The Ten Essential Features Of A Successful Business Website
I’ve been building websites for almost a decade. During that time I’ve seen all the website mistakes that business owners can make, and I’ve nailed down the ten biggest questions that every site owner should ask themselves.
Whilst building a great website takes a certain degree of skill, planning a great website really isn’t rocket science, its more basic common sense, which many people can overthink.
Being successful online right now, is about engaging with your audience, being approachable & having something to offer that adds value to people’s lives. Let me get started with the killer questions…
1 . What’s The Point Of Your Website?
Sounds quite obvious I know, but it’s an important question.
Too many sites out there exist purely just for the sake of it. I’ve been asked it myself so many times. “Hey Chris, can you build me a website cos my friend has one and I think its about time I did too.”
“Why?” I usually ask them. Sure I’m in the business of making websites for people, it would make short term business sense to just say “sure, this is what you need”, but I want people to have at least some idea of why they’re investing thousands of dollars.
Always have a clear goal that you want your website to achieve. Here’s a couple of real world examples I’ve encountered:
Alex sells dog grooming accessories, he wants a site. So his websites goal is
To sell as many grooming kits as possible, in a way that makes the customer overjoyed, and desperate to come back to buy more in future.
So Alex is onto a winner as he’s got a goal in mind. Everything can build upon that foundation.
Ruben on the other hand is a self employed electrician, and a really good one at that. He’s snowed under with work from word-of-mouth referrals, and is thinking of getting a website to ‘get online’.
He doesn’t have a clear goal; he’s simply jumping on the bandwagon. This approach would end up with him shelling out a bunch of money, for something that may look nice, but without a clearly defined purpose, it would ultimately leave him feeling like he wasted his money 6 months down the line.
What I would do to help Ruben is sit down with him and decide exactly what benefits a website could bring to him, how it could help his customers & make his life easier at the same time.
Remember, a website is a means to an end, it’s a tool to do a job, not an accessory.
2 . Is your site simple?
This follows directly on from the previous question about goals. Your site should be just complex enough to do the job. Nothing more.
By simple I don’t mean boring or lacking anything, I mean it should:
- Deliver a clear message to the visitor
- Point the visitor to the next immediate thing you’d like them to do — sign up to something, buy something, click a link, don’t make them think too much.
- Be easy to navigate — stick to around 5–6 core pages (home, about, products, testimonials blog, & contact are the favorites)
Thinking is mental effort, and people don’t want to be forced into having to think when they’re using your site. Most likely they’ll just get fed up and leave.
If you really want to dig into how NOT to make people think, then Steve Krug’s timeless book “Don’t Make Me Think” is the ultimate guide to usability.
3 . Can people get in touch with you?
If someone arrives onto your website, and wants to know more, how can they contact you?
A lot of questions can be answered by having an FAQ (frequently asked questions) page on your site, but lets be honest a lot of the time, people don’t bother reading those, so in my experience the best methods are:
First of all, make sure it works! I’ve seen so many contact forms that haven’t been checked by the owner and are simply broken. You’d be surprised.
Next, don’t bother asking for more than name, email & message. You can always email them back if you need more info. I’ve used (and bailed from) a lot of ‘nosey’ contact forms that ask waaay too many questions.
I’m talking about enquiry forms here, if you want them to apply for something, obviously you need to collect more info, but if they just want to ask a simple question, make it easy for them.
This ones probably the easiest to implement, and works perfectly well, but there’s one big thing that people miss here. Never put plain text email addresses up on your site.
If you do, the world won’t end, but you’ll end up being spammed half to death. This is because there are sites that harvest email addresses, and publish them to publicly available lists for people to bombard with junk emails.
That sucks, but there are plenty of ways to prevent this by encoding the email address so these harvesters can’t read them (but humans still can). If you have a website built on the WordPress platform, there are plenty of plugins to take care of this.
This is great for the user, but can be mean a lot of effort on your part. If you’re going to use this, you should commit to being available to chat on the other end, at the very least during business hours.
If you are offline and you’re not able to man the chat, make sure it vanishes from your site completely. When you see a site with a ‘live chat offline’ message. It looks like you abandoned ship. To the user it reads as ‘I don’t care about you right now’.
