The “paradigm shift.” Yes, it’s an overused word in most boardrooms and offices across everywhere. However, it’s important that we think about what it really means for this blog. Merriam-Webster defines a paradigm shift as “an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about, or doing something, is replaced by a new and different way.”
Indeed, we’re seeing this shift in both business information and customer communications, which have changed dramatically in the last year alone. Easy access to high-speed data and the Internet, sleeker and faster mobile devices, and an overall societal acceptance of constantly “checking the web” have converged to create a sea change for you and your business.
What does this paradigm shift mean for your website strategy? It means that you need to eyeball your online presence extremely proactively – constantly reviewing your sites for broken links, long passages of texts, and stock pictures of smiling people – which are, sadly, the staples of many small and mid-sized businesses’ websites. In many cases, while the content provided on the site is great, how it is presented makes people “click the X” and move on.
Let’s focus on the experience of those that have found you and your business. Here are 10 steps that you can follow in evaluating your online presence, so you can ensure you are creating the most effective digital storefront for your business:
- Evaluate: Who is your audience? In your ideal vision, who is coming to your website?
Create customer profiles of the person on the other end of the keyboard. Giving them a name and characteristics (How old is the target customer? Are they of a certain sex? Industry? What are their pain points?) is a technique used globally to ensure that a website is not trying to serve everyone, for every need. Create personas for all of the possible types of people who may buy your product or service, and then stack rank them. I usually suggest you focus on a key metric -- for example, best potential revenue.
- Decide: What does your audience need to do?
If someone navigates to your website, why are they there? There are some basics that need to be on the first page, like who you are, a search bar, product benefits, and contact information. Not acres of text and… yes the smiling people.
- Explore: Is the site cluttered?
Too many sites are loaded with huge graphics and a barrage of copy on the first page. Often, big sliders and challenging graphics may not say anything about what you do or who you are as a business. When in doubt, err on the site of clean and easy to read, says KISSmetrics.
- Analyze: Is your content written to match your target audience?
You don’t want to talk down to your customers. However, if you find you need to help educate your consumer, use their language, not yours. Many sites make total sense to people in the know, but not to someone new. In fact, if you have both types of customers that come to your site, allow them quick access to move to an expert/experienced visitor or new to your company. Both will thank you.
- Review: Can they quickly get help?
A good search function is a really important feature. Many sites struggle with executing this well. If you have the money, you might consider a pop-up chat window that displays when someone is looking in search. Be careful not to frighten the visitor with annoying “My name is Rick. May I help you?” appearing over and over again. A well designed site and some help from your experts can save much frustration.
- Consider: How long do they stay and when or why do they leave?
Time on the site does not necessarily correlate to how important your products and services are to your customers. A high bounce rate (short length on your site before they “bounce” to somewhere else on the web) is often a key indicator of issues with the design and content your website provides. Maybe your search providers are sending the wrong people, or maybe they are frustrated. You need to know. Which leads to….
- Discover: Are you looking at how people use your website?
A wide variety of tools are available to analyze your website and your visitors. You can have your internal team do it, or you can enlist the help of external resources like Chief Outsiders or traditional marketing services companies to obtain the information, and interpret it for you. If the web is critical to your livelihood, invest heavily in this area.
- Investigate: When do you ask your customers who they are?
One of major reasons people quickly depart from websites is because of the need to disclose personal information too soon in the process. The anonymous nature of the web is very attractive to customers. They want to look in the window, maybe even browse around before they are asked to identify themselves. If you are going to ask them to reveal more about themselves, you need to have earned it.
That means providing useful information. Make sure that you are not asking just to collect data unless that data is a critical piece of your business plan.
- Inspect: Don’t poison your customer’s experience with too many reminders of their visit.
It is helpful to have your marketing messages appear in your customers’ other web searches, but make sure they can say goodbye to you. No one wants to be “that company.”
- Spell Out: Can they easily identify you and how to reach you?
The “Contact Us” or “About” section of your website needs to be a helpful resource. Your teams’ internal titles need to be useful and identifiable enough to potential customers that might need to reach them. Provide email and telephone details. Make sure that someone is ready to answer the calls or emails. If necessary, provide an internal clearinghouse. If the target consumer is asking, odds are that they are either highly interested in your product, or have a real issue to resolve.
Your website is a fundamental part of your business. The customer journey -- that is, the waypoints by which the customer moves from awareness to engagement and purchase -- needs to be reviewed often. I recommend visiting your site as the customer you are trying to attract and retain. Look at your competitions’ sites, too, and if you see a site you love, explore if you can implement some of the things that they did to attract you. Ask for help when needed – because your online reputation is your business reputation.