When it comes to websites, all businesses like to think that they have an online platform that communicates who they are as a company. A well-designed website should proficiently promote products and services, and leaves visitors with a positive impression. But poor visuals, a lack of coherent design, slow loading speeds, and even confusing content can cause potential customers to log off permanently.
In today’s digital world, having a thorough website is one of the most important things that any business can do.
Gone are the days where customers relied on the Yellow Pages to find phone numbers and contact details.
Instead, today’s audiences will conduct thorough research online before making any purchase or enquiry with brands. For example, customers will read online reviews on sites such as Trustpilot. They’ll search your social media platforms to understand if your values align with theirs. And they will monitor forums and discussion groups to find out what other people are saying about you. Ninety-three percent of customers have admitted that online reviews will directly impact their purchasing decisions.
This tells us that customers will develop a strong perception of your business before logging on, so their first impression of you (via your website) must match that initial perception.
What are the common barriers to having an effective website?
To understand how effective your website is, you should know the common barriers to high-performing sites. Once you are aware of what works well on your website, and what improvements may be required, you can turn your website into a revenue-generating platform.
It may come as no surprise, but budget will always be a factor when it comes to having a well-performing website.
Start-up companies, in particular, may be bombarded with adverts from web hosting companies such as Go Daddy, Wix, and Squarespace. All of them promise highly efficient websites for little cost. And there is undoubtedly a place in the market for these websites. All have their strengths, and these low-cost websites can work well for some businesses in specific sectors. But it’s essential to be aware of their limitations.
As your website needs change, you may need to invest in a more complex system. There are many commercial platforms available that offer exceptional content management systems. The likes of WordPress, Drupal or Shopify (if you are a retailer) can give you everything that you need to run your website effectively. If you need something more intuitive, with greater capabilities to enhance the entirety of your business, you may wish to consider investing in a bespoke system. These options are designed solely around your business infrastructure and can offer you exceptional performance alongside scalability and flexibility.
Time and strategic coherence
When you’re focusing on your day-to-day operations, maintaining your website can be difficult, especially if your services occur offline. A widespread problem with business websites is that they may be managed by people who may not have the time or expertise to keep them functioning effectively.
They may be making simple mistakes that prevent your website from working as it should be.
Conversely, the opposite may also be true.
For example, your website may be managed by someone interested in digital marketing and pays close attention to the latest technological trends. But those trends may not be relevant to your business. If your website doesn’t align with your long-term business strategy, it may be easy to have a disconnect between what your website does and what your business does. For example, you may have seen companies invest heavily in automated technologies or CGI marketing. If you have invested in these, without considering your audience demographics and your wider business needs, you could be investing in the wrong areas of development. This could lead to a poor return on your investment.
Lack of agility
One of the biggest failures of businesses is a reluctance to futureproof their websites.
Companies are continually growing and changing, and your website needs to have these capabilities as well. You need to be able to change and adapt your website at the same pace as your business. If your site is aligned with your internal databases, have you got the technology behind you to improve internal efficiencies? If you want your customers to log into your site to update their personal profiles and account information, is it quick and easy for them to do so?
In fast-paced sectors such as retail, having an agile platform could be crucial to your online operations.
Suppose you are a thriving retail business. Your entire business strategy may rely on having a functioning website. But what if your business takes off, and you have an outpouring of orders? Can your website cope with the additional traffic caused by busy sales periods such as Black Friday or Christmas sales? Has your checkout process become confusing and convoluted for customers? Can you take advantage of new staggered payment options such as Klarna or Clear Pay? Suppose your website is challenging to update and add new products or services. In that case, you may find it hard to react to changing trends and topical issues, which could prevent you from capitalising on sales trends and improving your overall revenue.
The importance of having an agile website has been demonstrated by homeware retailer, Cox and Cox. In Q1 of 2020, the brand saw a 64% year-on-year growth in their online sales due to the pandemic. With record website traffic and rapid investment into outdoor furniture (reflecting changing customer requirements), the retailer had the speed and agility to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace quickly. What’s more, they also had the infrastructure in place throughout their supply chains to ensure that they could meet the unprecedented customer demand. However, the firm may have struggled to react to the situation without an adaptive and responsive website.
Misunderstanding of the importance of conversions
Often, businesses will heavily invest in acquisition strategies because they know that SEO is vital to gaining traffic and improving awareness of your business. But attracting traffic is only part of the process. Once your visitors arrive on your site, they need to find what they are looking for quickly and easily. They need to know what action you expect them to take. And they need to be able to seamlessly convert into paying customers, whether through purchasing an online product or enquiring directly about your services.
