by Kenneth Rudich
About fifteen years have passed since the first business websites began to emerge as internet marketing tools.
Internet marketing was quite primitive back then. Most of the sites were nothing more than an electronic brochure housed on the World Wide Web. They came in two basic flavors: those with a few pictures surrounded by text, and those with text surrounded by a few pictures.
A key concern in those early days centered on making sure the pages would load over an achingly slow internet phone modem connection without adding further delay. Users back then were much more patient than they are today. Waiting thirty seconds or more for a web page to load onto a desktop computer was as common as seeing the sun appear in the sky.
But now internet download speeds are infinitely faster, brochures are brochures, and good business websites are definitely not electronic brochures.
contemporary internet marketing
Unlike a brochure, which is static in nature and fixed over time, a business website should evolve during its life. No one design encompasses everything it can still yet become. There’s always going to be room for improvement, and the fact that it can be easily modified is what makes it such a good investment for the small business concern.
To put this in perspective, note that big companies with deep pockets are constantly tinkering with their sites. They hire staff dedicated to rigorously testing what works and what doesn’t. They know that even the smallest of changes can have a surprisingly powerful effect for generating traffic and converting customers.
Of course, the typical small business is surely handcuffed by comparison when it comes to putting in that kind of time, money and effort. The necessity to carefully budget resources puts a limit on how much can be allocated to the business website. It may not be possible to give it the same devoted attention as deep pockets can.
At the same time, there is good reason to make sure the attention given to the small business website doesn’t completely skid to a halt. If it becomes nothing more than an electronic brochure, it’ll lose its oomph as a marketing tool and the investment will be considerably less than worthwhile.
Tending to the website might be thought of as similar to maintaining a car. Just as there’s a schedule for checking the fluids, changing the oil, and replacing worn out parts, there should be a plan to periodically review the various marketing pieces of the business website over time.
It basically breaks down into two categories of concern. Firstly, are there any current problems that need to be fixed? It could be something that is literally broken or not working properly, but it could also be a matter of having something that has become stale or outdated, in need of refreshment or renewal.
Secondly, can any aspect of it be fine-tuned or improved? How has it performed in light of the marketing objectives established for it? If it has fallen short of hitting its mark, then that should be taken as a sign to try something new, and to keep trying new things to increase its vitality.
These two questions should be addressed along four dimensions. They are:
The appearance entails the overall look of the visual design:
- is the visual presentation clean, neat, well-organized, uncluttered, aesthetically appealing?
- how is color being used and has it been effective, (e.g., sometimes changing the color of text that contains key information will draw attention to it. red frequently has that effect)?
- does it capture your business identity and reinforce the brand image?
- does it draw attention to what’s important about your business, both visually and with the copy?
- do the images or other support media reinforce the core message?
- does the design of the buttons or icons for links invite action, or might it be worthwhile to test new designs (something as minute as the difference between square corners and rounded edges can have a surprising effect)?
- how does it compare to your competitors’ website? does it differentiate you in a complimentary way?
Usability speaks to the concern of how useable it is for visitors:
- is it easy to navigate?
- does the navigation and links flow in a manner that makes intuitive sense?
- does the content need to be updated? how frequently?
- is the text or copy “skim-ready” (people tend more to skim than read on the internet. This means the copy must be delivered in short digestible chunks. If it looks forbidding or is difficult to read, it likely will get ignored)?
- is the copy well-written and clear?
Functionality worries about it being operationally sound from a technical standpoint:
- does it load quickly from the server?
- does it have no, or minimal, downtime?
- do all the links work properly?
- do all the forms work properly?
- does it work on different browsers?
Performance addresses the business or marketing objectives:
- is it achieving the marketing objectives set out for it?
- is it generating consistent traffic from the desired target audience?
- does it propose a clear call to action?
- how does traffic flow through the site?
- is it search engine optimized?
It’s a good idea to develop an actual schedule for periodically evaluating these things over time, especially since it’s easy for this task to get lost amid the regular day-to-day grind. These evaluations can be elaborate, such as A/B testing, or they can be simple, like eyeballing it. What they can’t be is ignored.
Consider getting other people involved with the assessment process as well, especially if they have applicable expertise. A web designer can help audit the web design elements. A writer can review the copy and the organization of the content. A search engine optimization expert can help with SEO. And so on. Seldom will one person possess all the skills needed to cover the entire spectrum. It’ll be important to delegate the right task to the right person. You may want to enlist the aid of a web design firm to help with this aspect of it, just to make sure all the bases get covered.
But even non-experts can be helpful, especially when it comes to testing usability. Everyone has an opinion, and it never hurts to get feedback. You might just learn something that makes it worthwhile to act on.