I recently was asked to evaluate a software company’s website and determine why it wasn’t effective. The site received a steady flow of traffic. The problem was the traffic wasn’t converting. Visitors came to the site and then left without taking any action and never returning again.
On the plus side, the site was professional although a bit sterile and generic. It had substantial content, lots of industry information, but it clearly lacked something.
In reading through the site page by page, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t just one element that was wrong. As is often the case, multiple factors were contributing to its lack of success.
The Home page for the software company had minimal copy, just a couple of lines to say the company specialized in software development. Yet it didn’t explain what kind of software nor whether it created software products for widespread distribution or whether it specialized in custom software development services for clients.
Some companies are afraid to put too much copy on their website. They worry that visitors won’t take the time to read it or, that if they do, they’ll have learned what they need to know and won’t call. If they don’t call, the company doesn’t get an opportunity to interact with visitors and convert them into customers.
As long as you make your copy interesting and informative, you don’t have to worry about overwhelming visitors. They’ll find what appeals to them and skip over the rest. More information won’t hurt. It helps visitors perceive you as industry experts, as an authority in your field.
But here’s the important thing: if visitors don’t find what they’re looking for, they’ll hit their back button, and you’ll have lost them for good.
The Home page of the software company’s website didn’t describe who the company’s best prospects were.
As it turns out, this company only worked with technology startups, and specifically online companies. They wanted clients that had a good concept but needed help executing their ideas, especially as related to the programming and the user experience.
When a prospect lands on your website, you want them to be able to see themselves as a potential customer. If you don’t make that connection, you won’t get a chance to make the sale.
The software company only worked on custom projects and, unlike its software development competitors, it offered more services than coding. It also did brand development, marketing, prototype development and venture capital pitches.
When I pointed out that these facts didn’t appear on the company’s website, the manager said, “Well, most of our clients are referrals, so they already know what we do.” Yeah, sure, so tell me why you have a website at all.
Other glaring omissions of the software company’s website? No calls to action. Nowhere on any page did it say, “Contact us to discuss your software project,” or “Take advantage of our free consultation,” or “Ready to bring your concept to life? Contact us now!”
After you’ve described your product or service, you need to prompt the prospect to contact you. You need to move him forward in the sales process, just as you would if you were making a presentation in person.
Much to my surprise, the software company’s website didn’t have a Contact Us page. The company’s address, phone number and email were listed on the Home page, but for the user on any of the 30 pages other than Home, how did one contact this company?
Don’t make visitors search for your email or phone number. Put those items right in front of their face, no matter where they are on your site.
The website lacked an About Us page. How could the visitor know who was behind the site?
Nowhere did it say how long the company had been in business, where it was located or who were its key people.
How could visitors decide if they liked and trusted the company enough to award it their business, if they didn’t know anything about it?
The navigation on the software company’s website was confusing. The menu buttons were placed only along the bottom of the page, not at the top or left side.
Consequently, on most pages, the visitor had to scroll way down to find them. Furthermore, some of the links didn’t appear on the navigation menu and could only be accessed by links from inside pages — weird.
Additionally, the links were not placed in a typical order. In fact, “Pricing” was the button right after the Home page. It should have been one of the last buttons, as you usually don’t discuss pricing issues until all other factors have passed scrutiny.
One of the more detailed pages of the website was a “How We Work” page. It explained that the company would put two software engineers on each job, who would then use an “agile development process” to complete the work.
Nowhere did it describe the actual work or explain what exactly the company does. The visitor was left feeling unfulfilled, as the page didn’t live up to its promise.
Some of the pages of the website included photos. However, they were all stock photos and looked it.
Not a one was a true representation of the company’s location or people. The result was a generic-looking site that lacked credibility. Frankly, it looked fake.
Real pictures are an important component of telling your company’s story. Without them, the visitor doesn’t feel he knows you and can trust you.
People considering a purchasing decision seek out reviews and testimonials. They want to know that others in the same situation found the right solution.
The software company’s website didn’t have any testimonials from satisfied customers, no case studies of companies they’d helped, and no client list, all of which could have been strong selling points in persuading a visitor to become a customer.
From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, the site was missing out on opportunities. The individual pages were not optimized for any particular keyword. And the title tags were phrases like “Home” or “About Us,” totally useless for a company that specializes in software development for technology startups.
The meta-description tags were no better. They were equally void of facts. Without compelling meta-description tags, the company surely was missing out on potential traffic.
As it turned out, most of the traffic the site was getting wasn’t from organic ranking on the search engines; it was from pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Yes, PPC ads are a legitimate way to generate traffic, albeit a costly one, but they shouldn’t be your only way. With some SEO work, this website could rise in the search engine rankings based on its own merits.
In summary, here are the 10 features that this and every website should have to be successful:
1. Make your Home page compelling. Your Home page is prime real estate. After all, that’s how most visitors will enter your site. Make your pitch strong, as well as visually appealing, so anyone who lands there is persuaded to walk through the door to the other pages of your site.
2. Explain what you do, not just how you do it. This information should be readily apparent, easily found on or from your Home page.
3. Give facts about your company. Don’t hide behind generic statements and fluffy descriptions that could apply to any business (i.e. “We’re committed to quality and customer satisfaction.”) Be clear. Be specific.
4. Include a call-to-action on every page. Remember, the whole goal of having a website is to persuade someone to take action, whether it’s to contact you, subscribe or purchase a product.
5. Make site navigation logical. The navigation menu is not the place to get creative. Use terms people know and understand. Place buttons where visitors expect them to be. They should not have to search hard to find what they want.
6. Optimize each page of your copy for specific keywords. If you want to rank high on the search engines, optimization is a necessity.
7. Craft good title tags and description meta-tags. Every page should have unique title tags and description meta-tags. They should employ the same keywords used in the content of the page.
8. Include testimonials, case studies and client lists. Nothing is more persuasive than a third-party endorsement. Those votes of confidence will build your company’s credibility and authority.
9. Use real photos when possible. Stock photos are too generic and too fake to make a meaningful impression.
10. Determine the path you want your visitors to take and then lead them. Look at your site’s analytics and see where visitors enter your site (Hint: it’s not always the Home page), the order of pages they’re viewing and the pages they exit from. Then modify your content to better control the visitors’ path and steer them to take action.