How Your Website May Be Strangling Online Engagement- And Three Ways to Make it Stop
Bad websites do not drive engagement. They drive it away.
Flashback to late 2012. I had just launched my graphic design business and built my first website. It was a masterpiece (according to me). It had all of the neon hallmarks of the 90’s, complete with flashing “Buy Now” buttons and animated cursors. The thing took over a year to build. It drained my resources with high hosting costs. Any time I wanted to update content, I had to dedicate an entire week to the process.
Yet it was my little corner of the internet.
Three months later an eventual client sent me an email that broke my bubble. She’d heard about me from a friend. Like over 48% of internet consumers today, she then proceeded to check out my website before contacting me.
One of her first questions was, “Are you still in business?”
Still in business?!Of course I am! I have a website, don’t I?
Hello, wake up call.
Clearly my website was not doing what it was supposed to do. I was forced to understand then that my website was not only ineffectual; it might have been turning potential clients away.
How many other people found my site, wrote it off as old and unused, and went to someone else?
Four years of web development later, I’ve come to a single conclusion. All websites are not built equal. Having a bad website may actually be worse than no website at all.
If my story is sounding a little too familiar, I invite you to keep reading, and learn how to fix it.
Look at your website as if it belonged to your competitor and get critical. Don’t worry, it won’t talk back.
3 Ways to Critically Analyze Your Website
1.) How credible is my site?
Why does this matter? In a paper researching how people make choices online, researchers Ang and Lee state, “If the web site does not lead the consumer to believe that the merchant is trustworthy, no purchase decision will result.” That’s a powerful statement. No credibility? No income. As spammers, robots and malicious software continue evolving, users evolve as well: and they are expecting more and more.
So what exactly is it? Credibility online is a difficult concept to pin down. Yet most agree that it is some combination of perceived trustworthiness, believability, social authority, expertise and a bunch of other stuff.
Luckily, the smart guys out of the IT University of Copenhagen have put together an updated theory for the rest of us. They call it Aggregate Trustworthiness:
Their research shows that modern internet users look at many different areas of the internet to determine if your organization is credible. They look at your social media profiles (profiles), reviews from others (social validation) and your website authority and trustworthiness (Authority & Trustee).
Alright, so it’s important. How you tell if your site’s got it? A study out of the Eindhoven University of Technology illuminates 4 criteria to judge your site by:
- Your site is specifically targeted towards whomever you want to be reaching.
What is their level of technological understanding? Will they recognize navigation cues like a logo or drop down menu? Will there be information where they expect it to be?
- Your site is clearly branded and easy to use.
Is your logo and company name clear? Are the fonts large enough and easily read? Does the page load quickly enough?
- Your site has all the expected information associated with a legitimate business
Do you explain all your services? Is there an about page? Can visitors easily find a phone number, physical address and social media profiles?
- Your website shows proof of your interest in relationships
If you find yourself answering “no” to any of these questions, your website may be lacking credibility, and turning away potential clients.
2.) How Appealing Is My Site?
Adobe released a large survey in 2015 detailing many of the reasons people choose to stay on a site or jump to a competitor. “As consumers’ standards rise, so does the pressure on content producers. Content must be well-designed and easy to consume or they risk losing their audience.”
Allow me to throw a few of their numbers at you:
- Given 15 minutes to engage with contents, over two thirds of people will consume well designed content over content that is plain.
- If content is too long or difficult to read, over 37% of people will stop engaging entirely
- Unappealing layout or images will lose you another 38% of visitors
Check out Tema Frank’s 42 Ways To Scare Off Your Customers With Bad Website Design for more info about what not to do.
So what do you do? Once again, start by asking yourself some critical questions:
- Would I want show this website to friends and colleagues?
Even if this were a competitor’s site, would I feel compelled to show it to others to explain a service or a benefit?
- Does it look like it was designed with all devices in mind?
Since 2013, tablet and smartphone use has grown at a staggering 108%. More people are spending more time on their devices, not their desktops. Does your website cater to their needs as well? Take a look at Chase Hughs’ infographic to learn how to make your site friendly for all screen sizes.
- Can people find information quickly and easily?
Remember that your website is marketing tool first, an art piece second. Appealing design includes not only visual aesthetics but also clear functionality.
Can your target audience find whatever information they want, fast? Is all the information there? Is it overwhelming?
Again, if you are answering “no” to these questions, you might be losing customers. Half of mobile users that encounter an unappealing or not mobile friendly site report feeling “frustrated and annoyed.”
Potential customers associating negative feelings with your website? That’s worse than no website at all.
3.) How Clear is My Professional Identity?
I’ve already touched on this concept, but it simply cannot be stressed enough. Recall what you want your website to do for you.
If you’re hoping to build outreach and community, the purpose of your website is likely some form of engagement. Perhaps you’d like your visitors to give you a call, send an email or post a comment.
Hint: most visitors have the same goal. They doubtless found your website by search engine or referral. They are expecting to gain something of value from your site, be that information, goods or services. Your website’s must make this action as easy as possible.
A web usability report by Ko Marketing Associates indicated exactly how important clear contact information is on a website:
- 64% of visitors want to see contact information on your home page – not buried in the contact or about pages
- 51% of visitors felt that sites often do not have thorough enough contact information
Many web designers are starting to put contact information right up there with the rest of the navigation, down in the footer, and even in the sidebar for blogs and projects.
It isn’t enough to put your number in one place and assume your visitors will find it. If your assumption doesn’t hold true, chances are they won’t.
Worst case scenario? Potential customers will get frustrated, associate negative feelings for your brand, and move on to your competitors.
Make sure your phone number, email, physical address, or whatever way you’d like visitors to connect with you is one of the first things seen on your website.
Use the squint test to see if it pops out, and then ask friends and family to point it out within 5 seconds of being on your page. Always seek fresh sets of eyes.
Building engagement online starts at the home (page).
Your personal or businesses website should be your 24-7-365 International workhorse. It should constantly build community and genuinely engaging your audience. It’s one of the best tools in your marketing toolbox.
If you are a small business owner with a website, you’re already two steps ahead 49% of all other small business owners. That means a lot.
But simply having a website is no longer enough. Don’t let it turn around and bite you. Building up an online presence takes time and effort. Don’t lose your audience in the process.
It’s still your little corner of the internet.
By looking at your website’s credibility, design, functionality and clarity, you can turn a lackluster page into a lean, mean, marketing machine.
Remember, you’re looking at your website as if it were a competitor’s. Be mean. Be critical. Your website can take it.