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Love at first “site”: 14 must haves for your website

Who doesn’t want their suspects, prospects and other website visitors to fall in love with their site? As in real life, first impressions matter. So, with that in mind, here are 14 must-haves for any website in 2013:

  1. Objective: What is the purpose of your website? Is it to sell your product or service or both? Is it just to credentialize you and differentiate you from your competition? Is it meant to capture leads so you can educate them via marketing automation? Is it meant to create an interest-based community, knowledge-sharing etc. If you don’t know what you need from the website, you won’t get it.
  2. Strategic alignment: Just how it is important that your Marketing Strategy moves your business forward, it is also important that your web strategy moves your Marketing initiatives forward. This means identifying the key audience of your website based on demographic and/or psychographic patterns. It means locking down your communication objectives and the challenges encountered by these audience groups. And then it means thinking about the content and functionality that could help address the challenges and communicate your message.
  3. Multi-Navigation: Not all humans think and behave in the same manner. The truth is that visitors interact with your website in different ways. For instance, while looking for a website, some users may prefer typing the website’s name in Google rather than typing it directly in the address bar of the browser. Some people may like to use the carriage return to submit a form while others like to use their mouse, and so on. The moral of the story is that you should never provide a solitary way to navigate to the most important sections in your website. All important information should be accessible through multiple ways e.g. check out the website http://www.oand.org and see how the ND Referral Service can be accessed in several ways.
  4. Accessibility: Does your website satisfy the legal accessibility requirements? For example, in Ontario, as per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA), if your business has more than 20 employees, your website needs to be compliant with different levels of accessibility (A, AA or AAA). Even if you are not mandated by law, following some of the guidelines of this act can improve the accessibility of your website. What is included in the guidelines? Well, that is a subject for another blog post.
  5. Choice of Fonts: Gone are the days when all websites were built using the standard Helvetica or Arial fonts. Using cloud based web fonts can actually help your website stand out in the crowd. The best part is that a number of these fonts are available for free (e.g. Google fonts). While selecting these fonts, make sure they don’t interfere with the readability of your site and pay attention to selecting the appropriate font-size.
  6. Social Platform: In 2013, if you have a static HTML website, then unknowingly you are sending the wrong signal to your target audience (being outdated) and likely missing some incredible opportunities. The look and feel of your website impacts your credibility and people’s worldview about you. You may be losing business without being aware of these prospects. Even if your site is built on a social platform (that supports social media integration), it is important to choose the right technology to make sure it is easy to update your website. There are great content management systems (CMS) in the market that are open source and provide great functionality at a very low development cost. Are you taking advantage of these CMSs?
  7. Mobile-friendly: Last year alone, more smartphones were sold than laptops and computers. The trend is quite clear. In the years to come, more web browsing will happen on smartphones than laptops and computers. However, if your website is not usable on a smartphone, visitors will not take the next step. Responsive design or a dedicated mobile website is the answer. Little spying tip: open your competitor’s website on mobile and see if they are ahead of the game.
  8. Social Sharing: Just before the emergence of social media, content sharing on the web was limited to emailing a link to your friend. Today, content can be syndicated via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and can be shared virally using nifty technologies like AddThis and ShareThis.
  9. Call to Action: Every web page on your website and every section on a web page needs to accomplish a specific objective.  For example, in an eCommerce storefront the objective is to get the user to select the product and click “Add to Cart”. Once the product is added to the cart the objective is to get the user to transact, and so on. This is where the Call to Action becomes important. For SEO and so many other reasons, it is also important to frame an appropriate Call to Action e.g. using the word “Register Now” or “Buy Now” instead of simply “Submit”or “Go” makes it far more convincing and can improve conversion rates. Another example is using “Like me on Facebook” instead of “I am on Facebook” or simply “Facebook”.
  10. Built-in SEO: If your website has terrible SEO, it is as good as non-existent. There are a number of factors that affect SEO but the secret sauce to staying no. 1 is elusive.  For this reason, businesses end up spending huge chunks of dollars to ensure a better ranking. However, a lot of SEO can (and should) be built-in right at the development of the site  e.g. use of title tags, meta description, alt tags for images etc. The majority of developers have a tendency to overlook these aspects just because it takes considerable effort and discipline to build a website with built-in SEO. How is your website performing on Google?
  11. HTML5: Gone are the days of using Flash to create cool animations and effects on your website.  Flash-based functionality does not appear on iOS devices (iPhones and iPads). With a huge amount of mobile/tablet web browsing still happening on the iOS devices, using Flash on your site is a big miss. HTML5 provides a great alternative to Flash as it supports a number of great effects. Also, it is iOS friendly.
  12. Analytics: What gets measured gets managed! Make sure your website has the necessary analytics built-in. For some organizations, it would mean using Google Analytics. For others it may mean the analytics are integrated with their Client Relationship Management (CRM) system so every interaction with visitors on the website can be tracked.
  13. Contact Information: You would not believe how many websites make it hard to find their contact information. How else can prospects contact you? If you are guilty of this, I don’t need to tell you what to do!
  14. Social Media Integration: And last, but not least, explore whether it makes sense to integrate your website with social media sites. Some examples of this integration are: using social sharing, bookmarking, Facebook comments, Twitter feed, RSS feeds syndication etc. The power of your web multiplies with social media optimization and connection to your website.

There are so many more things to talk about, however, as an ode to Valentine’s Day, I will stop at 14.  I would love to know what you like and dislike about your website (or your competitor’s website). Let us know in the comments and we may be able to offer a few suggestions.

Ashish Malik is Partner, Client Services at 108 ideaspace inc., a consulting firm that extends business strategies by innovating in Strategy, Technology and Design. A Certified Consultant, Ashish has helped several clients automate their sales and marketing and grow their business by implementing CRM. For more on Ashish Malik or 108 ideaspace, visit ideas108.wpengine.com.