Six tips for a better website
How businesses can take advantage of being online, and turn visitors to your website into paying customers
You’ve worked hard to create a website, but is it really working and are you getting customers? Your traffic might be going up, but how many people are staying on the website and making purchases?
An estimated €3.7 billion was spent by Irish consumers online in 2012. However, 73 per cent of that was spent on overseas websites.
So how can you take advantage of being online, and turn visitors to your website into customers?
Does your website load quickly? The answer is no if it takes longer than three to four seconds for the pages to download on an average browser. You might have the best content and offers in the world, but if your web pages don’t load speedily, people will move on.
“The load time of a page is how fast a page opens. People only like waiting two to three seconds for a page to load. If things start to get slow, people hop across and look at something else. They tend to have lots of tabs open,” according to Shane Cassells, advanced performance specialist at Google NACE.
“When I moved to London I wanted to switch from Npower to the Good Energy company as Npower had nuclear. I went to the Good Energy website and clicked on “Switch to Good Energy”. After 10 seconds the page still hadn’t loaded. I was gone.”
He says research shows about 50 per cent of visitors will leave a site if it does not load within three seconds, adding that patience is even lower with regard to smartphones and tablets.
“Amazon did a study eight years ago where they discovered for every one tenth of a second they reduced the load time of a page by, revenue for that page went up by 1 per cent.”
Cassells advises businesses to regularly monitor their site performance using tools such as Page Speed, YSlow and WebPagetest. These check landing page load time performance for desktop and mobile.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Cassells says, adding that sites should look modern.
He says any elements that look outdated should be removed as visitors will respond positively to a page that looks modern and up-to-date.
The website should also be what the visitor expected, especially if they found the site through a search engine.
“It is a negative experience for a user when they click on an ad that says ‘best price guaranteed’, go to the site and see no mention of that. The user thinks the site owner made stuff up to get people to the site.”
Search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist Eleanor Greavy says video helps create trust and authority, and thus can contribute towards a good first impression.
“It doesn’t have to been a professional big budget video, it could be a testimonial or demo video for your product or service. The video should be put front and centre on the landing page,” she says.
Cassells says there is a reason YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world: “People like consuming information through video.”
However, the video should never be auto play.
“Never ever have auto play video on your site. People are often looking up things in the office,” he says.
It’s not lunch and they shouldn’t be looking at sites. They panic when sound suddenly comes on and they can’t find the stop button and so shut down everything immediately.”
People tend to skim websites and web pages, especially when they first get to a page. Thus the contents of a page should give them what they want quickly.
Cassells says people often build pages for robots, to beat the algorithms and get to the top of the search results, something he advises against.
“Humans are not robots and don’t like sites like that. They bounce as the site has not been made for them. The content is there just for the sake of having content.”
He says websites should use big headlines to get a message across, avoid marketing lingo, and keep sentences and paragraphs short.
Overwhelming visitors with offers, specials, options and call-to-action buttons can make them indecisive and confused.
Websites should look clean and spacious, as you don’t want to subject users to information overload.
There should be space between paragraphs and images so the viewer can breathe and absorb what your site has to offer. The site should also be easy to navigate.
“If your readers can’t get around on the page or on the website they won’t stick around. You should have navigation on your web pages that is clear, direct, and easy to use,” Cassells says.
He advises against having too many advertisements and banners on a page, and using dark colours.
“Don’t use dark colours as the background as it creates a feeling of claustrophobia among users.”
He says people shouldn’t have to scroll down the page or wade through a big block of text to find what they’re looking for.
“Forty per cent of Americans don’t scroll. Be careful of making people scroll down the page.”
5 Call to action
The more choice you give people, the more difficult it is for them to make a decision. Thus, it is good to have call-to-action buttons, such as “download our free guidebook”. They provide guidance to visitors coming to a page.
Greavy, who is the founder of ExpertSEO.ie, says there should be a call-to-action button such as “call us now” or “get in touch” in the top right hand corner of the website and at the end of every few paragraphs.
She recommends crazy egg, a heat mapping tool which allows companies to see what visitors are doing on their site.
“Crazyegg. com is great for seeing where people’s focus is on your site. When you find out where their focus is, you can put call-to-action buttons in those spots.”
Does your website do a good job persuading visitors to get their credit cards out and make a purchase?
In shops, sales assistants help visitors with the buying decision. On websites, persuasion tactics can also be a useful tool.
Cassells says there are a number of different persuasion tactics, such as reciprocation.
“If you want visitors to perform a certain action, offer them something in return like a 5 per cent discount in return for signing up for a newsletter.”
He says social influences are also a huge factor for people trying to decide whether to make a purchase.
“Booking. com are the masters of persuasion. You go on their site and see seven people are looking at the same hotel as you and the last booking was two minutes ago. There are only four rooms left.”
What you don’t realise is that the seven people looking at the hotel may not be looking at the same dates as you.