What makes a website work?
Like most things in life, there are no shortcuts to success. Sure, you can argue a robot is capable of making a pretty good car these days. And sure, you can argue the self-checkout machine does a pretty good job at the grocery store. But no amount of technology will ever replace the amount of quality, care and effort a person can put into a task.
If that person is you and that task is making your website work, you have a recipe for success.
So, how do you make a good website work?
No matter what you’re trying to achieve with your website, visitors will notice if you’re not genuine. A dishonest or bloated reflection of you or your business may fool visitors initially — but it surely can’t last. If you’re honest with yourself, you can be honest with them. Trust, after all, is the most important ingredient in any successful relationship.
3 ways to be yourself online:
• Make your content conversational and personal. Your blog is a reflection of you AND your business or brand. So find the balance between the two by telling a joke, or by being light-hearted — no need to take yourself too seriously. The internet is as much fun as it is important to your success. There is always room for humour or fun ideas in whatever message you’re trying to send. Visitors like to feel comfortable, so it’s up to you to create that environment for them.
• Speak from your heart, not your mission statement. In your tweets, your facebook posts, even in your emails, it’s important people know they’re talking to another person, not a faceless company. The business world can be cold and structured. Bringing your own personality into the communication you have with customers or clients will make a difference. For example, instead of saying: “Our company goes to great lengths to give you first-rate customer service.” You could instead simply say: “I can help.” People will notice that.
• Don’t try too hard. If you find yourself spending more time than you would like on finding the perfect words or the exact tone you’re trying to create, chances are you’re trying too hard. Step away from the computer and just say out loud what you’re trying get across. Find the language that comes naturally to you and simply jot it down. If creating casual easy-to-read content isn’t your thing, then find someone who can help you say what you want to say.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” “No pain, no gain.” “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything.” We could go on, but you get the drift: That website isn’t going to work itself. The idea is easy to understand but demands commitment. Online activity grows each day because online content grows each day. New material. New stories. New reasons for people to come visit your site. If you’re not giving them reasons, they will stop coming. It’s that simple.
3 ways to be active online:
• Blog more than you want to. If you’re not posting regularly to your blog or giving visitors fresh content on a regular basis, you can be sure your competitors are. So, set deadlines for yourself. Put a weekly blog-post deadline in your calendar and stick to it. Some weeks will be easier than others, but as soon as you get into a routine you will notice your regular activity online will spark more regular visitors.
• Take advantage of video/audio. There are more ways to say something than simply writing it down, and it’s no secret that writing doesn’t exactly come naturally to everyone. So, why not make a video when the words aren’t flowing. Chances are your computer has a webcam and video software in it right now, ready to use. Speak to it. Speak to your visitors. By mixing up the usual writing routine you will not only keep your visitors on their toes, but you can challenge yourself to think outside the box.
• Get inspired by others. If you’re having trouble keeping up to a regular blogging routine, find a guest blogger. Or get permission to repost something you found interesting on another person’s blog. The online community is widespread and sharing content is how it grows. Who knows, maybe someone will want to use your content somewhere else. This will help you be active in more places than one.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Savvy website owner). Yes you’re probably tired of hearing how important it is to make sure your website is easy to navigate, easy to see and easy to search for. But is it easy to understand? The exciting part of building an online home for most clients is not the frame, but the interior. This is where they get to be themselves. The trouble is we’re all very complex in our own individual ways. If your message is simple, to the point and clear, then your message has a better chance of leaving an impact with visitors.
People will enjoy your interesting, individual take on website design and function — but if they’re not sure what to do or which pages they need to visit, they will, um, visit another website instead. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts, just don’t expect your visitors to know how to follow your instincts too.
3 ways to be clear online:
• Use language that makes sense to everyone. If you’re trying to get people interested in that ‘thing-a-ma-gig’ or the ‘whatchya-ma-callit’ you better find a way to talk about it without sounding like someone from a different planet. You know what you’re talking about, because you’re the expert. Help others to understand too by breaking it down and making it easy to comprehend.
• Clean up your design. Nobody likes a cluttered home. It’s hard to get around and find what you’re looking for. Your online home is no different. Graphics and fancy-looking layouts are nice when they work, but they have to work. Get a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh opinion on how your site looks and tidy it up so it makes sense to everyone who visits it.
• Say it once and move on. Ever been lost inside a website? It sucks. Ever feel like you’ve visited a certain page but you’re not quite sure? Also, suckish. Don’t let this happen to visitors to your site. Say what you have to say on each page and keep it there. If you are finding repeating patterns or similar themes carried through the site, ask yourself ‘Do I really need to say this again?’ If you are being clear from the start, visitors should be able to know where they can find the exact information they need without questioning which page they are visiting. They shouldn’t need a ‘You-Are-Here’ map.
