The primary objective of most websites is to generate revenue, via an e-commerce sale, or an enquiry that can be followed up and converted into cold hard cash. But what is the key to achieving that? After eight years in the website business--helping clients design and market their sites to achieve optimum performance--David Kelly has some clear ideas.
First off, he says, the days of gimmicky websites--where users have to wait for an intro screen to complete its 'wow factor' party piece--are long gone. People just don't have the time to sit and wait to get what they want--no matter how clever or interesting a Flash intro page may be.
"There is a clear move away from gimmicks or trying to entertain people as companies move toward good clear grass roots business principles," says Kelly, chief executive of website design firm Zeald.com. "Company managers are saying, 'the website is a business tool, it costs a reasonable amount of money, so what are we looking for by way of a return'."
And when it comes to the two Ps of presentation and persuasion, there is, says Kelly, a clear pecking order.
"Persuasion comes first," he says. "Because that is your foundation. Companies need a highly persuasive website. And once you have got that right, then you can promote it."
Having completed thousands of website audits during the past five years--a process where one of his team pulls apart a client's website to find out how it is performing--Kelly has found that it is typically a website's weak ability to persuade people to act that is nearly always at the root of the problem.
And that, he says, is stopping the companies that own them from moving forward, generating sales and making their website pay its keep.
"The website audit is quite a formal process where we visit the client, look at their website and drill down to find out what they want and how the site is performing," says Kelly. "It is ideal for those people who are not sure what to do with their site.
"When someone decides their website is not working, the first thing they think of doing is promoting it more."
He says it is often the case that a website draws lots of visitors, but not enough of them are making a purchase or taking the next step and contacting the company for more information--creating a much-needed sales lead.
"The people we meet are often surprised to find that the promotion or marketing of their site is not too bad. But once the visitor arrives at the website it is not persuading enough of them to take action," he says.
When it comes to promoting a website Kelly says almost everyone has a suggestion.
"They can usually come up with half a dozen ideas--from advertising in a magazine, dropping a leaflet in letterboxes, or TV and radio adverts," he says.
"But we have done a lot of research over the years and have discovered that when it comes to being able to persuade someone to do something--the call to action--lots of businesses, managers and website owners have no idea. Many admit that they do not know where to start.
"People find it quite confusing and see it almost as an airy-fairy kind of an area. But that really is the foundation. Promoting a website that does not have a powerful call to action is a waste of money."
In other words, every dollar spent promoting a business has to have measurable results. And just because businesses are expected to have a website, they shouldn't be let off the hook when it comes to poor performance.
However, once you have your site up and running, drawing a crowd and converting them to buy your products or call for a quote, what next? It seems websites live and breathe and need ongoing attention to keep them fresh and interesting. Kelly says search engines constantly crawl the net looking for sites that have been updated. …