Companies are providing big SEO budgets in a bid to attract new customers. Still, they lose focus on investing in their websites so that those potential customers are converting successfully. It could be about critiquing your user experience, reviewing your visuals or your content, or even using data analytics to understand where and why customers are dropping out from your website. If you have invested in acquisition strategies at the expense of conversion optimisation, then you may find that your website is financially inefficient.
How can you convert these barriers into strengths?
Now that we know the main barriers to having a high-performing and revenue-driving website, we can turn our attention to improvement solutions.
The first thing to consider is your audience demographics.
Your website will only succeed if it meets the aims and expectations of your audience. You should reflect your audience demographics in the tone of voice, imagery, colours, and overall look and style. For example, if your audience is B2B, then you need to reflect this. Similarly, if you are an online shop catering to young children, then the look and feel of your site need to replicate your demographics. As a starting point, you should use your business strategy and your analytical data to pinpoint exactly who your audience is. Free tools such as Google Analytics will give you a detailed insight into who your visitors are. If there is a disconnect between who you assume your audience is and what your analytics are telling you, you can use that information to make substantial changes.
Be clear about what you want your customers to do.
Often, websites fail to convert visiting traffic into paying customers because the visitor is unsure of what they are supposed to do once they have landed on your site. Think carefully about the first impression that you are giving. It’s important to remember that not everyone will land on your homepage first.
They may be entering your site on various landing pages, and these need to have the same attention as your homepage. By taking a critical look at your site and working with UX specialists, you can incorporate stringent testing that will allow you to improve your conversions. Sometimes, minor changes such as the size or quantity of images used or a reduction in the number of ‘clicks’ to reach your checkout or contact me page could substantially affect your overall conversion rates. These days, companies have access to more technical data than ever before, and with the right software, you can track user behaviours in real-time as they explore your site. Therefore, it’s essential to consider how you can use this data to enhance the overall experience.
Optimise your website for mobile technology.
It’s also vital to check that you have optimised your website efficiently. Not only do you want to rank highly for particular keywords to improve your search visibility, but your website needs to be mobile-ready.
Audiences are no longer browsing, searching, or shopping via their laptops. Instead, they are increasingly using their phones or tablets to manage all of their internet usage.
In 2020, the UK “collectively spent over 82 billion hours in shopping apps” (source: Internet Retailing).
Therefore, it is critical that you design your website for mobile use – not only will it meet your visitor expectations, but it will also improve your search visibility. If you are mobile-ready, your website will display on even the smallest screen as you want it to. Navigation will be quick and easy, and pages will load quickly. Considering that “A 2-second delay in load time can result in abandonment rates of up to 87%” (source: hobo-web), it is clear that a failure to optimise your website could be catastrophic for your website.
Knowing when it’s the right time to update your website
Even with the best intentions, and a strategic effort to transform your weaknesses into strengths, there will still come a time when you need to update your website. As mentioned earlier, websites have a limited timeframe, and at a certain point, they will reach the end of their lives. Leading business publication Forbes recently declared that a website’s average lifespan is just two years and seven months.
The trick for businesses is to identify when they have reached that point and prepare a business case for additional investment into a new platform.
Often, businesses wait until they accrue significant technical debt before investing in a new system. Then, they wait until it costs them more money each month to make minor fixes rather than investing in an entirely new platform.
However, that decision to wait could be disastrous.
Customers are notoriously fickle, and if they’ve had an unpleasant experience with your website (such as complex checkouts, slow loading speeds, bad imagery), then they may fail to return. What’s more, if your platform host has come to its end-of-life, failing to update your website could increase your security vulnerabilities, putting you (and your customer data) at risk.
It’s also important to consider that websites are often more than just a customer-facing communication channel.
Usually, website infrastructures heavily align with internal systems and processes. For example, suppose you have a database that synchronises with your customer accounts. In which case, you need to make sure that a poor-performing website does not hinder your internal systems and processes.
Suppose your internal employees are spending far longer than they should need to on minor tasks (such as uploading new product details or highlighting critical services). In that case, your internal productivity could suffer. This suggests that your business case for investment into a new website platform should consider your wider workplace efficiencies, not just online sales and enquiries.
These days, businesses face lots of competition. To remain successful, they need to have the ability to scale and adapt to the changing landscape of their sector. For example, suppose your website is difficult to update, or you cannot quickly launch new services and products without lengthy timescales or complex processes in place. In that case, your website may not have the scalability to adapt in line with your business. Perhaps you’ve identified new business opportunities that you wish to capitalise on. But if your website causes you to be slow to react, you could be missing much-needed revenue.
With this in mind, maybe now is the right time to critically assess your website to see if your website is working as effectively as it could be and whether it’s the right time to migrate to a new platform.