a piece of paper (for smaller sites), or for larger sites Excel can be a good way to setup the flow. Remember, if someone can't quickly find what they are looking for on your site, it is only a couple of clicks back to the search engines to find your competitors.

Usability and accessibility standards can also be an issue many do not consider. If users with disabilities visit your site, not only could you be losing potential valuable business from them, but did you know that in Australia and many other countries, it's a legal requirement to have your site accessible for disabled users?

An interesting case back in 2000 proved that these laws can be enforced, as in the case of Bruce Lindsay Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, in which Maguire won.

Step 4 - Pages being accessible

Do all of the links in your site work? This can be a problem more frequently than you think, as many website owners are simply unaware. A free tool called Xenu will easily scan through your site and provide you with a report to verify this.

Step 5 - Your home page

Does your home page provide a simple, clear message of what your business offers? Many businesses make the mistake of cramming so much information into their home page, because they want their visitors to know everything about them the moment they visit their site. The end result, a home page that looks messy, hard to read, and searchers leave before they find out what you have to offer.

Step 6 - Your sales message

Do you have a call to action, or a strong message to "buy now" if applicable? Without reasons to buy, you are likely to see a low conversion rate throughout your site.

Placing video on your website is also a great way to connect with your site visitors and to convert new business. So if it's in your budget, I would really recommend it.

Step 7 - Website Reporting

Last, but definitely not least, what are your website analytics reports telling you about how your website is performing? Chances are, that the majority of people reading this are asking, "website reports?" Most businesses don't look at their reporting, either because they don't understand the information in the reports, or think they don't have the time.

The information in these reports can be critical to properly, and effectively managing your website. Without this understanding, you won't know how to improve your site, or worse still, you may change a section of your site that is performing really well for you. Small changes to your site, based on this information, can have a big impact on your bottom line, which means more $$$ for you. Isn't that one of the main reasons you're in business?

Conclusion

If you've answered 'no' or 'unsure' to any of the questions above, then I encourage you to make improvements to your website a priority. Whether it's your in-house web development team, or an external web development company, making sure your website is brought up to today's standards in design and technology is of vital importance if you want to keep your business moving forward. Think of it like this; if you walked into a shop or office, and it was really shabby, how would you feel about giving them your business? A website is no different... So what are you telling your potential clients about your business?

About the Author

Andrew Seidel is the Managing Director of Quantum Web Solutions. Specialising in Web Design in Sydney, as well as a full range of web solutions through the website promotion.