Here are 10 ways to improve your online presence:
1. Do your research
A recent advertising campaign showed two men standing next to each other at a public urinal, furtively casting glances at each other’s endowments. The tagline read: ‘It’s natural to compare!’. That is good advice for the novice website owner, too. Don’t just brag about how wonderful your firm’s website is – go out and take a peek at what your competitors have got. Do your homework properly, and keep an open mind. If a competitor has a good idea, see if your web design team can do something similar. Spend time surfing the internet and find out what is possible – then keep on surfing on a regular basis. If you don’t know what’s ‘new and happening’, you’re on the way out.
- For great design tips go to Projectcool’s Sightings page which lists the most innovative websites on a daily basis.
- To keep abreast of Internet trends go to The Register or vnunet.com
2. Test your site – and test again!
When it’s first up and running let all your friends and family and your staff have access to your site. Ask them all for feedback – good and bad. If you can, use customers under laboratory conditions to test your website navigability. See if they can make it fall over – better they experience your site falling over than a customer with money to spend. Try to find out what annoys and frustrates them, but also what really excites them. If you’ve developed a winning formula, you need more of it!
3. Monitor your site regularly
Just as importantly as testing your site, ask yourself who is monitoring it. Should your sales people be monitoring it, looking out for any serious problems – especially availability (downtime means lost sales!) and spelling and pricing errors? What if your web master inadvertently posts wrong pricing? Imagine the damage that could be caused by placing an item for Pounds 1.00 instead of Pounds 100 on-site! Some customers will order it and get very unhappy if you say there was a mistake and can’t afford to honour it. It’s a good idea to let your employees access your site and keep checking it out regularly.
4. Who gets feedback?
What feedback opportunities are there on your site and who is monitoring what comes from them? Those emails could tell you a lot about the site’s design and about customer satisfaction. Are you seeing all the responses? Do the responses come to you or go to an external agency? It’s often best that you get unfiltered feedback about your site, as it’s the direct interface between you and your customer.
- Take a look at MSN’s feedback page
5. Assess usage statistics
What ‘usage statistics’ are you getting, and are they reliable and meaningful? Internet jargon can be confusing, but an important distinction to make is the difference between ‘hits’ and ‘page impressions’. A web page is made up of many individual elements – HTML and graphics files – and sometimes people add up all these files to give a total number of ‘hits’ on a site. Best to talk about page impressions – a whole web page counted as one – or ‘unique users’, which just counts the number of visitors no matter how many pages they download. For any ecommerce site, though, it’s the orders taken that count. What conversion rate do you have on-site? Just as any shop owner would worry that thousands are coming through his shop and few are buying, so you need to know which items and pages are successful and which aren’t.
6. Optimise your site for speed
Have your designers optimised your site for ease of use and, above all, speed? Good web designers will ensure that all graphics are compressed in such a way as to help speed up the download and display of pages. Remember too that most of your customers won’t have fast modem access, so bear this in mind when you’re being given a demo of your site. It may look great on a high-speed ADSL or leased line connection, but will look very slow and cause frustration to those users (possibly millions of them in the UK) who still use old 28K modems.
- The BBC news site makes use of extremely small sized graphics allowing the site’s pages to download quickly.
- Internet service providers offer different levels of bandwidth to customers. Remember free ISPs may not cost much, but probably don’t offer the quickest access to your site – especially if it receives lots of hits. One of the fastest is Psinet.com
7. Design sites for all browsers
Are you cutting off potential customers because your site isn’t designed for their browser? There are two main browsers – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape’s Navigator – and these come in many different versions. That means that whizzy graphics and tricks designed for the latest version of IE may not work on all the others. Quiz your web designer on multi-browser support, and ask to be demoed your site under both IE and Netscape. Also ask to see your site demoed under different screen resolutions. You can change the resolution of your monitor yourself by right-clicking on the Windows Desktop, selecting Properties and bringing up the Display Properties box. Selecting the Settings tab gives you options on the Screen Area – try a 640 x 480 pixel display. Your site may be un-navigable on that, yet some users are still accessing the internet through monitors set at this screen size.
- Make sure your site works with both IE and Netscape. If you need to download these browsers you can do so for free. Go to: Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer
8. Get on search engines!
There are tricks in getting yourself registered on search engines. For instance, make sure your site’s metatags are set up to ensure search engines list you correctly when they check out your site. Metatags are hidden keywords and descriptions in the HTML file which say what your site is about and also allow for a list of keywords. If you sell books in Dorset, for instance, make sure you’ve got the keywords ‘bookseller, Dorset’ and other possible words people might search on – ‘bestsellers’ etc. Search engines use these keywords to identify your site, so if someone is searching for a Dorset bookseller, your site might be the first one returned by the search engine. Don’t overdo this, though (restrict yourself to less than 1000 characters in your list). And don’t include your competitors. A recent court case in the UK went against a company that listed a competitor’s name in its keyword list. To check out if your site already has metatag keywords, click on the View menu then Source in IE, or View then Page Source in Navigator.
9. Assess customer satisfaction
On an ecommerce website, it is essential to ensure that you have your back-end systems in place to meet customer demand. Don’t offer more than you can deliver – the best-looking website will fail if goods aren’t delivered in good order and on time. Customers use the internet for greater ease of use than going to shops or mail order. They want to access details about what they’re buying, probably want to see photos of products, and they want to easily get through to the checkout. Is your site easy to use? And have you thought about offering post-sales support, and taking the pressure off your post-sales support staff?
10. Keep up the contact
The internet makes it easy to keep in touch with customers. Use email to let them know what’s going on and build on the loyalty you have established. But be careful, don’t over do it, or you’ll alienate them and be accused of spamming! Judicious use of email can alert them to new products and services you offer, and make for ongoing sales. A handy tip: use a real person’s name rather than a company name for the email. Customers will see it is from a real person and that adds to reinforcing the personal link with them (it will also encourage them to give feedback).
- A good example of targeted customer e-mailing is CNN’s e-mailed news which can be customised to suit users’ interests.
- Generally sites that are interactive and allow for personalisation keep customers coming. Have a look at My Yahoo.com
This article first appeared on www.vnunet.com, additional research by AccountancyAge.com
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