As mentioned, trust is everything in building a strong relationship — but it has to start somewhere. Why not give new visitors to your website reasons to trust you right away? By giving visitors reasons to trust you, they in turn will give others reasons to trust you and your good reputation will grow. So, set yourself up for success with trust signals — just make sure you have the resources to keep that trust because a bad reputation can grow just as fast.
3 ways to be trustworthy online:
• Use trusted logos. It seems everywhere you go, you see the facebook logo, the twitter logo, even certain ‘secure-site’ logos. People trust those logos and certainly feel more comfortable around images they can relate to in a positive way. Do you have clients? Are their logos on your site? The more things a visitor can see that gives them a sense of authenticity, the better. Think of all the logos involved in what you do and consider if a logo should have a place on your site to help visitors feel open to a higher level of trust.
• Publish trusted recommendations. You’ve read movie reviews, restaurant reviews, car reviews. You want to know what you’re getting yourself into, right? Well, so do your website visitors. If you have well-respected clients, even customers who had a good experience with you, politely ask them to write a sentence or two about doing business with you. Not only will it give cred to your site and business, but it will help spread your message and reputation among the online community.
• Use trusted sources in your content. We understand you are not the New York Times and you probably won’t get the mayor on the phone as a trusted source for a simple blog you’re hammering out. But don’t let that stop you from using an article from the New York Times (for example) as a source to back up what you’re trying to say.
These are easy ways to start making a trustworthy first impression.
You understand basic survival to social media. You may even be a social media hound. Either way you know how important it is to be active on social media platforms if you want to find success online. Does your website reflect this? Integrating your social media activity with your website is essential for many reasons if you want your name/brand/message to actually reach people online — and there is no shortage of ways to do so. The good news is that even if you don’t see huge value in status-update widgets on your website, all you really need is to prove to visitors you’re socially active online and give them the tools they need to find you, link to you and share your content with others. Your website is your online home even if you’re not there all the time.
3 ways to be social online:
• Get into a routine. You can’t ‘do’ social media like you do a project or an assignment. You ‘participate’ in its enormous conversation. And the more you participate, the more you get out of it. By making your participation on twitter and facebook a regular part of your day, it becomes integrated into whatever you have to accomplish online. Just like checking your email, you have to keep doing it every day. So, dive in and keep swimming.
• Join a tweetchat. Tweetchats are great. They are a regular way to share your knowledge on a topic while learning from others. A simple conversation online can do wonders for getting your message (and brand) out there as an authority on a subject. It’s also a great way to connect with others with similar interests. It takes a little bit of dedicated time, but the payoff is worth it.
• Leave more comments. You read. You read blogs. Do you comment on them? Do you offer advice, insight? Ask questions? Give answers? Comments are the lifeblood of a successful blog. They generate conversation beyond the initial topic and keep people coming back for more. By commenting on a topic of interest you not only help to keep the conversation going, but you help yourself and your own message by sharing it in places beyond your own site. Spread the love.
Do you think your website would work on that computer you saw someone putting out on the sidewalk for garbage pick-up? Do you think your website would work on your parents’ version of Internet Explorer from 1995? Do you show up on the first page of Google when you search your name, address and specific business? If you don’t know, or worse, you answered ‘NO’ to these questions, you have a problem. Testing browser compatibility and your search engine functionality is hugely important. Besides, what’s the point in putting in all that effort to your website if it only works for certain people?
3 ways to be thorough online:
• Get access to all kinds of browsers. Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera (and many more!). They are not the same internet browser and they don’t read websites in the same way. Though browsers are becoming more universal, you can’t gamble on compatibility. You need to know that your site looks the way you planned on every computer. Check out your site on all types of browsers before publishing it (we use Litmus). There will be kinks to iron out. It’s just the way it is.
• Test old and new versions of internet browsers. Just because you are using the latest and greatest web browser doesn’t mean your website visitors will be. Download older versions of of the major web browsers and check to make sure you haven’t built something people can’t enjoy.
• Watch someone else navigate your site. You’ve been staring at your site since Day 1. Gosh, you may have had it in your imagination for years. You know how it is supposed to work, but do newbies? Grab your brother or sister or stranger or postal worker and sit them down in front of your test site and watch them work the mouse. Don’t say a word and don’t answer any questions. Write down their actions and compare how they navigate your site to how you want them to. You will be surprised how different people make their way through the internet.
• Make it mobile. Can people work your site on their smartphone? How about their iPad? They will surely try. So, it’s in your best interest to make sure they can.
Making your website work is not rocket science, but it is time-consuming work. There are countless ways to get your website working the way you want it to and have it be successful too.
These are just simple suggestions to help you get started.
The gang at Canopy Media understands the amount of time and dedication it takes to make a website work with precision and we take pride in breathing life into them. We give them the chance to grow by offering the right services to the right customers. But we also know that it’s the continuous hard work from hard-working people behind each website that allows it to find its full potential.
Thankfully, we love our work.
Do you love yours?
For more information on what makes a website work take a look at the links below: