The best ways to improve the effectiveness of your website

Web Design
12 Minutes to Read
Ian Chapman

Is your website as effective as it could be? Sure, you might be getting great traffic from your SEO (search engine optimization) or PPC (pay-per-click) digital marketing campaigns, but are you actually generating more customers? While traffic is essential, conversions are what really matters.

Converting website visitors into paying customers is one of the issues that many businesses face when building their corporate website. More often than not, decisions are made by what looks good, and not necessarily based on what performs well.

Establish Trust

One of the best ways to convince a prospective customer to becoming a paying client is to earn their trust. There are a variety of ways that you can accomplish this.

Show that you are an expert in your field

Offering free consultations and seminars goes a long way towards establishing trust with potential customers
Offering free consultations or seminars goes a long way towards establishing trust with customers

Your visitors will gain confidence in your organization if you come across as knowledgeable in your industry. Don’t just tell them you are the “best” – show them. Depending on your line of business, there are different approaches. For consulting and many service-based businesses, providing case studies can help you highlight how you were able to solve a client’s problem with your solution. The key here is to empathize with the customer and make him or her aware that you understand their issues and concerns.

If you have a product-based business, perhaps highlight some of the technical aspects of your product and explain why they were designed the way they were. You can even compare it to the competition to show your competitive edge. Although your main website’s landing pages may not be the ideal place for this, your blog pages are definitely a great spot to discuss it in detail.

Highlight your social credibility

Another great way to build trust is to let customers know of any recent awards you have won. It lets visitors know that many others who have had experience with your company (as either a customer or as an industry peer) have singled you out as a leader in your field.

If you have the opportunity to be recognized in print media or on TV, make a mention of that on your website. Include the source article and/or a video clip if possible.

Using head shots with your testimonials goes a long way to increasing credibility (credit: Bill S. Kenney)
Use head shots with your testimonials to increase their credibility (credit: Bill S. Kenney)

While the above may not apply to smaller businesses, most businesses (except for startups) should be able to gather customer testimonials that showcase them in a positive light. Short, digestible quotes are ideal – most visitors won’t read through paragraphs of “thank yous”. Unfortunately testimonials are easy to concoct, so visitors are often skeptical.

Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure that your testimonials are truly authentic:

  • Avoid using quotations that are generic in nature (ex: “Leaf Design has the best service!”)
  • Select quotations that are specific statements and target a visitor’s potential issues (ex: “The website Leaf Design built for us increased revenue by 145%.”)
  • Include as many details of the author as possible, including their name, the company they work for, and their position in the organization
  • To add even more credibility, include a small photo of the person being quoted

Offer something for free

One of the best ways to get a customer on your side is to give them something at no charge. This can be a free consultation, a valuable report, or a trial of your product or service. Whatever you offer, make it valuable to visitors and don’t overstate the value of it. The key to making this an effective marketing technique is to provide your “freebie” in exchange for the visitor’s contact information.

Write for the Web

In every web design project, the most interesting past of the process is usually the graphic design portion. However, when it comes to the content to go on the site’s pages, it is usually a “good enough” approach that is followed.

However, really effective websites will spend more time crafting their content, than worrying over the site’s visuals. The text on your website is rarely handled by a professional and is instead tackled using internal resources. Usually these are people who don’t have the necessary time to allocate to the task, nor do they have any copywriting skills. Just about everyone can write – but not everyone can write well.

To see some great examples of very well written copy, check out several of the pages on these websites:

Guidelines for writing web copy

While we recommend hiring a professional copywriter to create the copy for your website, if you must do it yourself, make sure you follow these guidelines:

  • Spend the time to create succinct and captivating headlines
  • Use sub-headings to allow visitors to scan your content
  • Avoid large paragraphs of text
  • For lists, use bullet points for easier readability
  • Utilize tables for any tabular data
  • Use pull quotes to highlight key statements within your content
  • Double-check your spelling and grammar

Use Premium Photos

One of the biggest impacts on a website (from a visual perspective) is the quality of the imagery used throughout the site. Ideally, if your a product-based business, you’ll want to hire a professional photographer to take high quality imagery of your products. They’ll also be able to colour-correct and re-touch the photos to highlight your products in the best possible light.

The difference between professional headshots and   the DIY version  is quite dramatic
The difference between professional headshots and the DIY version is quite dramatic

For service-based businesses, you’ll most likely want to have a “Team” page that lists your key personnel and their roles. Having high quality headshots will improve your visitors perception of your organization. Whether it is products or people, the key is consistency – make sure that all photographs are of a similar style and tone.

Stock photography

For many businesses, custom photography throughout the website is not always possible – especially for service-based businesses that need images to highlight concepts and benefits rather than physical products. In these cases, there are plenty of services that license stock photography (ex: iStock, Veer, Stocksy, etc.).

