Question: How can I improve the performance of my website? It’s not doing as well as it should be.
Answer: When a company’s website is not doing its job, there could be two problems: Either your site is not getting enough traffic—or it is, but your visitors are not converting into customers. Sometimes, of course, websites face both of these challenges.
Rather than randomly throwing money at your frustration, Roy Chomko, president of Chicago Web developer Adage Technologies, suggests that you conduct a website audit to help uncover inefficiencies in design, development, and marketing that may be hindering your site. “This process will help gauge how effective your online strategy is in demonstrating your brand identity, converting interested visitors, and delivering relevant content to your target audience,” he says.
Start by analyzing the traffic coming to your site, using a free tool such as Google (GOOG)analytics, or asking your website host or administrator do it. The tools show you what city and state your Web visitors originate from, what kind of device they are using (make sure your site is optimized for mobile devices if a large percentage of your visitors are coming from mobile devices), and what they do once they get to your site.
If traffic is just trickling in, your marketing and communications efforts are probably at fault, says Erin Presseau, of New England digital marketing agency SilverTech. The solution is to generate buzz and attract traffic by promoting the site on social media, actively participating in blogging, running promotions on the site, or offering incentives through e-mail marketing. “Identify what your customers or your consumers want most—educational content, a great deal, the ability to ask a question or download a white paper—and then direct them to it,” she says.
Another cause of low traffic: Your website isn’t optimized to be found on search engines. The result is that even if local customers are looking for your services or products, your business website is not coming up near the top of search engine results, says Mike L. Silverman, managing director at Silver Web Solutions in Atlanta. He recommends you use Google’s keyword tool to find out what words or phrases your potential clients are entering into search engines when they are looking for businesses like yours.
The tool helps you think like a website visitor does. “For instance, you might have a business helping people from other countries work on their accent. That’s commonly called an accent modification or revision company. But someone looking for your service might type ‘speak more American’ or ‘fix my accent’ into a search engine,” Silverman says.
When you’re analyzing keywords, start with words describing your business category and add your geographic location to them, so you can see what terms people in your area are searching. Click “exact” keywords and “local monthly searches” and pay attention to what Silverman calls “long-tail” search terms, which appear lower on the key word ranking results you’ll get but can help you figure out what exactly your customers are looking for and adjust your website accordingly.
You can do some search engine optimization yourself, but it is time-consuming and can be complicated. If you decide to hire a consultant, start with a per-project arrangement and make sure you get references, read online reviews, and look at the consultant’s portfolio, Silverman says. Monthly retainers for ongoing SEO consulting can cost between $100 for a student or offshore contractor and $2,000 for extensive services, including article-writing and obtaining website links, he says.
Perhaps the problem is not lack of traffic but a poor user experience on your website, suggests Gabriel Shaoolian, founder and chief executive of Blue Fountain Media in New York City. Take a look at things like the “bounce” rate on your analytics report, which measures how quickly visitors leave your site after landing on it. A high bounce rate typically means visitors are not engaging with your content.
“There are four critical items every website needs to be effective in converting visitors into leads and bringing back repeat sales and visits,” Shaoolian writes in an e-mail. “Concise and clear messaging, showing value to the visitor; clear calls to action, such as contact us or buy now; stickiness factors like fresh content that brings visitors back; and social media integration to help spread word of mouth.”
An informal experiment may help here, Presseau says, starting with determining the primary role of your website. Is it to generate sales leads or generate revenue through e-commerce? Once you’ve settled that question, enlist a few people you trust who generally mirror your target customers and have them run through some of the tasks you want your website visitors to tackle.
“For example, if your site’s primary purpose is to generate business leads, maybe your prospects have to fill out a form on your website to download your white paper. Create a few scenarios for your friends and colleagues where you ask them to find XYZ white paper and request to download it, or find XYZ product and then submit an inquiry about it, or add product ABC to the shopping cart,” she says. “Don’t give them any hints on where to find the information or which page it is on. Simply stand back and observe as they start the experience from your home page.”
Make notes on where they look for the requested information, whether they can find their way through the search tools or the navigation on your site, and whether they get confused by the task. Be aware that if the task takes more than a minute or two to perform successfully, you’ll start losing people.
“Many times, just running a few informal user tests can help you uncover potential issue areas of your website that can be modified or enhanced to help users find what they need, quicker, which ultimately improves conversion and makes your site perform better,” Presseau says.