The Complex World of Website Design
Many Factors Involved in Optimizing a Website
Virtually every reputable contracting firm has a website, but just having a functional website is no longer sufficient — for the customer or the contractor. Customers want websites that are organized, informational, and easy to navigate, while contractors want websites that attract visitors and ultimately convert them into customers.
That second piece is particularly important, because an aesthetically pleasing website is useless if customers can’t find it in the first place. As Brian Kraff, CEO and cofounder, Market Hardware Inc., noted, “The Internet is a crowded marketplace, and the most successful businesses are the ones that get themselves in front of possible customers, and then impress them with their websites.”
To do that requires time, effort, and probably professional guidance.
To attract customers to a website, contractors need to include some form of search engine optimization (SEO) in their marketing strategies. SEO is basically a website’s ability to attract views and visitors organically (unpaid), through the use of keywords and content. This shouldn’t be confused with search engine marketing (SEM), which is a paid search option (usually through a vendor such as Google Adwords or Bing Ads) that improves a website’s visibility.
Kraff noted that SEO is quickly becoming the more important of the two, because businesses are finding that, over time, a relatively small investment (compared to a paid search) can deliver big returns. “However, businesses seeking immediate results may be better served to focus on a paid search campaign, because it allows you to ‘pay to play.’ Just about any Web expert will tell you having the right combination of the two is the most effective strategy — how much of each depends on competition and target area.”
According to Ben Landers, president, Blue Corona, a website must feature three things in order to improve SEO. “First, the code and site structure have to be such that search engines can actually crawl a site; second, the website needs well-written, unique, and relevant content that adds genuine value to your prospects; and third, you need to be a referenced authority on the Web — other sites need to reference, and preferably link to, your site.”
All of this matters, said Adams Hudson, president, Hudson Ink, because if “your company is not on Page 1 of your main or chosen search terms, such as ‘Heating in Hoosegow, Okla.,’ then your own mother can’t find you. Over 90 percent of searchers never make it to Page 2, and customers will not call you if you’re on Page 2.”
To move up to that Page 1 status, Hudson suggests that contractors follow these guidelines:
• Get a local listing (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp). It is criminal to let that simple step go undone, plus it’s free;
• Title all Web pages with pertinent keywords;
• Title all photographs the same way;
• Use search words (keywords) in lead articles and headlines for those articles and reports;
•Send emails that invite customers to consume good content, not sales junk; and
• Same with Facebook followers. Post good content, such as advice, money saving methods, answers to questions, etc.
“If these steps are followed weekly, they will drive activity to your site, which Google rewards as relevance and activity,” said Hudson. “A more advanced technique is to include video — also titled — that addresses a topic that is often searched. Video consumption has multiplied in the past two years, which is why we have 29 videos in our library on virtually every topic a searcher could want.”
Optimizing User Experience
Once consumers are driven to a website, they should be able to find the information they are seeking quickly and easily. Landers noted that high-performing websites typically include the following features:
• Fast load time and accessibility. Nothing is quite as annoying as a slow-loading site or one that loads with errors so that key aspects of the site are illegible. A site has to load quickly, and it has to be accessible across all devices — laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
• Contact information. It’s mind boggling how many contractors practically hide their phone number — it’s almost as if they don’t want people to call them. Put the phone number in the expected locations — usually the top-right corner and the footer — on every page.
• Clear calls to action. What do you want people to do? Why should they choose you over competitors? High-performing websites have clear calls-to-action and well-thought-out benefit statements, and they test new ones on an ongoing basis.
• Trust builders. If you want more business from your website, you would be wise to demonstrate that you’re a real and trustworthy company by including financing options (or at least the credit cards you accept), awards you’ve won, pictures of your key staff members, license numbers, reviews, etc.
• Well-written content. If you want to save money, buy cheaper toilet paper for the office — don’t skimp on your website copy by outsourcing it to the cheapest bidder. Your website is your single most valuable marketing asset. In the right hands, it can grow your business exponentially; however, the reverse is also true. A bad website with poorly written content can cost you dearly. Invest in great content.
And most of all, said Landers, include the right analytics tools and tracking technologies. “Installing the right tools will allow you to understand a user’s experience, but more importantly, you will be able to quantify the contribution of your website to your bottom line. Not surprisingly, most contractors have no idea how much revenue they generated last year from their website or how those visitors reached their website in the first place.”
As for the actual design, the home page is critical, said Hudson, and it should be thought of with a tic-tac-toe board drawn over the top of it. “Due to eye-pattern measured response, the top three spaces, left to right, are the most valuable in increasing order. Space No. 9 is next most important. Contractors should focus their most valuable information in these spots; however, I often see huge logos, ridiculous photos, and unclickable copy in these spots, which is a total waste.”
Another big mistake is to not include the ability to capture information on the consumer, which Hudson likens to salespeople who never introduce themselves. In addition, he advises limiting the number of tabs on a website to five, as more is not better in this instance.
As for blogs, links to Twitter and Facebook, and options to subscribe to a newsletter, Kraff believes all of them should be included on the website. “Businesses that rank well online typically have links to several social media platforms on their websites, and they also link back to their websites on all those social media sites. This is an easy way to build inbound links to your website — an increasingly vital element to search engine ranking formulas. Contractors should link to their Twitter and Facebook pages on their website home page, but any other features like appointment scheduling, online payments, and newsletters should all be kept on separate pages of the site.”
Once a website is operating at peak performance, attracting customers, and zooming up to the top of search rankings, it is necessary to keep that momentum going through continual updating. Weekly updates are the norm, said Hudson, with monthly updates being the absolute bare minimum. “Otherwise, the website will fall into irrelevance. Zero activity and zero updates are a recipe for digital disaster. That’s when a blog or Facebook posting can be helpful — they link to your site, creating activity, which Google likes a lot.”
All of this can seem a little overwhelming, which is why contractors may want to consider hiring a professional who has plenty of experience designing websites. Landers noted that these professionals can identify the exact contribution a website makes toward a contractor’s business goals (including how much of this contribution currently comes from organic search); create an overarching strategy for the Web — which includes SEO and social media — and help execute and implement the plan. Yes, it can be pricey, but if you hire the right company, it could be the best investment you’ve ever made.
Another reason to consider hiring a professional is that website design standards are far more advanced than ever before. In addition, competition is fierce, so having a poorly designed website is just as bad as having no website at all, said Kraff. “A website is usually a contractor’s primary funnel for generating business. Consumers once looked up contractors using the Yellow Pages, but everyone is using Google now. Given the importance of having a professionally built website, it’s simply too big a risk to try designing it yourself. Seek the help of an expert with proven industry experience.”
Publication date: 2/3/2014