Your company’s website should not be seen as a cost or a chore, but as a specialised tool that adds value to the business and provides a return on investment. Brant McNaughton, Director of Ecce Media, outlines the key priorities for a commercial website.
The first step is to realise how much you could gain commercially from a well-designed, professionally developed website. Most obviously, you could use it as an extra sales channel. Produce a website that people want to visit and where it is easy for them to buy, and you could boost your sales to customers around the world and the clock.
Even those who don’t buy online from you will probably research purchases online. Think about the last significant purchase you made. Did you search online for vendors? Did you check their websites? Increasingly, a truly professional website is essential for corporate credibility and brand integrity.
There are several reasons why businesses in the medical technologies industry need to have a functional website:
• Many companies in this sector rely on repeat business. A website can provide your customers with a way to make repeat orders with the minimum expenditure of time and effort. If you provide them with a login, then every time they go to your site they can see the details of their previous transactions: what they bought, where it was delivered to, how they paid for it and so on. They can repeat an order with a single click.
• You can use your website for stock lists that may be extensive and complex.
• While some people or organisations in the industry may not buy online, the next generation will. It is not just that they will realise online purchasing makes dealing with your business easier and quicker for them: rather, they will expect to buy products in this way, and will ignore companies that make it difficult for them to do so.
Five rules of web design
1. Easy to use. A website needs to be user-friendly and straightforward – people will look elsewhere if they get frustrated trying to navigate a site. The design needs to be clean and uncomplicated. It is essential that when a potential customer clicks on a link, they are directed straight to the information they have searched for and not just to the home page.
2. A clear purpose. Make sure the website’s objectives are clear. What do you want it to do for your business – for example, drive more traffic to your showroom, promote your business or sell your products online? The website can then be designed to focus on the objectives. You need to look at the business-critical components of your website: its design, search engine performance, navigation, quality of content and relevance to the audience.
3. Original, fresh content. The content needs to be current and appeal to your target audience(s). The appropriate update frequency depends on your business: some need updates daily, others only need them every couple of months. If the site has a ‘news page’, it is important to keep this up to date – otherwise it will show the customer that the website is not a priority for the business and that generally things are a bit lax.
4. Visible contact details. Don’t risk losing a sale because someone has given up searching for your contact details. Why not make it easy and keep the company’s contact details in the same place on every page?
5. Regular updates. If the site is regularly updated, people are likely to visit it more often to keep themselves informed on your business. This will create more traffic to the site and increase your credibility with search engines such as Google.
Capturing the audience
Increasingly, websites are designed to capture their audience visually. The photography needs to be inspirational, as it will play a major role in selling the products. Featured products are competing with retail showrooms and other online competitors, so they need to engage the customer.
To reinforce this, all information presented must be relevant. If you capture the audience with interesting pictures, you don’t then want to lose them because the images aren’t supported with relevant information.
There’s also no point investing in a great website if no-one can find it. Make sure you’re featured on search engines. There are many tricks and tools to aid this, but essentially you must ensure your website is ‘search engine friendly’ (SEF). The way the pages are structured can affect this, and it is vital to get it right.
Take time to check your spelling and grammar before going live. Poor quality text is an easy way of appearing unprofessional.
It’s also important to make sure that customers can navigate your website easily and consistently. Keep the navigation simple and never try to re-invent it. Customer expectations are crucial, and changing a well-known format (such as clicking on the company logo to return to the home page) could be risky.
Customer testimonials prove your reliability and quality of service. It is a good idea to highlight some positive customer comments on your website, or have a link to social media sites where they are shown.
Finally, build a ‘call to action’ into your site – for example, invite people to join your mailing list, download brochures, follow you on Twitter or be your friend on Facebook.
Point of access
There is no point in having a website that people cannot access. Your website needs to work on a host of different systems: Macs, PCs and handheld devices.
Valid coding is important to ensure that your website is accessible from all internet browsers and computer operating systems. Coding under W3C compliance is the easiest way to ensure this.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act, all professional websites need to be accessible to visually impaired or otherwise disabled users who use access technologies such as Screen Reader software. It is much easier to design a website with these needs in mind than to retrofit an existing website to take account of them.
An online store
If you are running an e-commerce website, you need to make purchasing as easy as possible by eliminating barriers:
• Ensure clear product information. The products need to be clearly labelled so it is easy to tell what they are and what they do. Purchasers need to know exactly what they are buying, and they won’t waste time trying to find out!
• Ensure a safe and secure payment gateway. Remember, when selling online, that your website needs to comply with the Distance Selling Regulations. Payment must be safe and secure for both the retailer and the purchaser.
• Don’t forget to follow the rules and regulations. There are many terms and standards for selling from a website that must be met as legal requirements.
Spinning the web
If your website education happened more than five years ago, you may be a little confused by the talk of social networking sites and mobile phone apps. Welcome to the new web!
The expression ‘the web’ has been around since the late nineties, but it was not until 2004 that the term ‘Web 2.0’ became a buzzword defining everything collaborative, community-based and user-generated on the internet. Examples of Web 2.0 sites are YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and the countless blogs that populate cyberspace.
More recently, the term ‘Web 3.0’ has arisen to describe the ‘semantic web’: new web applications that can understand and interpret data and the context of the data. Web 3.0 applications (especially on the increasingly powerful handheld devices) give us user-specific data – for example, retail sites recommend products based on the user’s browsing or purchase history. The computer generates this content, not the user. Web 3.0 can also be seen as the extension of the web from our desktops to our smart phones and TVs with the emergence of services such as App stores, iPlayer and Apple TV.
Social media are a double-edged sword. Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be a great way to promote your services, engage your customers, promote a cause or release viral marketing material. However, as some recent high-profile cases demonstrate, they can be platforms for protest and backlash against controversial decisions or bad service. For example, the blog www.ihateryanair.org was popularised via Twitter and Facebook campaigns. It was also Facebook that took Rage Against the Machine to the Christmas number one spot last year ahead of the X Factor winner.
Sites like Twitter are a great way for a company to speak directly to an audience (those people who have opted to follow) – but the difficulty is gaining that audience and encouraging a following. There is no easy solution – can it be done via promotions or offers? Following a company on Twitter is like subscribing to a newsletter: the content being published must be interesting, fresh and ‘followworthy’.
Web 3.0 technologies such as smart phone apps are a good way of engaging your audience. However, there is no point producing an app for the sake of having an app. The same rules apply to apps as to websites, and they are not necessarily free to publish: big companies such as RIM, Apple and Nokia will require payment to put your app on their sites. But saying that, with millions of apps now available, there are numerous phone apps that will be great additions to any sales or marketing team’s arsenal – for example, time management apps, CRM apps, remote data access apps – and are generally available for just a few pounds.
Brant McNaughton is Director of Ecce Media, a website design and development consultancy based in Kent. For further information, call 01689 874 395 or visit www.eccemedia.com.