Every day at Blue Fountain Media we are contacted by people looking to build a new website. Reasons range anywhere from “it needs e-commerce functionality” to “no one knows what we do” to “I hate it!”
The latter is usually sales and marketing folk that resent the old website for making their jobs difficult. In any case, professional websites require a significant investment and getting management to give the green light not only requires a strong justification, it requires a clear ROI.
As a business consultant in the online space, I am often surprised by the number of people who are convinced their website needs to be redesigned, but don’t have information about the site’s overall performance in terms of measurable results. Similarly, many people tell me they love their site, but they don’t have access to data that shows how the site is actually doing.
So how is YOUR website doing?
Before you can answer this, you have to know how the site is performing. There are tools available that show you precisely how your website is performing as a whole, and across individual pages and sections. There are a number of website analytics tools, and many are free.
Google Analytics is probably the most popular free analytics tool out there. It offers highly detailed information about your site, and is activated by installing a line of source code into each website page. You can find out more at www.google.com/analytics
Clicky is another free analytics tool, which offers a clean user interface. Clicky prides themselves on offering information in a way that is easy to digest, and is broken down into usable data. Learn more about Clicky at www.getclicky.com/
There are also more sophisticated analytics tools that involve cost, but offer very powerful data-mining capabilities. One example is Adobe’s SiteCatalyst. A centralized data platform, its features integrate with the tool’s other functions such as site search and email campaigns. This gives you the complete picture of all online initiatives, in one place. SiteCatalyst starts at around $1,000 per month and is intended for more complex websites. You can learn more at www.omniture.com/en/
Once these analytics tools are installed on your website you will have the power to evaluate the site’s performance in quantifiable terms. Most often you will be looking at statistics such as the total number of visits; bounce rates (percentage of visitors who land on your site and leave without clicking anywhere else); average time visitors spend on your site; number of page views; and percentage of new visits. In order to understand what this all means, you need to look for trends, and see how things compare month to month. Then, depending on the issues you face, there are a variety of ways to enhance your website’s performance.
Let’s say you have a high bounce rate. In other words, people land on your site, then leave. This is the equivalent of someone walking into a store, making a face and leaving! If it happens enough, the store owner knows something is wrong and makes a change-- to the prices, the staff and products. If it’s the trend on your website, you may have to make adjustments to the site, for example on the landing pages (site entry points from search engines, advertising, or other referrers). In some cases, you will already have a good idea about what is causing the problem. It could be poor usability, confusing messaging, even an untrustworthy or outdated look and feel.
If you aren’t sure about what the problem is or which changes to make, you should consult a professional for suggestions. You may consider A/B testing, a process that involves creating different page versions to determine which works best. A/B testing can be applied to many areas of your website, including calls to action, features, content, copy and design colors, images and font sizes.
The idea here is to test a couple and see which one works best. We routinely do this with our own website; it operates as a laboratory for us and for our clients. For example, we found that the bright orange call to action buttons yield more requests for quotes than the less prominently-colored buttons we used previously. We also learned by monitoring site activity that people usually view our Portfolio and Services sections before they click on “About.”
By rearranging our main navigation so that those sections are listed first, we are giving our prospective clients the information they want most, right away. This layout change has increased our overall conversion rate. If you think about it, this makes complete sense. Why would anyone be interested in our team members, if they haven’t yet seen our work?
You can also obtain valuable information from analytics about where your site’s traffic is originating. This information will help you determine the success of each of your marketing efforts. For instance, you may launch a newsletter campaign, and can use analytics to track the number of leads that came to your site by clicking through the newsletter. Analytics will also tell you the number of visitors that came from organic and paid search, referrals (other websites linking to yours), and direct traffic (users who have bookmarked your site or who type the URL fully). After you know which keywords drive the most traffic to your site, you can better focus your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts.
When people are directed to your site from an online search, it is crucial that they are pushed to a targeted landing page appropriate for their search. They are expecting to find specific content or products, and do not want to be sent to a generic page. If they land on your site and don’t find what they are looking for, they will often leave immediately.
For this reason, we always recommend creating highly targeted landing pages that give the user exactly what they want, without having to look far. Obviously the more your website’s contents and products match what the user is looking for, and the easier it is for them to get it, the more likely it is that user will convert to a lead or customer.
You can also learn a great deal by monitoring where your visitors go after they leave your website. This gives you information about what your competitors are doing right, and affords the opportunity to learn from them.
Studies have shown that people have a remarkably short attention span on the web. You only have about three seconds from the time someone lands on your site to get their attention and convert them into a lead. People expect to understand what you are all about right away, and get what they need with ease. With so many choices out there, it is far too easy to abandon the site in search of a competitor who lays out the information in a way that is easy to understand, and who is easy to do business with.
It is always disheartening to see companies invest a lot of money into driving website traffic (through SEO, PPC or social media marketing), but that don’t have a website that converts well. When users arrive, they click the back button and abandon the site. By tracking user patterns, you will learn whether people are turned off by a confusing shopping experience, a lack of clear messaging on the homepage, or a Contact Us form with too many fields. You can closely monitor user pathways and learn common exit points, then revamp each of those sections. For instance you may find that 1000 people made it to your Contact Us page this month, but only 4 of them filled out the form. In this case you should take a closer look at the form itself. It may be too long, or confusing.