Traditional Address & Telephone number
This should be present, in all cases. Put the office hours on there, so people can catch you via the phone. A lot of the time people won’t actually use the phone to contact you, but it’s one of those things that looks odd if its missing.
Additional Methods Worth Exploring
You don’t have to limit yourself to the above methods, for example this site offers a form of email based ‘non real-time’ chat, that integrates with your site really nicely. https://www.intercom.io/
New services are being released all the time so keep an eye open, just make sure you have one of the above to begin with.
4 . Does your site look good on mobile devices?
Last year we passed the mobile ‘tipping-point’, where there are now more mobile users than desktop users. Yep, that’s right!
Google have even announced that since April 2015, they are favouring mobile-friendly websites in the search rankings. If you are wondering if it applies to your site, you can check right now using this tool:
What exactly is mobile-friendly?
Mobile-friendly, or responsive as it’s also called, is when your site achieves the following on smaller sized screens, such as smartphones & tablets:
i. Readable content
ii. Easy to use (i.e. all the functionality still works).
iii. Quick loading times (bear in mind the slower speed of some mobile internet)
How Can I Get This Fixed?
If you have a website based on WordPress, you may be able to switch out your theme for a responsive one, alternatively, seek the help of a website specialist to get your site up to scratch.
5 . Does your site load quickly?
Your site should load quickly for all users; no matter what device they use to access it. If the homepage of your site takes more than a second or two to display your content, you’re going to lose people’s interest before you even get started.
Slow loading sites can be caused by a number of factors, some are easy to fix, and others just need to be worked around. Here are the most obvious ones:
- Your site has a ton of uncompressed images or scripts that have to be loaded before the page displays.
- Your site is hosted on a sluggish, low-powered web server.
- The user’s computer or device is old and slow
- The user’s internet connection is slow
Points 1 & 2 can be fixed by a web developer; points 3 & 4 can’t, so just live with it.
If your demographic consists primarily of users like this, then you should build the leanest site possible.
How Do I Test My Site?
There are plenty of online tools to test your site speed, here are a few of the best:
- Pingdom Tools: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/
- Google Pagespeed:
GT Metrix: http://gtmetrix.com/
6 . Is your site secure?
This used to apply primarily to sites that deal with credit card payments, banking services, or any site that stored sensitive information. It still does, however since late 2014, Google are giving HTTPS websites a little extra love in the rankings.
This blog post from Google goes into detail on the subject:
HTTPS as a ranking signal
Not only does Google reward HTTPS sites with a ranking boost, it also means that you’ll get more visitor referrer data in your Analytics. Sometime in 2014 Google switched all their own services to HTTPS, which meant that a lot of Analytics data stopped being tracked. Going HTTPS helps claw back some of the missing data.
This blog post from Joost De Valk explains the details:
How Do I Make My Site HTTPS?
Its real easy, and real cheap. You can pick up an SSL certificate from your web host, and a good web developer will install it for you within a matter of hours. In order to check your site is running a valid SSL certificate, you can run your website URL through a tool like this:
7 . Is your site interesting?
Make sure your website connects with your audience. Here are some great rules to follow when creating content for your website:
i. Get to know your audience: Find out what their concerns are, what keeps them up at night. How will your brand help them with their daily lives?
ii. Be yourself: Use your own voice to get our message across. Don’t try to sound like someone or something you’re not. Your audience will respect your integrity.
iii. Have an end goal: Why are you creating the content? Is it to solve a problem that the visitor may be having? If you know this, it makes it easy to define the calls to action. Clearly state what you would like the reader to do next. Remember the section on making your site simple — it takes effort to think.
iv. Speak in the language of your customers: Don’t slip into the trap of inadvertently playing ‘Bulshit Bingo’. Avoid buzzwords, technical jargon & anything that makes you sound inauthentic. (Technical jargon has its place, but just think about your audience beforehand.)
v. Solve, don’t shill: This one is crucial in order to build an audience. Make sure you are directly addressing a problem that your user is having, and when you offer a solution be sure it will work. Of course, we all want people to buy or service or product, but be honest about it. For example, if I think a user only requires a 5 page basic website, I don’t try to convince them they need a clone of amazon.com.
vi. Show, don’t just tell: Demonstrate how great your product or service is, by backing it up with either case studies, testimonials and other real world examples. Make sure your readers can see for themselves how you can meet their requirements.
vii. Make It Shareable: How many times have you watched an online video or read a great blog post and thought for a moment ‘I must show this to so-and-so’, then a minute later you’ve given up because you can’t share it in couple of clicks? Don’t let this happen, it’s stupid & avoidable. Get something like this on your site, or mention it to your web guy (if they haven’t mentioned it already).
