3 Ingredients for Success for Your Website
Here at Website Success Lab, we like a good formula. To make your job easier we want to simplify and clarify. We also know that a successful website is complicated. You can’t just put website tasks into a list, execute them and then you have a great website.
So instead of a formula, we’ve have made a list of ingredients. If you understand these, and execute them well, you will have a head start to a successful website.
As a website administrator you have a lot of jobs to do, a lot to keep up with, and the amount of knowledge needed can sometimes seem overwhelming. These three ingredients will help to calming the stress and put a lid on the boiling to-do list.
I’ve broken down the three most important things that you should understand and execute well to get a successful website. User Experience, Content, Strategy.
These are three foundations of a successful website and they are independent of technology, scale, purpose and audience They are intricately untwined with each of them.
Spend time considering how you will approach each of these, what your principles are, what are the rules of engagement. Then you will be able to make good and consistent decisions regarding all the other aspects of your website.
Every website will be different and the way you approach these ingredients will depend on:
- Your scale.
- The capacity of your team, in terms of budget, experience and time.
- What you are trying to achieve.
- Who you are trying to target.
The website is not built for you, it is built for the people who visit it. User Experience (UX) refers to the way a site visitor experiences your website. This includes navigation, performing functions, consuming content and locating what they were looking for.
Constantly improve the experience, seek feedback, find better ways.
Have you ever been to a website and started to engage, whether by reading, or shopping or donating, and then it got difficult? Something got in your way, and you stopped. You went elsewhere to buy or donate. This is bad user experience and it happens all the time, all over the Internet.
It isn’t easy to make it easy, and it takes time. Improvements you make to user experience will mean that more people take the action you want them to take.
Perhaps the navigation could be simpler, or the design could be less cluttered and easier to read. Maybe the payment process could be simpler, it could ask less of you or it could take fewer steps.
All of these things improve the user experience, and increase your conversions.
Spend time thinking about user experience. Ask others to navigate around your site and watch how they interact with different parts of your site, ask them questions when they don’t seem to know what to do next. Analyse the statistics to see if you can identify points where people are failing, or leaving.
Sometimes how you think a user should interact with you site, or how they actually do may not be the best way. Try to resolve the experience within the limitations of your technology and your budget. Some user experience problems require considered analysis, coding and testing.
The benefits of improving user experience can be substantial, and the return on investment may be easy to calculate.
A common problem is cart abandonment. If you are taking payment for goods, services, donations, or subscriptions, you want people to complete the process. Every person who abandons the payment process, takes their money with them.
Review your shopping card, or payment process. Make sure that it is simple, easy to understand. Some things to look out for:
- Show people where they are in the payment process.
- Allow people to easily update their cart.
- Let people go back in the process, to check their inputs.
- Make site registrations optional.
- Simplify the screens to reduce distractions. Let the user focus on the process.
Large revenue generating websites spend a lot of effort and money on refining the user experience. Take advantage of this by observing how they make it easy for visitors to find and consume their content, and to purchase and donate.
Your audience, your offer and your budget are different, and the way you approach your users will necessarily be different.
Ask these questions of your site:
- Are all the menus labels clear and accurate?
- Is the navigation easy to follow?
- Are any page titles ambiguous, out of context, or misleading?
- Wherever I am on the site do I know how I got there or how to get back?
- Is the layout easy to scan with a single clear purpose on each page, or overcrowded with too many disparate items confusing the user?
- Are your calls to action clear, visible and inviting?
- How many steps are there to complete an action – including clicks?
- Is all information are you asking your visitor to provide to complete an action necessary?
It is important to be know whether changes actually make a difference, particularly because some changes may not have the effect you expect.
Making changes and hoping for the best is possible, but it won’t get the best result.
Six simple steps to improving user experience:
- Measure your site for at least 3 weeks, taking daily measurements. At least measure: conversion rates, bounce rates, and length of session.
- Find places to improve your site by asking the questions above.
- Change one thing. It might be “collect less data”, “improve the sale workflow”, or “reduce clutter on the home page”.
- Identify the metric most likely to be affected and monitor that as you implement the change. Monitor this and all your metrics.
- Back out of the change if you notice a significant negative effect on your metrics, and see if the metrics improve again.
- Rinse and repeat. (Analyse and move on to the next change)
If your site is a user experience disaster zone your strategy should be to change as much of the obvious items that you can easily and quickly and then start from that benchmark.
Your website is only as good as the content it delivers to your site visitors.
Boring, irrelevant, disrespectful or inaccurate content will not make your website successful.
You built a website because you have something that you think other people will want. You want to grow your audience. The best way to do that is to create content with your audience in mind.
Content isn’t just words. Blog posts, papers, articles, and other text based content will be part of your content mix. You should also consider images, infographics, video, interactive content, curated content, and user generated content. How much of each of these will make up the mix of content depends entirely on your audience.
