Using the Web

When was the last time you took a comprehensive and objective look at your website? Sophisticated web analytics can tell you who is clicking on the site, the length of each stay and the pages that attract the most number of visitors. All well and good, but the question re­mains whether the website is giving visitors what they want and need. If not, the company is not getting the best bang for its buck.

In the 1990s, the rush to build websites, particularly for building contractors, may have been for public awareness; e.g. “We need a website because everybody is going on the Inter­net.” That rationale as the only justification for website ROI is long gone, and now every website requires a more defined goal and purpose. Both deserve the highest of considerations because visitors will not stick around very long when the purpose isn’t clearly communicated and information is difficult to access.

For more than 15 years, the company website has become the face of every business — the place where clients, prospects, the general public and occasionally the media are likely to go first to find out more about a company, its products and services. Builder and contractor sites run the gamut from glitzy, expensively designed pages to limited colors, graphics and text.

While the purpose has expanded to include attracting customers, updating clients and increasing sales, it will not be easily achieved if user experience is not taken into consideration during the design and development stage. In fact, user experience  – referred to as UX by website designers – may be the most important factor in determining whether your website is performing at its best. That’s why it is important to conduct a regular website checkup to see if the user experience is in need of a tune-up.

A Convenient Experience

Remember, in essence the website is your company. The visitor’s first reaction to your business or brand will be predicated by the UX, so every analysis of website effectiveness should begin with a study of the site’s convenience. How easy is it for users to navigate and access the information that brought them there in the first place? You don’t need statistical analysis to conclude that visitors have little patience with web complexity, which means that if the web page does not lend itself to easy navigation, the user is, in no uncertain terms, “out of there” perhaps permanently.

Each page should present the company as competent, professional and capable, and anything less unintentionally denigrates the image and is likely to lead to a quick exit. Misspellings, typos and poor grammar can hurt a company’s image as much as a poorly developed site. User feedback pages are often laced with stinging criticism over these inexcusable errors accompanied by this typical comment: “Don’t any of you ever look at your website?” When those barbs appear, it’s time to re-think your web presentation.

In order to attract the interest of prospects, it is important for websites to provide information about products, services and contacts, each carefully delineated and identified for ease of access. In this way, the site reinforces marketing initiatives, but does so in a manner attuned to the user’s interest without resorting to overly blatant sales pitches.

Keep in mind that it’s the user who will decide whether the site is appealing and effective, a point emphasized by the Web Marketing As­sociation (WMA), which has conducted award competitions for websites for more than 15 years. Construction and contractor websites are among the award categories. “You are only competing against sites in your in­dustry because we don’t want construction sites going up against consumer goods,” WMA President William Rice says. The association brings in an independent panel of judges with expertise in seven areas, all of which relate to UX: design, content, ease of use, technology, innovation, interactivity and copy. Awards, of course, cannot determine the site’s impact on the company’s business, but the judges’ critiques provide some valuable advice to improve user experience and the site’s value.

“Owners need to focus on design since it can be a sign of a company’s credibility,” Rice says. “Look at your peer group, what they are doing and ask if you need to catch up.” He suggests an annual design review, but says design improvements do not always require major investments, a relief for the smaller or mid-size contractor.

Correcting Killer Mistakes

Websites continue to hurt the businesses they are supposed to help because of two crucial mistakes according to Drew Falk, UX strategist for Human Factors International, a global user-centered design group based in Fairfield, Iowa. “They’re not communicating to the visitor what the site (and business) is all about, and people just aren’t able to find stuff,” Falk says. In addition to typos and grammatical errors, Falk lists other prospect turn-offs such as information not regularly updated (e.g. having a company news page that hasn’t been updated for months) or text that is too lengthy for users who have no desire to commit to long dissertations.

Falk suggests that companies invite members of their target audience to review their site. “Tell them the objectives and let them tell you if there’s anything confusing,” Falk says. Another recommendation from Falk is to pay attention to website analytics that offer valuable data of clicks on pages, length of stays and visitor information, especially the numbers who revisit and those who never return. “If the number of visitors is decreasing, then you’ve got a problem with the site,” Falk says. Another red flag: visitors to the home page stay briefly and leave without clicking any of the site’s buttons or links.

Falk offers several recommendations if your evaluation determines that the UX is falling short:

  • Update your design
  • Consider use of rich media (videos, montages, etc.) that highlight and enhance the contractor’s portfolio
  • Post testimonials and referrals from specific clients and customers, preferably with attribution instead of anonymous quotes
  • Conduct regular contacts with customers who are site users
  • Link the site to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. More companies are taking this approach, which can be valuable for feedback. It also makes for good public relations
  • Consider a site blog to discuss the company and trends in the industry

The best websites are multitaskers with each page accomplishing a separate mission. “Ultimately everything falls under the um­brella of meeting business goals,” Falk says.Whether it is to build sales, attract prospects or tout a new building initiative, the site should have an established goal for each page and achieve it in the easiest and most user friendly way. Every analysis should examine if those goals have been effectively communicated. If they’re not, visitors won’t stay on your page very long.

While analytics can break down visits, returns and pages accessed, there are other options to help you get an inside look of the users’ reaction to your site as you begin your evaluation such as social networks or even a focus group.

Design has to be an important consideration, particularly if your reevaluation produces less than satisfactory data, but don’t assume that glamour and glitz will solve everything. You know the design is working when the analytics show most of your visitors are interested enough to click on other pages on your site.

Ultimately, the best source for any reevaluation is the website visitor who has a specific need, expects to get information with as little effort as possible and is pleased with the user experience. A favorable UX is a sign of web success, which should be a primary objective for every website. It’s the best way to assure your website is working for your business.

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