I learned some of the above points from a book called ‘Content Rules’. In fact, it’s worth adding this as point 8. Just buy ‘Content Rules’ by Ann Handley & CC. Chapman.
8. Do you have an email list?
If you don’t have a signup form on your website, you’re missing out. Get one on there as a priority. It really is a superb long-term strategy, and it takes care of itself, for the most part.
Of course, you still have to create useful content to help your subscribers, but you can write say, a six part ‘How To’ series, and set it on autopilot. The subscriber gets an email once or twice a week, and by adding a little value to their lives, it’s the perfect way of staying their radar.
How Do I Set This Up?
There are way too many email marketing solutions to list here, so I’ll pick 5 from memory:
- Mailchimp: http://mailchimp.com/
- Aweber: http://www.aweber.com/
- Office Autopilot/Ontraport: https://ontraport.com/ (this ones a bit pricey)
- Vertical Response: http://www.verticalresponse.com/
- Sendy & Amazon SES: https://sendy.co/
The last one on that list is italicised for a reason. It’s incredible. Sendy/AmazonSES is definitely more fiddly to set up that the other 4, but you get unsurpassed trust & deliverability by using Amazon’s own SES (Simple Email Service).
Also, if you are sending high volume email, Sendy/AmazonSES is ridiculously cheap. I’m talking ‘up to a hundred times cheaper than the others’ cheap. (Talk to me about this one if you want to know more.)
Check it out here: https://sendy.co/
9 . Does your site have a face?
After reading one of Seth Godin’s books about the ‘new, connection economy’ it really made me think. I realized was that in the saturated world of the Internet these days, it definitely does pay to be human when it comes to customer service.
One of the most obvious features of your website that helps you appear like a real person is to just have a nice picture of yourself on there. It’s not some special voodoo magic; just appear like a real person.
The other way of having a face on the Internet, is to interact with people. It sounds so obvious, but too many sites are cold & faceless because of the following:
- They don’t respond to any blog comments that readers leave
- They ignore any twitter interactions, or contact via other social media channels.
- They don’t answer contact form enquiries.
Can you remember the last time you received really great customer service?
I can, it was from a guy called Steve at http://www.sessioncam.com/.
It burns into your memory and stays there. This is why it’s so important to just get a face on your site, become a real person, and go the extra distance. Doesn’t have to be a whole mile, just a little further than that last guy they dealt with.
10. Do you have any customer reviews?
Every website that offers products or services for sale, should really have testimonials for the world to see. The testimonial page is your proof, building trust & overcoming any objections the customer may have.
How Do I Get Reviews?
There are many different ways of obtaining great reviews; the most obvious one is to simply make your customer so happy that they feel compelled to leave you a glowing review.
In the real world however, people are busy, they have short memories, and your super-happy customer will probably forget about leaving you a review within minutes, if it ever crosses their mind in the first place. This is why it pays to just ask.
If you know you’ve made the customer happy, they’ll be glad to leave you a review, but make it easy for them. Send them over an example testimonial of a few sentences with a note saying ‘something like this would be great’.
You can even ask for them to provide a mugshot, and a good trick is to just mention that you’ll grab it yourself from their Twitter/Facebook profile.
Another approach would be to take advantage of social media, and grab any nice tweets or Facebook comments that customers have left for you. This is an excellent way to build trust on your site, and if you’re doing things right, it’ll be self-perpetuating. The more you impress your customer, the more reviews you’ll get, the more appealing your product or service looks.
If you have found some of these points of value, then go and implement them now! If you know someone who has a website who can benefit from this guide, then why not send it over to them via email, or share this guide on social media.