Your website will be most successful when you understand your audience, and make content for them specifically. Whether your audience is large or small the best way to attract them is to speak to them directly, with the content they value, and delivered in a way that they can consume.
It is better to have a small interested and loyal audience than a large unsatisfied one.
So how do you understand your audience? You need an avatar!
Creating an Avatar
Marketers use avatars all the time to direct their message to the right people. Website administrators and content creators should do the same. It isn’t difficult, and you can progress a long way with just a few questions. Narrowing your avatar can improve your content creation. It is common to create a name for each of your avatars, and even find pictures that might represent them.
Start with these questions:
- How old is your ideal site visitor?
- Are they male or female?
- Where do they live?
- What is their education?
- What is their job?
- How familiar are they with your product, service or cause?
- What problem are you solving for them?
Don’t worry if you have more than one answer for these questions, or if you think the question is irrelevant, you can create several avatars and you may create content specifically for different people.
A good example is a business selling software. It will have customers who are beginners and people who advanced ninjas. These people should be different avatars, and they will be looking for different content for them.
Now Make Content
Now that you have your avatar you should consider the right kind of content. Different people consume content differently. The software company for example may want to create video content showing exactly how to perform a function or set up a feature. A clothing company will want to show models wearing products, a political analysis site will have longer, researched blog posts.
Your capacity to create content will also have limits. This means you have to think strategically about where you allocate your content creation resources. Here are some tips to guide you:
- Create content in the media that your most profitable avatar consumes (eg long blog posts, video, infographics etc).
- Content should be repurposable. This means that you can re-use it in emails, top and tail videos for different audiences, create evergreen Webinars from recordings.
- Design your content to take people to the next stage of your funnel.
You’ll need a content plan. This allows you to think about a longer narrative, how you move people from one stage of your funnel to the next with the end goal in sight. This also ensures that your content creation is manageable, and stress free.
I have seen too many times that a new website creates initial excitement, with a big burst of created content, and then it gets harder to think of ideas and other work gets in the way and content creation becomes a dribble and much harder work.
Here are some steps to creating a content plan:
- Decide how often you want to add new content to your site. Be realistic.
- Brainstorm a list of new content ideas. A long list should be easy.
- Use this list to plan out the next 6-12 months of content creation.
- Assign people to create the content and let them know what is expected of them.
- Plan who will proof read and approve the content.
- Publish the content according to your schedule.
Consider social media, newsletters and other distribution requirements in your content plan. A very important part of content planning is to make sure you are able to meet your own expectations.
Strategy comes first and is the foundation of a successful website. How much effort you put in to this depends on how you approach strategy in general, and how good your organisation is at aligning activities with strategy.
A website strategy can be fairly simple, but there are some characteristics that will help ensure the success of your website. Your strategy must:
- Focus on your constituents customer/user/donor.
- Aim for efficiency and simplicity.
- Understand the purpose of your website and assess all planned actions against that purpose.
- Create measurable goals that are linked with business performance.
- Align with and support the overall organisational strategy.
Notice that there is no mention of technology or content or social media in the strategy. These are tactics, and activities, that you perform to achieve the strategic goals - this is known as strategy execution. In a good strategy execution can be easily assessed to see how well it approaches the goals.
In essense: Tactics change according to the driving conditions. Strategy is the direction and the destination.
Expect new ideas and new technology and the demands of your constituents to drive the execution of your strategy. Setting specific technology goals, will limit the flexibility of your execution decisions. Measureable technology strategies such as performance and security are good, but should not be linked to specific technologies.
An example of a simple website strategy:
- Website Purpose: To be a sales channel that reaches beyond our local store.
- Business Outcome: Increased online sales
- Business Goal: Increase online sales by 45% over one quarter
- Mission: Create customer focused content and deliver a great user experience.
An example of a website execution plan / tactics:
- Publish one blog post per week.
- Perform a keyword analysis and raise our search ranking.
- Decide between a facebook group and a podcast, or decide on both.
- Use content marketing tactics to get traffic to our website.
You can see how the tactics can change while the strategy remains the same.
Measurements tell you if your tactics are successful.
The strategy guides decisions about what tactics to use, how to prioritise work and what to do next.
It doesn't have to be complicated, but it does have to be clear, and clearly communicated.
This simple strategy and execution plan gives you the following:
- Clarity on what the website is supposed to do for your organisation.
- A target against which to measure performance and adjust your activities.
- Parameters within which to make decisions.
- You know how to prioritise your resources.
You won’t get your tactics right all the time, but you will have a clear target and a precision weapon.
Guided by your strategy, with your customer in mind, you can create content and online experiences that will have people coming back for more. You will be able to measure your success and you will be more likely to achieve your goals.
Strategy, User experience, and Content, are not the only activities to make your site successful, but they are essential.
Thanks for visiting the lab. We are brewing up new formulae. Visit again soon.