Avoid using low-quality, cliché stock photography images
Avoid using cliche stock photography images

Many people have an unfavourable impression of stock photographs. The main reason for this is that the majority of them that you see are overused, cliché, and not very artistic. Avoid using the most abused scenes such as “close-up of a handshake”, “jigsaw puzzles with a highlighted piece”, and the ever famous “woman with a telephone headset”. You’ve seen them all before, and you know that woman with the headset doesn’t actually work at the company.

Instead, when searching for stock photography for your website, spend the time to look through a some of the stock photos that haven’t been downloaded thousands of times (most stock photography websites will show you how popular each file is). Also, increase your budget and you will see collections of photographs that have a more artistic flair and are highly polished. Step outside of the standard $10 – $20 images, and look for higher quality micro stock that is in the $50 – $150 range. Over the course of a whole website, it might cost you an additional $1,000, but it will be well worth it as the visual appearance that you present will be that much better.

An example of some of the higher quality stock photography images
An example of some of the higher quality stock photography images

Also, try and select a collection of images that are similar in style and tone. If that is not possible, make sure to have your web designer or graphic designer edit them so that they appear as a cohesive collection.

Optimize your Calls to Action

Every web page that you create should have a “call to action” – an action or task that you want users to complete. This allows you to focus your visitors on doing one (or maybe two) things when they visit your web page.

For example, say you are in the web hosting business. One way to build trust with potential customers is to offer a free trial of your services so that they can try out your offering at no cost. In this case, you might want to dedicate the banner area of your home page to highlight this offer.

Site5 makes it clear how you can get started with their free trial
Site5 makes it clear how you can get started with their free trial

With some great photography, and a well written headline, you may pique the interest of some visitors. So to capture that attention, make sure to provide a clear button labelled “Sign-Up for Free Trial”. Once they get started down your sales path, it becomes much easier to convert the visitor into a paying customer.

Some general guidelines when creating calls to action are:

  • Have a small number of actions
    Having too many calls to action on a page can confuse the user. Choice can be good – but when there is too much, it can becoming distracting. If you do have multiple buttons, perhaps use variations in colour or size to subtly suggest to visitors which action is preferred.
  • Use active language
    If you really want to encourage users to do something, be clear in your request. Use words such as: Call, Signup, Register, Buy, etc. Combining these verbs with phrases that suggest urgency can be even more compelling (ex: “Offer expires Dec 31st!”, “Only 50 FREE samples available”, etc).
  • Make sure the call to action is noticeable
    It is important to position your call to action correctly. Too low on the page, and visitors might not notice it. Too high on the page, and you may be asking too much from a user who doesn’t understand your product or service yet. Also, make sure it is surrounded by enough whitespace. You don’t ant to have too much visual clutter located right around it.

Measure Your Results

Once you have put the effort into improving your website’s effectiveness, it is essential that you be able to measure the improvements that you have made. Are your pages more engaging to users? Are you converting most visitors to customers. These are all questions that can answered once you have installed visitor tracking software with your website.

Google Analytics

While there are plenty of tools in the marketplace, by far the most commonly used one is Google Analytics. There’s no monthly fee, and it is extremely easy to setup. Once installed, you will be able to track information about your website’s visitors such as:

  • The number of visitors that are viewing your website and where they are physically located
  • How many of your visitors are new to the site and how many are returning from a prior visit
  • The quantity of pages that they visit on your website and the amount of time they spend on each
  • The number of visitors who visit your website and then leave right away (bounce rate)
  • The source of your visitor traffic (ex: web search, Pay Per Click advertisement, referral from another website, etc.)

There is a lot more that can be tracked, but even those basics will give you a good idea of whether your website improvements were worthwhile. Assuming you’ve installed analytics code throughout the life of your website, you’ll be able to directly compare its current performance to the past.

Using Google Analytics, you can mine a vast wealth of data about your website's visitors
Using Google Analytics, you can mine a vast wealth of data about your website’s visitors

Conversion goals

While comparing metrics is helpful, the most beneficial toll when using Google Analytics is the ability to define conversion goals. This will help you measure when visitors complete a specific task on your website, converting them from a visitor to a prospect (or even customer).

For example, you might want to measure the effectiveness of a coupon promotion. You can setup a goal to see how many people visited your website, clicked on the discount coupon banner, added a product to their shopping cart, and then placed an order. If they completed all those steps, you can measure that as a successful conversion for that task. This will help you determine if specific marketing efforts, page changes or functionality implementations have had the desired effect.

You can then refine your website based on your findings, as there may be further areas of improvement based on your results.

In conclusion

To be an effective marketing tool, you need to continue to refine your website. The good news is that there are a variety of avenues for improvement. Combined with tools for tracking your success, upgrading your website on an ongoing basis is one of the best ways to provide value for your marketing dollar.

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